9/06/2008

Landlady From Hell



"The secret of life is honesty and fair dealing. If you can fake that, you've got it made." - Groucho Marx. I think my landlady has this perfected to a tee.

I've been renting from her for two years. I pay NT$20,000 for a place that's a bit on the small side - two bedrooms and a Japanese waste-of-space room, but only one bathroom. The view's pretty good and we're in Wenshan (文山), near the mountains. Anyway, I don't really consider myself a problem tenant. I'm never late on paying the rent. I don't claim it for tax purposes on my tax returns. That means that my landlady doesn't need to report any of this income on her taxes. It's worth mentioning that we never agreed to this when we moved in. Why would I agree to something that illegal? We're just unable to get receipts out of her. And in all of my time here, I've asked her to fix two things, a leaky faucet and a leaky air conditioner, which was pouring down the wall and messing up her property. Other things, I've let go. This includes a gaping crack in the floor that runs down a fifth of the living room. The crack appeared after the December 2006 earthquake. Many of tiles were broken at the time, and now more are in the process of crumbling up. Since we have an infant crawling around the place, we've covered everything up with soft Formosan floor pads. But we're forever retrieving little jagged pieces of floor tile. My wife says "forget about it. The landlady'll never properly fix the floor or anything else until we're out and she's found someone idiotic enough to buy such a structurally unsound place."

All the fun started on our second complaint on the place - the aforementioned air conditioner. A couple of weeks ago, I called the landlady and told her it was leaking. She said she'd send someone over. After a half-an-hour's work, I was presented a bill for NT$1,500. The landlady was in our home too, watching with an embarrassed smile on her face. She uses moments like this to gain access, to make mental notes on how we're wrecking the place. So I told the repairman, "The landlady's right there. Give her the bill." Man, did the landlady ever put up a stink, but I told her "my wallet's not coming open for this one."

"But your contract has expired," she countered. Good point. Why hadn't I pushed her for a lower rate, especially considering Taiwan's high vacancy rates, which have got to be worse than two years ago when we took this place on after it had sat unrented for a year? End of story? Well, no. Last night, I was coming home with my daughter when I noticed a fellow with a shaved head, in combat fatigues, holding guard over our front door. "How's it going?" I asked him.

"Ugh!" was the reply.

Five minutes later, the phone was ringing in my apartment: "It's the landlady. Mr Cheng, can I come up?"

"Sure, I've got this month's rent ready," I answered. She picks it up personally because, I think, she wants to avoid any trail that could link her to this rental income. A couple minutes later, the landlady, her husband and the guy with the shaved head were in my apartment, presenting me with an unusual proposition. I could stay in the apartment on these conditions:

1. The rent would be bumped to NT$25,000 per month in six months. That's a 25 percent increase.
2. The rent would be bumped to NT$25,000 in three months if I didn't sign immediately. Why? Because they needed NT$5,000 a month extra (their words) to pay for repairing the apartment when things came up.
3. I could NOT go to the tax office and claim that I had paid rent to them (Taiwan has a fairly reasonable rental tax break to catch, I suppose, tax evaders). The landlady had actually written this condition into the text of the contract (see above pic)!
4. If I moved out early, I'd be penalized one months' rent. I've already been here for two years.

When I told them that I would need time to sleep on it, the guy with no hair went livid. It turns out he's their eldest son. "I could rent this apartment for NT$30,000!" he yelled. "It has an elevator!" Every time I tried to speak, he cut me off. What I wanted to say was:

"First, I need to talk to my wife. She would kill me if I signed anything without first consulting her. This is how it works in normal marriages. Also, your gestapo tactics won't work here, even if you can bounce off all four walls like the Incredible Hulk. Besides, I can't sign anything, period. My father-in-law has my ID and chop right now. He's picking up a package for me from the post office." For the next half an hour, I had him going at me, badgering me to sign right now or else.... Talk about a nice way to spend a Friday night. Finally, I opened the door and said "Thanks, but no thanks. Out."

"We'll be back tomorrow," he informed me. "That will be your last chance. How's about 4:30?"

"Why don't you come over on Monday?" I asked. "I have stuff to do tomorrow. It's Saturday, after all. Besides, I won't be able to get my ID back by Saturday afternoon. My father-in-law works Saturdays."

