Overseas Landlords: Deposits & Refunds Lost

Landlords come in all manner of beings. Some are honest; others, connivers poised to extract every last penny from unsuspecting renters like you. Today, our focus is on renting overseas and the landlords who own the properties.

If you’ve already rented an abode in a foreign land, you know it can be a unique experience. For the uninitiated, the myriad of ways overseas landlords can legally extract every last penny of your security deposit, and more, much more, may come as a surprise.

Overseas, it’s typical for renters to be responsible for 100% of all repairs required during their stay. Should a corroded old water heater finally go cold, it’s the tenant’s responsibility! Heater or AC on the fritz? Leaky sink? Drippy ceiling? Front door lock sticking? Refrigerator too warm? It’s all on the tenant’s dime. Unfair? Yes! But legal. In exchange for a ‘roof over your head,’ you could find yourself paying to assume the landlord’s ‘roof’ repair and further headaches.

When it’s time to move out is when things can get really interesting. Legislation in many parts of world permit landlords to summarily charge for an entire interior repaint, whether it’s needed or not. In addition, any and all items a landlord deems in need of repair or replacement can and will be charged to the security deposit, this, right down to an 8-year-old worn out toilet seat. Forget about getting reimbursed for any personal item ruined or lost due to a faulty rental component. It’ll never happen.

As opposed to a local person, when you move out, you’re gone, leaving little to no chance you’ll seek legal assistance in getting back what’s rightfully yours. With this in mind, be sure to do a thorough inspection of the property, inside and out. Leave no stone unturned. Don’t assume anything. The rules you play by at home don’t count here. ISR suggests you add an addendum to the rental Contract stating the landlord will be responsible for all repairs and you will not charged for a repainting. Having date-marked photos showing the condition of everything within the property when you moved in are helpful with exit negotiations.

Schools know local rental laws. They also know landlords can play tough. Any school that leaves you on your own to rent a house or apartment in a foreign country, in a foreign language, is likely to be a school that would not hesitate to throw you under the bus in other circumstances, too. Before signing on with an International School, find out if they provide housing. If not, will they co-sign a rental Contract, pay the deposit, assume responsibilities for repairs? Essentially, will they go to bat for you?

ISR asks: What has YOUR experience been renting overseas? What tips do you have for teachers new to the experience?

Comments? Please scroll down to participate in this ISR Discussion

16 thoughts on “Overseas Landlords: Deposits & Refunds Lost

  1. Have never had deposit withheld but have had a school change the housing contract midway through contract – like retaining a deposit, teachers being responsible for repairs – despite many people getting places with appliances that don’t work. In my case I got a working cooker 10 months after arriving, and a replacement door a year and a half after the school security officer told me it was not secure.
    Unfortunately many contracts we are given to sign say something along the lines of ‘will abide by everything in the policy manual’ – and you are given the policy manual when you arrive!

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  2. My German landlady in Berlin totally ripped me off for thousands. No recourse.
    Beware. Insane cleaning fees and repairs to allegedly broken bathroom sink and other expensive items that were rotten to begin with.

    The Landlord had a right to hold on to my security deposit for a certain amount of time after I moved out, but meanwhile I have left the country and was expecting it to be deposited into my bank. A German lawyer friend of mine represented me but eventually recommended that I just give up because it would cost me more in the long road to fight it.

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  3. I had great and horrible experiences. The situation varied depending on the country and the landlord. However, I have to say I also did not get anything back from the landlord in Germany.

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  4. It was my landlord’s agent in Shanghai who was a nightmare but my Chinese friend contacted my landlord direct and things calmed down. My landlord and his wife were lovely and returned my deposit 3 days before I left. He asked my friend to tell me he would reduce the rent should I returned in the future. He even said he would hold it for me if I was sure I would return January 2022 (which was the plan). I rented his apartment from April 2019 and left china July 2021. I’m in the ME and in school’s accommodation.

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  5. I’ve had ups and downs when it comes to landlords.

    Most have been excellent. I even left 2 months early on a landlady in China, but I helped find another tenant, and she was really quite nice about the whole thing.

    I also had a landlady in Thailand who tried to charge me for a full set of living room furniture because I “Was fat, and caused wear and tear to the furniture by sitting on it.” Needless to say, I laughed in her face. Had to get the police to help. Paid a couple hundred dollars to the police, wound up getting my deposit back, (which more than made up for the bribe to the police.)

    Best advice I can give is to be polite, be professional, and don’t wreck the place… and be ready for anything.

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  6. Here in Spain, there is legislation that protects the renters. In fact, the majority of rules out there are in favor of the renter, not the owner. Fortunately, we also have an amazing landlord who is very accommodating and helpful. Should any major repairs be needed, we provide the bill of service and he adjusts our rent to cover the full cost of repair. We rented in the United States as well, and there are just as many bad landlords there who will take you for all you have. I don’t think anyone is safe from this issue, no matter where one lives. Unfortunately.

