Tips and Tricks for Renting a Flat in Cairo, Part II
By Amargi Hillier
Nothing can be more exciting than living in the heart of a thriving metropolis such as Cairo. Finding and renting a flat is both challenging and easy. Mostly, it just takes a little effort and patience.
Ways To Find A Flat
There are numerous ways to locate a good flat in Cairo. Many of the Egyptian English magazines (found at most hotels) list rental companies in the back classifieds area. These companies can easily find you an apartment and surely have lots of flats in their database. This avenue works, but it might be most costly; either the finder's fee they require or the cost of the flat rent itself. Mostly, they are catering to foreigners so things get more pricey. There are numerous smaller English publications in Cairo which individuals who are renting a flat post ads in. One magazine is called the Maadi Community Times.
One excellent way to find a flat is to check out the bulletin board at the American University In Cairo (the AUC). This bulletin board is located on the AUC entrance just opposite to the McDonald's Restaurant at Tahrir Square (just say you are going into the bookstore. You will see the bulletin boards right there after the gate). Various landlords post their rentals that are mostly geared to the foreign students especially at the beginning of each semester. However, you need not be a student, though you should make this clear to the landlord. There are also job postings on the same bulletin board. If you cannot find the bulletin board, just ask any Egyptian student (they speak English) hanging around the McDonald's and they will either show you or point the way.
While Cairo is a huge city, it is very neighborhood oriented. People in a particular area mostly trade with nearby shops. So another way to find out about apartments is to simply find a neighborhood you are interested, and walk about asking shopkeepers about the best apartments to check out.
Bowabs are like doormen. There is a bowab (and his family) who lives in a small room usually in the lobby of each and every apartment building. They are not doormen, per say (they do not open doors). But they act as a security person, errand person and building manager all rolled up into one. They know everything going on in the apartments because they interact with all the tenants. And they are always sitting just inside the lobby or just on the sidewalk in front of the building. Almost always they are wearing a galabaya (Egyptian type robe). If you find a neighborhood which you find appealing, you can literally go up to a bowab and see if there are any flats available (providing you can speak a little Arabic). If there is nothing available in their building, they might know of one nearby.
The surest way to find a flat quickly is to use the services of a semsarr (apartment agent or finder). Semsarr offices are scattered all over the place, and the best way to find one is to ask a local shopkeeper where the nearest semsarr office is located. Once you find a semsarr, tell them what type of flat you require, the area you wish to live in, your budget range, and as many details as possible. The semsarr usually has a list of flats that you can see immediately. Semsarr receive a commission from the landlord, and you are not required to pay them unless they find a suitable flat. There is also no problem using the services of several semsarrs.
The semsarr agent will go around with you to show you the various flats. He will take you into the flats and help you talk to the landlord. Offer to pay for the taxi on each trip. If the semsarr has shown you a number of flats that are not satisfactory, you can figure that they probably aren't going to find you what you are looking for. There is a fine line between being patient and finding something good. Be patient though. It does take time to find a nice flat. But also be alert and use your intuition as to when it might be better to try out another person. Chemistry is also important between you and the semsarr agent. If you feel like they are helping, then keep going.
Never underestimate the value of an Arabic speaking friend or acquaintance. Some semsarr will speak English, but hardly any bowabs will, and even those who speak a little of your language will be difficult to negotiate with.
What To Look For In A Flat
First and foremost, you are going to see a lot of strange and interesting flat styles and decors during your adventures. Initially, these styles might not appeal to you. Look beyond the visual surprise of colors and shapes which you are not familiar with and look at cleanliness, functional condition and practicality. Some flats will have superior charm and style, such as some of the more expensive ones found in the Zamelik or Garden City area. These flats can be very precious to live in.
The flat you will be seeing will almost always be furnished. There is no point in describing the kinds or styles of Egyptian furnishings. They vary considerably.
What you really want to pay close attention to is the following:
- water heater
- electrical plugs
Pick up the phone and make sure there is a dial tone. If not, inquire about it. If there is nobody living in the flat, it is highly likely that the water heaters will be off. If you feel that you like the flat, ask if you can turn on the hot water heater and make sure it works. There will often be two water tanks; one for the kitchen and one in the bathroom. Ovens will either have inline gas coming in, or will use tanks placed beside the oven. Gas tanks like this are normal and there are many places to have them recharged.
Something often overlooked, but important for foreigners, is the size of the bathtub. Many times you will find tubs which do not look long enough. This is because Egyptians mostly take showers.
If the flat is situated near a large mosque, be prepared to enjoy the loud prayer call broadcast 5 times a day from the mosque tower (minaret). Most fun is the early morning prayer call around 4:30am. Most foreigners wake up to this during their first month or so (if it is loud near their apartment), but then generally get used to it and sleep right through it. But if you are a light sleeper, you might keep this in mind.
It is a good idea to ask for a rental contract with the landlord. Most often, the landlord himself will have a contract ready. This is for his own sake. The contract might be in Arabic though, so try to ask for an English one. The semsarr can usual provide one.
Basically, the contract is just like any standard rental contract back home listing names of the people involved, price of the flat, and perhaps the main contents of the flat (like fridge, stove, etc). If you don't know what you are signing, ask for a photocopy first and try to find someone to help you translate it.
In many cases, no contracts are provided. It is just a verbal agreement on the amount. This is often experienced when renting flats near the Pyramids or when renting from private individuals. If you are expecting to stay in Egypt for a short while (a few months), a verbal agreement is fine.
Landlords who do have a contract drawn up may also want a photocopy of your passport. This is normal and should not cause you any alarm. Landlords who follow the proper procedure must go to the local police station to file a few papers stating that they have just rented the flat.
You may encounter a situation whereby the landlord wants to write the contract for an amount that is lower than the agreed upon rent. This happens because he does not want to pay tax on the total rental income. Don't make a fuss. If the amount on the contract is lower, you can just give a little friendly sign that you understand and let it go. Probably this is to your advantage anyway as it creates trust with the landlord. You are doing him a little favor. These things should not cause any concern or worry.