Today, I was kicking back at my friend Celia's when it occurred to me that the crazy bugger would be on his way to my home in an hour. So, I decided to call him: "You'll have to come over Monday, guy. I'm out right now." This really pissed him off. He started to shout so loud that my cell phone vibrated. I put it down on the table to give my ear a break. I guess I was tuning out, because all I heard was "Zzzz, shhhhh, You...." I don't know if Celia could make out what was coming through all of that or if she just found the anger upsetting, because she began to cry. After I had hung up, my phone rang several more times. I put it on "busy" at first. Then I shut it off. About an hour later, when I had turned it on again, my wife was on the other end of the line:

"That crazy nut just called me eight times! He says we have to move out by September 30 or accept the wrath of the law. He'll give us one last chance. He says he'll drop off a paper for us to sign, agreeing to eviction in three weeks, or there will be big trouble! I think he's trying to intimidate us. BTW, he says you have no manners because you hung up on him."

This should be interesting. I've always been curious to see just how the legal system works here first-hand.

16 comments:

MJ Klein said...

you pay more to rent that we pay to buy our own home. if i were you i'd go to the tax bureau and report them immediately. they'll have more problems to worry about than you. i'd also show the tax authorities that contract, as it's a written intent to conspire against the government. my wife is a professional tax auditor and she was laughing her ass off because they are *so* f*cked it you report them.

Robert said...

Hi, Patrick,

I think we talked once about buying property in Taiwan (at some occasion at Markus' place).

The stories about tenants are endless. Very bad that you now have to deal with it.

Like my partner (my newly founded company). He rented an apartment near Sogo, 1 room with bathroom, for 14K a month. He worked for an IT company until he quit and teamed up with me. His contract is due end of September and suddenly the landlord wants him to move out by 15th, then 10th and then 5th. Just because a 'relative' needs the place' my partner thought he has more time to find a new place and now he has no time. But things with my partner are still quite ok, no hell lady.

Maybe 2 things to do for you now: just go to the tax office and report (like mj klein suggests), go the legal way (bit a hassle). Or prepare and smash the place, threat the lady, no matter what son(s) the lady has. I heard of a story of a Taiwanese friend. She had a problem with her car, some Taiwanese scratched her car and all legal action didn't help. Of course she wanted compensation. So she called up some thugs to beat the guy up. I would never consider this. And you maybe shouldn't too, since you have wife and kid and it's just too dangerous.

Maybe in the end, to buy property is a must in Taiwan, in order to live without danger and 'mafan'. Because it's not like in the west (eg Germany) where you have a rent contract normally without a deadline, just with a period of notice (mostly 3 months, less makes the contract void, above 12 years contract time, the notice period is 1 year!). And tenants are well protected by law in Germany. Here in Taiwan the contract is normally signed for one year, is automatically extended if both sides a silent, which makes the contract a bit unclear. And you never know what the landlord plans after the one year.

All the best,

Robert

Patrick Cowsill said...

We'll buy property eventually. We're just hanging on, waiting for the property bubble to burst. Plus, we like our nanny, who lives down the street. I'm looking at stretching this house thing out for around six months, just so that my daughter is old enough to go to preschool. If the bubble still hasn't burst by then, we'll move to another rental apartment and figure it out from there. The landlord's legal action should stretch this out a bit. Then I'll pop her at the tax office, like MJ has suggested.

Robert, I'm too old to go to war with someone. That would have appealed to me 10 years ago.

Anonymous said...

I think you should move, but you might consider notifying her (registered) that you're going to refer the matter to the Municipal Land Office. But, what you should do in the meantime, is to consult a broker to find a better place (and also ask the procedure). Another thing you might consider is staying with your parents-in-law temporarily. Basically, I think that rents are limited 10% of the assessed value for tax purposes. So, if the property's assessed at 1,200,000, the maximum annual rent should be 120,000, or 12,000 per month. But the reason to file is to play hardball. It would take time, and force your landlady to follow the regulations, such as I'm pretty sure she can't evict you without written notice, which you should avoid receiving. But the main thing would be to obtain the tax information, as well as a statement concerning the amount of rent she's collected. If she refuses to provide it personally, you should claim it in your application. (My explanation was simplified. I think the basic reason to maximize deductions is to reduce the tax rate. So, if the tax base is such that the rate is 21%, e.g., on incomes above 890,000, and if the rental deduction of 120,000, reduces the base below that threshold, it should lower the tax rate to 13%.) In the meantime, I wouldn't allow her access to the premises, which generally requires written notice for legitimate purposes, and also file a complaint with the police that you're being assaulted. (Then, just tell the landlady, sorry that we've had some disagreements. The best thing is to refer the matter to the land office, so that we can settle the matter reasonably and to obtain the tax statements. But in the meantime, since we have felt threatened, and that I cannot always be at home to safeguard my family, I have requested from the land office that you don't continue to enter the premises, and I have also referred the matter to the police department).

George said...

