Finding an Apartment
Decent housing and utility can be had relatively cheap in Egypt. Still, finding, securing and maintaining a rental can be a long process.
The best way to start your search is to narrow down where exactly it is that you want to live. Odds are that you will be living in either Cairo or Alexandria as a foreigner, and these cities each have districts that are particularly popular among foreign students, for example in Nasr City, Cairo District 7 (hay saba) and District 8 (hay thaamin) are the most popular.
The most common way to find an apartment for foreigners is to utilize a real estate agent (called a simsaar). These agents are usually self-employed; however there are companies that provide these services as well. The agent has contacts with apartment owners, and will take a person around to look at apartments and help the person to sign a contract. A good simsaar typically takes a fee that is equivalent to a percentage of the overall value of the contract, usually around 10%, or equivalent to one month’s rent for longer contracts. There are some agents that have lower fees as well, either as a lower percentage or a flat rate. The agent also takes an equivalent fee from the apartment owner. There is no fee taken if a contract is not signed.
Since the fee that an agent takes is usually a percentage of the value of the contract, it is in the best interest of the agent as well as the apartment owner to raise the rent as much as possible. Therefore a foreigner that is looking for an apartment needs to know the amount a typical apartment in the area costs. The renter also needs to express clearly and firmly to the agent the type of apartment that he/she is looking for and the amount of rent that he/she is willing to pay, and then to resist attempts by the agent to push an expensive or sub-par apartment.
It is best for a new student to consult with other students in the area on 3 apartment prices, and if possible have another student help with the search. Most of the Arabic institutes can direct a new student to a simsaar, including some who speak English (although this is rare). However from personal experiences some individuals at certain centres will collude with the simsaar and try exploit your position as a ‘western foreigner with bags of cash’.
In general a new student needs to be very cautious and firm when dealing with an agent, and not rush into a bad contract. It may be more cost effective to stay a night or two in a cheap hotel and make sure you get the right place; the more comfortable you are the better you will study.
Typical Apartment Prices
The following are typical rent prices that students in Cairo pay. The prices vary based on the location, size, and quality of the apartment.
Prices are higher for short-term contracts, and are 1.5 to 2 times as much in the summer months. The prices listed below are for a one year contract.
Most Western students live in Nasr City due to its proximity to Arabic language institutes as well as the new Al-Azhar men’s campus and the women’s campus. The rents in Nasr City tend to be higher than most other areas in Cairo due to the large amount of foreigners and the reputation of the area as being higher class.
The larger and more well-known Arabic institutes are in the 7th and 8th districts of Nasr City.
A nice, clean 2 bedroom furnished apartment with one or two ACs in the 7th or 8th district starts from around 2000 LE/$335/£200 and goes up to 3000 LE/$500/ £300 for a very nice apartment. A lower quality apartment can be had for 1500 LE/$250/£150 or less. A similar nice apartment in the 10th district can be rented for around 1500 LE or less.
Unfurnished apartments in the 7th or 8th district start from around 1200 LE/$200/£120 for a basic 2 bedroom apartment to as high as 1700 LE/$285/£170 or more for a nice apartment. The difference in rent between a furnished and an unfurnished apartment is not very large in these areas, and unfurnished apartments are difficult to find in these areas.
Fancy a browse?
I’ve attached below a number of good websites for browsing and seeing what’s on the market.
The following is a list of items to check when looking for a furnished apartment:
• The noise from outside of the apartment is bearable and one can sleep with the noise.
• If it is on the ground floor, the windows have bars.
• The kitchen should have a good fridge, stove, and oven. For the stove/oven a built-in gas line is preferred but not necessary.
• The apartment is not overloaded with furniture.
• The apartment should have a washing machine, and it should be fully automatic.
• The mattresses on the beds should be comfortable.
• There should be an AC in the main bedroom.
• The toilets flush properly.
• Hot water is working in the bathrooms and in the kitchen.
• The following furniture should be provided: dining table, couches, beds, closets.
• Plates, spoons, forks, pots, and other kitchen utensils should be provided.
• The phone line and electricity are working.
• The renter should ask about the monthly apartment maintenance fees, ranging from around 40 LE/$6/£4 for a building without an elevator to about double that for a building with an elevator.
• The renter should ask about the deposit for the apartment, typically 1 months’ rent.
• The renter should ask about the payment of rent, typically paid once a month. Sometimes a landlord will ask for several months up front, a renter should be weary of this and try to avoid it.
• The apartment should be checked thoroughly for anything broken. This should be noted down, and for anything fixable the renter should ask for a guarantee that it will be fixed.
Sealing the deal
Renter and Landlord Relations
When a contract is signed, the following should be clearly stated on the contract:
• A list of the furniture in the apartment.
• A list of anything broken in the apartment.
• The monthly rent to be paid and the date of collection.
• The deposit amount.
• A list of conditions that are agreed upon, such as fixing a toilet or anything else not working.
• Contact information of the landlord.
A copy of the contract should be given to the landlord, and one copy kept by the renter.
The renter has the following obligations:
• Paying for all utilities, including electricity, gas, and phone/internet.
• Paying the monthly apartment maintenance fee.
• Paying the rent on time.
• Keeping the apartment in good shape.
