Before you think about signing a lease for your first apartment in Israel, here are seven essential questions you MUST ask. Make sure you know the answers before you put pen to paper.
- Can a realtor help me? Maybe yes, maybe no. In some areas, a realtor for rentals may be hard (like outside the centre of the country). If you do find one, they generally charge a fee of one month’s rent. We couldn’t find a realtor, but in the end, I found our place easily on “Yad Shtayim,” one big website for secondhand goods and real estate. I used Google Translate for terms and descriptions I didn’t understand and Google Maps to help me understand where each apartment was.
- Who owns the apartment? Unlike in the U.S. and Canada, buildings aren't usually centrally owned, so each apartment in a building has a different owner. Most buildings have a "Vaad HaBayit" (Building Committee) to make sure central expenses get paid and central issues (like painting and cleaning) are dealt with. Ask, because this is extra on top of your rent.
- Are appliances included? Usually not. Unfurnished apartments don't include appliances like washer, fridge, stove. You will probably need to buy these when you move into your first apartment in Israel (measure first!!!).
- Is there a laundromat in the building? Again, usually not. Apartment buildings do NOT (usually) have washing machines or dryers.
- How high can I climb? Apartments higher up are cheaper. That's because there's usually no elevator, at least in older buildings. Whenever you go see an apartment, picture yourself staggering up the stairs with a cart full of groceries. Now add 40-degree (Celsius) summer heat.
- How does it smell? Don't assume that a bad smell is because the current tenant is slovenly and that you can fix it. Smells in Israel are strong and sometimes permanent. Decide if you want to live with the odour of cat pee 24/7, because it may not be the tenant's fault after all.
- Should I get a lawyer? Yes!!! Use a real estate lawyer for your first lease. Many landlords use a standard lease but don't mind changing a couple of clauses if your lawyer suggests it. It probably won't cost much for an uncomplicated agreement and will be well worth it. Be sure to add in a clause that allows you to rent for another year if you choose to; that's not part of a standard lease but it’s very useful to have this flexibility built right in. If you’re anywhere near Haifa, I highly recommend Dena Slonim, the lawyer we used: Phone (office): 04 826 6583, Email (office): firstname.lastname@example.org. She does property, but also Estate Planning, Wills/Probate, Commercial, Notary, Mediation
What else will I pay?
While we’re talking about renting an apartment, beyond the actual monthly rent that you’ll pay for your place, you should also expect to pay the following:
- Arnona, city taxes, every other month (this is your responsibility, NOT your landlord's)
- Vaad habayit – buildings usually have a central building committee for shared expsenses like stairway lighting & maintenance, yard work, etc; this is paid monthly
- Electricity (there's one central electric company in Israel called "Chevrat Chashmal" ie "Electric Company")
- Water (usually to your local municipality's water company)
- Sewer (to your local jurisdiction)
- Gas (some apartments have central gas, but most use "balloons")
- Phone / TV etc.
- Internet PLUS Internet "provider" - these are 2 separate companies, with 2 separate bills
I don't want to give you "typical" numbers for these, because they can vary wildly. It's perfectly acceptable to ask the landlord or a current tenant how much they pay for each of these things.
Apartment renting vocabulary
Here are some useful words to have in your arsenal when you’re starting out renting an apartment:
- פנוי / פנויה – panuy / pnuya = available (male / female)
- אקטואלי / לא אקטואלי – aktuali / lo aktuali = still available / no longer available
- רלוונטי / לא רלוונטי – relevanti / lo relevanti = still available / no longer available
- דירה – dira = apartment
- בית פרטי / וילה – bayit prati / villa = private house / villa
- קומה – koma = floor (remember, the FIRST floor in Israel is up one level!)
- מעלית – ma’alit = elevator
- ארנונה – arnona = city tax
- חשמל – chashmal = electricity
- מים – mayim = water
- גז – gaz = gas
- בלון – balon = balloon (gas tank)
- מרכזי – merkazi = central (as in central gas supply, as opposed to balloons)
- ביוב – biyuv = sewer (a bimonthly bill)
- וועד הבית – vaad habayit = building committee
- עירייה – iriya = city hall, where you’ll go to set up some of your local bills
Don’t judge a book by its cover
By the way, one thing I've learned from experience here in Israel: don't judge an apartment from the outside. Hold off passing judgment until you've seen (and smelled) the inside.
Since we've been here, I've seen some of the most lovely apartments in some of the most rotten buildings... and vice versa. So wait until you’ve explored the place, inside and out, before you make a decision.
Did I miss any vocabulary? Maybe there’s a question you wish you’d asked that isn’t in my Top Seven??? I’d love to hear your wisdom when it comes to renting your first apartment in Israel! Let me know in the Comments.