It's too hard for me to believe that you are in big trouble with your landlord. But only according to what you've described in "Landlady From Hell" on blog , I can hardly make my own judgment on which side is right. However, the rights and duties for both sides-landlord and tenant to stick should be regulated at length in the rental contract. If the contract printed in Chinese was signed by your wife, she should get understood of every clauses in it. Now I'd like to point out that if there is any unfair treatments faced or transactions dealt in the contract, you may ask for help from Consumer's Protection Committee, Executive Yuan at phone no. 27256169 or Consumers Foundation Chinese Taipei at phone no. 27001234 to reconcile your controversial problems.

The Taipei Kid said...

Claim it on your taxes if you have to move out and it will come back and bite them in the ass.

Anonymous said...

No kidding-- If you feel that you have been given a verbal threat, however vague, it might be worth reporting it. To whom, I don't know. And knowing how seriously local authorities are likely to take it (considering you are a foreigner), I don't know how much good it will do...

As a parent and a husband, I know it also depends on whether you think shaved-head-guy is just BS-ing, or whether he actually has the potential to cause real harm.

Perhaps (a very polite but insistent) notification on your part that the tax office will be getting a copy of the contract may be sufficient to get some peace for the time being.

Tell them your friends at Taipei Times are writing a piece on renting apartments in Taipei, and have asked for your input.

-scott in tainan

Patrick Cowsill said...

"If you feel that you have been given a verbal threat, however vague, it might be worth reporting it. To whom, I don't know. And knowing how seriously local authorities are likely to take it (considering you are a foreigner), I don't know how much good it will do..."

It probably won't do that much good, except if they make good on their promise to drag this into court. This I wouldn't mind, however, as it will give me more time to pack up the family and relocate. It actually hadn't occurred to me that I had been threatened. I just figured it was annoyed. But on second thought I guess that's why they brought the aggressive elder son along.

Patrick Cowsill said...

Here's the latest on the hellish landlady debacle. They showed up last night to ruin yet another Friday night. Luckily, my father-in-law was on hand to smooth things over. He drove through Typhoon Sinlaku to be on hand. What a really nice guy. The landlady repeatedly sought to disclude me from the conversation by speaking Taiwanese, but he always brought it back to Mandarin so that I could understand what was going on.

We're still getting the boot, but only after six months. I was presented with a new contract. Interestingly, the clause about not reporting the "rent paid" to government (see blog pic) was not on it. They also asked that I return them that specific contract - it was then stressed that we would not mention our rent payments when we filed next year's taxes. They still wanted to raise the rent. But I went off, especially after I was told that it was due to people like my wife and myself that Taiwan was going to the dogs. I'm not taking responsibility for Taiwan's, as the landlady's old man put it, "increasingly messed up society". I would think that people who evaded taxes or, in other words, people breaking the law would be prime contributors to Taiwan's ills.

Anyway, we'll be paying the same rent after all. Plus the landlady won't be coming around - I can pay our rent to her bank account every month. I'm guessing this might actually be sufficient to meet the receipts-needed category come tax time.

Carrie said...

What a horrible story. I would still go to the tax bureau and report them. That contract alone is enough to get them in a pile of trouble

I've just finished reading all the comments here and I'm glad that your father-in-law was able to help you come to a resolution of sorts. I hope this problem gets settled quickly and quietly.

Anonymous said...

You're exactly right about that. Just give the tax bureau a copy of your lease and rental receipts. And it doesn't have to be 12 receipts, either. Also, the max. deduction is 120K, so 6 mos. at 20K would more than suffice. Get everything in writing, and save the receipts

Patrick Cowsill said...

How about five months? That's how much time we have before we have to get out, at the Lunar New Year.

Anonymous said...

You should be covered by five months. The government probably only wants to collect tax revenue on this count. Take your initial lease when you go to files your taxes this time. Take the lease you've put up on your blog. Do you still have them both?

Patrick Cowsill said...

Yeah, I do. The initial lease was rained upon (left it on the balcony with the windows open), but it is still legible.

Anonymous said...

Check Forumosa for more on the law:

http://www.forumosa.com/taiwan/viewtopic.php?f=80&t=3715

"Hello fellow itinerants,

A buddy of mine who was here this past semester studying law at Tai-Da was talking to one of his professors about renting here in Taiwan.

His professor said that even though one's lease has run out (i.e. the year is up), the rentee does not have to leave. So long as you keep paying rent and do not trash the place, you can stay. The prof. says it goes back to old feudal days of yon. Since it is an inconvenience for someone to have to find a new place to live, one cannot be put out on the street."

Patrick Cowsill said...

Thanks for the info on renting an apartment in Taiwan.

I just googled "Taiwan rent law" and came up with this: I can deduct the interest that I stack up on the damage deposit off the last months:

http://www.globalpropertyguide.com/Asia/Taiwan/Landlord-and-Tenant