I recently went through the rather stressful experience of trying to find somewhere to live in Mumbai. The options are overwhelming and also very varied in their quality and price. Coming from a country where you look up some places on the internet, view them and sign up… I discovered its all a very different market here in Mumbai.
Brokers are commonly used here to seek out rentals and their costs can be exorbitant (stretching into a few months rent, not to mention the added “extra costs” that they forgot to mention when they pimped you the apartment). I heard a few horror stories along the way, so chose to avoid renting via a broker.
Other options that exist here are either Serviced Apartments, which I found to be rather expensive (upwards of Rs3000 or $60 a night) for something that was livable but not really a long-term option. Paying Guest Houses are also used frequently here. Essentially you live in someone else’s house and are a paying guest. This can be quite a cheap option (from Rs10000 or $200 a month), but you are actually living in someone’s house and subject to their rules. This could mean you have to be home by 9pm, no visitors allowed, no access to the kitchen, constant questions about your life… absolutely anything. Aside from the price, it didn’t sound too appealing.
Since I had nothing but the pack on my back, I chose to look at furnished share houses first. At least then I wouldn’t have to go through the expense of buying furniture etc just yet, and hopefully it would also mean I could meet some new people.
One of the things that makes India an easy place to look for share places is the way Indians have embraced technology and social media. There are no less than 5 Mumbai Expat Facebook Groups that I joined, along with putting messages on Twitter seeking out a flatmate. As a result I received numerous emails and messages from people I would never have met otherwise offering rooms in their house or letting me know of share apartments that they had heard of. Some were a bit creepy, usually men, who I steered clear of, but in the most part they were all genuine and so very helpful. I am actually quite overwhelmed just how willing to help people were, it was really lovely.
I viewed a few places of varying budgets and found that they all varied considerably in terms of expectations and quality.
One place I saw in a great location in Bandra was a share house with 2 other women. The room was a reasonable size and had its own small but adequate ensuite bathroom. As I inspected it I was told that the air conditioner would not be staying, neither would the bed, the bathroom needed retiling and the whole place needed to be re-painted. When I asked if these would all be rectified by the landlord before I moved in, my potential new flatmate laughed and told me that I would be expected to pay for all of those costs myself! Clearly landlords hold all the power here, and tenants are at their mercy and whim.
The next place I looked at was in the up and coming beachside suburb of Versova. What was advertised a two bedroom apartment with a sea view, was actually a tiny one bedroom with a little alcove that was being dressed up as a bedroom. The living area fitted a small two seater couch and not much else. The kitchen was big enough for one person to stand sideways in, but I couldn’t see where a fridge or any appliances would fit. Then I went to look at the bedroom. Walking into a small alcove, there was a single bed on the floor… I was advised that this would be my room. Off that alcove was a door leading to the master bedroom and ensuite. The Ensuite would be shared by both of us. So essentially, anytime my potential flatmate went to her bedroom she had to walk through my room, and anytime I wanted to use the bathroom I had to traipse through her bedroom. When I pointed that out, she smiled at me and told me:
“Oh don’t worry, we can just both sleep in my bed together”
Ummm, she was very cute, but really not my type!
Another I found was actually quite nice and spacious and reasonably priced, but what was advertised as a bed was actually a small single sofa that you could sleep on perhaps ocasionally. This whole flat hunting thing was proving to be very challenging indeed.
The next place I went to check out was also in a great location in Bandra, and I arranged to meet the owner at 8pm. At 8.15pm I rang her to see where she was… she was still at work at the other end of town and had forgotten all about me. No worries, I had only travelled an hour out of my way to get there at night! We arranged to meet again in the morning at 7.30am, so it was an early morning trek for me, and thankfully she was actually home this time when I arrived.
The place was large, airy, newly renovated and homely. It was expensive but manageable and thankfully I was not expected to sleep with my flatmate.
The only other issue that arose, that I still find ridiculous here is the issue of a deposit. I am used to a deposit being required for a rental, and in Australia the standard is one month’s rent that is deposited with a reputable authority. Here in Mumbai it doesn’t bear any relation to the rent and is at a minimum 2 lakhs (Rs200,000 or $4,000) or more. It is expected to be given in cash (yes cash) to the landlord and you just have to hope that you may see it again. I have heard many horror stories from people who have seen a landlord pick at non-existent damage to a property and never seen their deposit again. Its a leap of faith, but you’re at the mercy of the landlord so there isn’t too much you can do about it.
So I kissed goodbye to a large chunk of cash and moved my meagre belongings into my new apartment. Its comfortable and my flatmate has been welcoming. I have taken over the kitchen and been relishing spending time on the couch, eating home cooked food and watching trashy TV. After 9 months travelling on a shoestring, it is nice to finally have somewhere to call home.