Beware of pitfalls and surprises when hunting for an apartment in Penang

This is the unedited edition of my article first published in Han Chiang News yesterday (May 20, 2015).


After “migrating” back from Singapore in the late 1990s, my family and I have been living in the Klang Valley. In early January 2015, I came to Penang with my wife to hunt for a suitable accommodation when I decided to take my present appointment. As both of us are not familiar with the local housing scene and more importantly, the most suitable location to take up residence, I had an idea of temporarily living in a budget hotel close enough to my workplace while I have a chance to get familiarize with the various options available. We quickly abandoned this idea after driving around Penang with the aid of Google Maps. Parking would be the most important feature lacking in most of these establishments and the surrounding would be the next.

After almost 5 hours of driving around looking for a suitable place for me to stay, we finally narrowed down our choices (via an online portal, to a condominium (TSP) close to the “emerging hot” area of Persiaran Karpal Singh which looked very presentable online as well as in real life. As I was not sure of my preferences, having only stayed in the hotels along the tourist-belt of Penang from Gurney Drive to Batu Ferringhi, it would have been risky to commit to a yearly rental contract. Thus we decided that I should take up a room in this “up-market-ish” condominium with a flexible rental contract instead.  Suffice to say, the rental was not cheap, but it did come with a covered car park space.

Housemates from Hell

After staying in TSP for just one week, I realized that my housemates, a couple, occupying a small room (which was carved out of the living room by the landlord) treated the entire condo unit as theirs. The refrigerator, the hall, the front landing, the kitchen, the bathroom and even the balcony were conquered as their “own domains”. Newbies like me had to make do with whatever space that I could “muscle” in. No one bothereds to lock the front grill gate, we were protected from thieves just by a simple padlock. Cleanliness was never in the vocabulary of this couple and the kitchen sink was used often as the basin for brushing teeth and clearing of one’s throat. The common areas were never cleaned. Needless to say the common bathroom/toilet was a mess at any day which I had to clean regularly as I could not stand the grime and other bodily waste scattered all over the surfaces. After 2 months, when I got to know the local geography especially in relation to my work place better, I had had enough and decided that I should “upgrade” to my own condominium. I also consulted with my Penangite colleagues to hone in on the best available options for me.

Misleading to cheat

Having lived in the Klang Valley since the late 1990’s and having let out our own apartment, I was taken aback when I found out that in Penang both the landlord and the tenant are expected to pay the estate agent or agents (as sometimes one would be representing the landlord while the other brings in the tenant). In the Klang Valley, only the landlord are supposed to foot this bill.

I was looking for a unit that was unfurnished which would have allowed me to (1) pay a lower rental, and (2) to acquire furniture and electrical goods to my liking. I thought I had a unit when the estate agents brought me to an empty-unfurnished unit. I asked several times for confirmation about the rental and more importantly the car park space that would come with the unit. The agents confirmed all these each time. Off I went to pay one month’s deposit to secure the unit as unfurnished units in this particular location were hard to come by. While I waited for the landlord to get the rental agreement prepared, I went on to buy a refrigerator, a washing machine, an air conditioner and even a firm mattress. Then came the fateful day agreed by both parties to sign the rental agreement and to hand over the relevant keys. After both the landlord (a landlady in this case) and I had signed the rental agreement I asked to be shown the location of my car park space, I was given the first rude shock. The landlady insisted that the unit did not include a carpark space (even though it is a well known fact that each condo unit in this estate would come with one) and my agents disputed this. However the landlady stood firm and after half an hour of negotiation, I sensed from the eyes of the landlady that there was something that she wanted to attain other than renting out this unit. My suspicion and second shock came when she refused to return my one month’s rental deposit. This lady was out to cheat unsuspecting people of their rental deposit by reneging on there being a car park space (which she misrepresented to the estate agents as being a part of the “deal”). She knew that her victim, a.k.a. yours truly would not have taken the condo unit if the car park space was excluded. She would then be able to pocket the one month’s rental deposit as technically I would forfeit the said rental deposit for not going through with the deal!

I have lost not only the RM850 as deposit due to this scam, I had to deal with the fact that I had electrical goods and furniture already bought and paid for. “Luckily” for me, one of my colleagues has just taken possession of a new condo unit and he would “take over” all my electrical goods, but I had to give him a discount of 15%, losing about another RM400 in the process!

Off I continued with my condo hunt and nursing a RM1,250 financial wound. Luckily for me, the estate agent acting for the landlady, Ms DT was very ethical. DT took responsibility for both of us falling for the trap of this landlady (apparently it is not a standard practice to have the landlord signed on a piece of paper to confirm what are the features and facilities he/she is offering in the property for rent). She waived her fees in searching for a new condo unit for me. Thus this helped to cut my losses significantly but I am still RM400 down for having to dispose of my electrical goods at a steep discount, goods that I had never taken delivery of, I must add!

My advice to all who wants to hunt for a condo, especially in Penang: get to see everything that the landlord or agent claim the property has and make sure this tally with the list of facilities and furniture etc. in the rental deposit form before you hand over your money, or else you may, like me stand to be cheated!

One should try to get an estate agent whom someone who lives locally can recommend. I will surely recommend DT to you!

Incidentally, just 3 days after being scammed, I received a call from another estate agent whom I had contacted earlier. This lady informed me that an unfurnished condo unit at the location I wanted was available. The description of this particular unit (the block and floor it was located) matched the one I was scammed! Thus condo unit hunters in  Penang beware, the predator is now searching for the next victim (or has she been successful in securing more victims after me?)!

I think the authorities in Penang as well as the Penang property agent industry should come out with a clear guideline and best practices to protect innocent tenants like me from be scammed. Having a “standard” declaration of facilities, furnishing and features in the rental booking form would be a good starter.

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