Differences in the Israeli Rental System
So you’re looking to rent an apartment in Israel? B’hatzlacha! Before you start your search, be prepared with a few facts and figures (and maybe an unfounded rumor or two) about apartment rentals in this quirky land of ours.
The whole business of renting a home is very different from the way it was in the old country. Here are some general differences.
First, due to the sky-high cost of real estate, it’s very rare for an individual or even a corporation to own an entire building. Much more commonly, Landlord Plony owns a single apartment, which he/she is renting out. Therefore, you will still have to deal with the vaad bayit regarding building maintenance and improvements.
Second, apartments tend to be advertised on relatively short notice. If you are planning on making aliyah in 11 months, attempting to get your rental home wrapped up right now will most likely lead to frustration. The reason is quite simple: existing tenants are generally required to give a maximum of three months notice before the end of their lease to let the landlord know whether they would like to extend the lease for the coming year.
Third (maybe this should have been first but I didn’t want to depress you), in Jerusalem at least, it’s pretty much of a seller’s market when it comes to rentals. This means no rent controls and a relatively limited supply of available apartments, although the situation is easing somewhat as more foreign buyers purchase properties for investment.
Fourth, the concept of “rent-to-own” is virtually nonexistent.
Starting your search
A few points you should clarify with your family/prospective roommate(s)/significant other before beginning to hunt for a rental:
- How many rooms? (In Israel, rooms are counted as living room + bedrooms + any other rooms EXCEPT kitchen and bathroom [e.g. dining room, study]. A half room could be a really small bedroom or part of extra large living room.)
- Furnished or unfurnished?
- How many floors are we willing to walk up if there’s no elevator in the building?
- What neighborhood(s)? Try to find out as much as you can about areas where you think you might like to live – via the Internet, asking people who are already settled there and just walking around at different times of the day and evening to get a feel of the place.
- How much can we afford?
Now you are ready to start looking for listings. The two most popular sources are owners’ ads on websites such as yad2, and real estate brokers. Yad 2 is free and has quite a few listings but requires a lot of squinting at tiny Hebrew print. Brokers do the squinting for you, at a charge of one month’s rent plus Value Added Tax (currently 16%) for a year’s rental, or ten percent of the total rent plus VAT for shorter terms.
If you opt for the do-it-yourself approach, sooner or later you are actually going to have to speak with potential landlords. In Hebrew. Over the telephone. Scary. Prepare yourself by bribing a Hebrew-speaking friend to do it for you, or at least to sit nearby while you make the call, so you can whisper for help if necessary. Read all the details of the ad carefully. Think in advance of the questions you’d like to ask, and possibly also answers you may be called upon to give … as a sort of dress rehearsal of THE phone call. Look up and try to memorize appropriate Hebrew words and phrases: unless you get lucky early on in your search, you will be needing this vocabulary quite a bit in the days to come.
Here are some things you may want to ask about, if they were not specified in the advertisement:
- Condition of the apartment, including how long ago it was renovated, if ever
- Availability date and period
- As well as the number of rooms, how many square meters the apartment measures. I’ve seen 3-room apartments that were 45 square meters (ouch! that’s tight) and ones that measured 90 square meters or more. Get a mental picture of how much space these measurements represent. And, if you still think in Imperial, a square meter is equivalent to 10.765 square feet.
- What is included (furniture? appliances? Arnona and/or va’ad bayit?* parking? etc)
- Number of stairs (usually 18 per floor, more for gorgeous old high-ceilinged buildings)
- Who the person you are speaking to is and whether he actually owns the apartment (It is advisable to check for proof of ownership before putting down any deposit on the property or signing any document.)
- Whether the owner is trying to sell the apartment (which means that you will have to be ready to have strangers regularly trooping through your home and also that you may have to move out sooner than you’d like)
When you decide to go to and look at some apartments, once again, it’s helpful to bring a friend along. Before you even view – and possibly fall in love with – the apartment, check out the neighborhood. Are there amenities such as public transportation, ganim and schools, grocery stores and religious institutions nearby? Does the area seem clean and quiet? Look at the exterior of the building – is it well-kept and tidy? Try to speak to some of your prospective neighbors and see whether there are any problems in the building.
Once you are inside, keep your eyes open for signs of physical problems such as cracks in the walls or Jerusalem’s common problem, damp, which manifests itself as black patches of mold on the walls, especially in the bathroom, or as peeling paint or water stains. Especially on a high floor, check the water pressure. If you like the apartment, be ready to negotiate the amount of rent and possibly other conditions such as move-in date and furnishings. This is normal and expected. Of course, if you are viewing the apartment with a broker, he or she will handle the negotiation for you. Should the landlord live abroad, find out the local contact person to call on in case of emergency.
If you live abroad, try to find someone to view apartments for you, rather than renting anything based on photos alone.
The Rental Contract
Once you have settled terms, the next step is signing a rental contract. Again, you will be working in Hebrew; it is essential that you have a knowledgeable person, preferably a lawyer, explain every point to you before you put your signature on this binding legal document. Some things that may be included are:
- An option for either party to break the lease by simply giving two months’ notice (!!!???) – once again, quite common in this country, which makes you wonder why you are signing a lease in the first place … You can try requesting that this, or any clause you don’t like, be removed. By the same token, you can request to have certain clauses added, like one outlining who pays for what or a clause permitting you to keep your pet in the apartment.
- An option for you to renew at the end of the initial contract – unlike the previous clause, this is a GOOD thing if you’d like to stay put for a while.
- A clause requiring you to repaint the apartment before you move out if you are receiving it freshly painted.
- A list of all furnishings, which should be signed by both parties.
- Spaces for one to three guarantors to sign that they will be responsible if you should default on the rent. They may be relatives. Once again, common practice. A hassle but not much you can do about it if you want the apartment.
Most likely you will be required to give 12 postdated checks covering a year’s rent, plus a security deposit of several thousand shekels, to be returned once you move out, leaving the apartment in good condition and all bills paid. (The normal practice is for the landlord not to pay interest on this, even if you stay in his or her apartment for several years.)
To protect yourself in case of future disputes, you may wish to photocopy your checks and photograph the apartment and furniture in order to show their condition at the beginning of your contract.
Good luck and enjoy your new home in Israel!
* NOTE: Unless you and the landlord stipulate otherwise, you as the tenant are responsible for paying the rent, Arnona (city tax), vaad bayit (residents’ committee fee), electricity, water, and gas. The landlord is responsible for repairing problems that are caused by normal wear and tear, or by defective equipment, and not by your negligence.