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  7. Fortunately, I’ve had great experiences in China. I’ve lived in 5 cities and had great experiences in all five apartments! My colleagues cannot say the same! It depends on the renter and the landlord as well as the relationship. I’m considering buying property in China as an income producing asset. Good luck everyone!

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  8. I’m sorry to hear about these issues. I have never had serious issues with an apartment situation working overseas in terms of losing a deposit. I’ve had issues with cleanliness and once I was charged what I felt was an unfair cleaning fee because I had cleaned the whole place from top to bottom before leaving. I agree that issues arise most often when the school does not help the teacher find a place to live. I actually backed out of a contract in Germany once because they were giving me no help and the apartment situation in most German cities is an absolute nightmare. I had such a bad experience the weekend I went there to apartment hunt on my own that I decided I wanted nothing to do with the city or the country. I hope that scrambling to replace me two weeks before term started taught them a valuable lesson about how important it is to assist teachers with the process!

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  9. There is a simple solution that I have used more than once. Just don’t pay the last one or two months of rent depending on the size of the deposit.

    In Thailand the landlord was not happy about this and intended to use his police officer relative to block my exit. I solved this by moving out a day before he thought I was (it was a very quick and well-coordinated loading of a rented van at 6 am). On my way to the airport, I received a series of insulting text messages.

    There were no damages and I left money on the table for the bills. In my opinion he had no reason to be upset except that he was expecting to steal from me.

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  10. My school in Jordan provided accommodation on arrival. The morning after I arrived the owners knocked on the door asking for the deposit. I told them to contact the school who paid it through deduction of salary. They let themselves in to inspect the place when I was at work and pre-inspected the place in the same fashion before returning a small portion of the deposit the night before I flew out. I only knew they had entered the apartment without my knowledge or consent through the conversations they had in Arabic with my driver who was there to support me. They dealt with repairs but that deposit wasn’t ever coming back to me. Sorry to say that I now view any deposit paid as a lost cause. Even if schools pay it on your behalf, they will still reclaim it through your salary or bonus if the landlord demands it.

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  11. I have worked overseas in 7 different countries. Never had a problem with any of the landlords.
    Now while working for a school district in the US I had many problems and issues. I ended up leaving after completing one year. Would have loved to stay longer but the new housing promised never happened. Three years later they completed the new housing. So if I had to compare overseas to US overseas has been a great experience. My current situation in Vietnam for the last three years has been outstanding. I have lived in 3 different apts. in 2 different cities. No issues and no hassles. Top notch service and life long friends.

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  12. No problems for me, still keep in touch with my ex-landlord from Shenzhen…she was great during the virus and lockdown in 2020…didn’t charge me for one month and returned my deposit with no issues.

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  13. My Landlord experiences have been fine in the three countries that I have worked in and the schools have dealt with contracts, upfront payments etc. Never worked for a school where I have been left to get my own place unsupported. Don’t work for a school that does not help with upfront payments – if you don’t pass probation or want to leave, you will be very much out of pocket.

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  14. We actually had a landlord try to say the contract meant the opposite of what it said, saying that no reasonable person would interpret it that way. It placed the responsibility for inspecting the heating system, cleaning the rain gutters, and a couple of other things on the landlord, but he said it’s customary in Chile for the tenant to do that, so that part of the contract wasn’t relevant. At this point, he’d already given us the salvoconducto, which allowed movers to transport our belongings for the shipment. So we decided that since he wasn’t going to return our deposit we would make it up elsewhere. We did repaint (after five years, it was only fair) and did not a professional cleaning. But he also tried to say that we needed to replace the kitchen counter because it wasn’t as faded where the microwave sat, and wanted exterior painting done despite the fact that it was originally a faulty job from the contractor that we’d pointed out to him while the property was still under warranty. We refused to do any of that. We reported this to the school and got little support.

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  15. I have been royally burnt more than once renting overseas. Schools know how cutthroat some of these landlords can be and have chosen to not get involved. If they really cared about us they would rent the places for us and keep them for the next teacher, and so on. The last place I rented was from a nice old guy in Guatemala. When it came time to move out his daughter, an attorney and first class b**** showed up to inspect the place. She charged me for things that had been worn out in the house for years. Other teachers had similar experiences. If you’re only going to be someplace for two years, buying furniture and then selling it a loss, along with loosing your security deposit….is it worth it?

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    1. I had EXCELLENT experiences renting overseas. My places were high quality so that may explain my situations. Furthermore, since I own property myself…I understand what it takes to be good tenant and acted and treated my environment accordingly. I am still in cordial contact with my ex landlords till this day.

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