• The renter has the right to change the locks of the apartment (this is a usual practice).
• If the renter takes the apartment in a clean state, then he/she must leave the apartment in a clean state (typically the landlord pays for cleaning when the renter moves in, and the renter pays for cleaning when leaving).
The landlord has the following obligations:
• Collecting the rent on time. The landlord does not have the right to take the rent early.
• Paying for all repairs that are not caused by the renter, including malfunctioning plumbing or appliances.
• The landlord does not have the right to enter the apartment without permission.
• The landlord does not have the right to take any furniture or put any furniture in the apartment.
Important points when about to sign a contract
• Ideally, you want to make sure to have copies of your rental contract in both English and Arabic.
• The contract should cover all the important details
• You can never be too careful when it comes to your rental contract. While there are plenty of wonderful, fair simsars (landlords) out there, there are also plenty rotten apples. Issues foreign tenants have experienced include: sudden rent hikes (either designed to squeeze them for a few more pounds or to force them out to make room for a tenant who is willing to pay higher rent), premature terminations of leases (to make room for a landlord’s family members!) and nigh-irretrievable security deposits.
• Make sure your contract is clear on the terms of the lease (length, conditions for renewal, monthly rent). Insist that once these items are finalized, they are non-negotiable. You may find it helpful to have an Egyptian friend (or at least an expat friend who speaks solid Arabic) with you during this process.
• You should also do your best to have the landlord specify what repairs (if any) he is willing to cover, and whether he is willing to reimburse you for some or all of certain improvements to the property (e.g. rewiring, plumbing repairs, resurfacing floors, purchasing new furniture, installation of a wired or wireless internet connection). The response will vary from landlord to landlord, but you will find that a little extra effort is often rewarded. Make sure that you have tested the toilet flush, whether the AC/fans work, the taps in the bathroom and sink and if there is hot water.
• Remember to inquire about trash collection and visitor policies.
Handling problems with landlords
• If you do run into a situation where your landlord cheats you, steals from you, or attempts to unfairly evict you, your best bet is to threaten to report him to the police. The prospect of police intervention will terrify a good number of landlords (the Egyptian police have an unfortunate reputation for using excessive force), and may encourage more reasonable behaviour in and of itself.
• You may, however, encounter someone who is well-connected with the local authorities, and in this case there will not be a whole lot you can do. If you have lost property or are being evicted against the terms of your lease, you should still try and file a police report. Whether the authorities will take any action will depend largely on the strength of your rental contract and the nature of their relationship to your landlord.
• If you start to feel trapped in a lease with an overbearing landlord, opt out sooner rather than later, even if it means losing a security deposit. Know from the outset that a bad situation will probably not improve over time.
Gas, electricity and water
When it comes to utilities, you will find that Egyptian flats almost always have full utility service prearranged. If you’re living in an apartment building, your bowwab (doorman) will handle your utility bills.
Your bowwab will arrange for garbage collection (there is no government-organized trash collection from your flat), he will clean the building interior (not your flat, however) and he will arrange for any repairs needed in or around your flat.
These are generally very small slips of paper: you should expect to see one for gas, one for electricity and a third for water. In many cases the figures will be listed in Arabic only, which should serve as further incentive for you to learn the language. Depending on variables like air conditioning and whether your water is heated by gas or electricity, you can expect to pay a over 100LE/$17/£10 month for utilities.
Until you develop a rapport with your bowwab, do not give him money for utilities without seeing a bill (say Eyez shoof hisseb and karate chop your right hand against your left palm indicating a bill). Similarly, you should not give money to anyone claiming to have been sent by your bowwab to collect money for rent or utilities. If this happens, it is perfectly acceptable (and smart) to decline by saying you want to pay him in person. The person at your door may or may not react well upon hearing this. If you are shy about standing up for yourself, you should work to correct this quality before you arrive in Egypt.
One exception to this rule is trash collection. The person who collects your trash will probably come to your door once or twice a month to request money for the service. As trash collection is arranged informally, he will not present a bill. It is customary to give him between LE5 and LE10 for his services.
Similarly, you will pay your bowwab a monthly fee in addition to your rent. This is usually around 40LE/$6/£6, but you can adjust it upward if you feel inclined to as most bowwabs are very poor and a little extra would mean a lot to them. You should take care to develop a good rapport with your bowwab – he’ll be able to help you with everything from a burned-out light bulb to a cockroach infestation.
• Under no circumstances should you rent the first available flat that you see.
• Beware of going looking for “the real Egypt” when flat hunting. What may seem like a quaint, exotic Egyptian neighbourhood (and a steal of a monthly rent bill) at first glance may quickly turn into a nightmare for a foreign tenant – water and electricity may cut out without warning or you may discover a number of many-legged flatmates who aren’t listed on the lease.
• If you decide to hit the pavement yourself and ask the Bowwabs then they will require a fee if you take the flat; pay around 200 LE/$33/£20
• Be aware that most real estate agents will not offer much help when it comes to price negotiations. In most cases, they serve as matchmakers rather than dealmakers – make sure to negotiate the rent with your landlord before you settle.
Some of the information presented has been adapted and edited from the following sources : http://www.dhikrullah.com and www. justlanded.com