A Guide to Sharing A Flat Off-Campus

June 05, 2014 / by / 0 Comment

So you’ve decided to forsake all the university accommodation options and take matters into your own hands. Or you actually applied, but were told by the halls that you aren’t sporty or social or pretty or come from a good enough high school to be offered a space in their elite dwellings (just kidding…). Or you didn’t manage to get a perfect necessity score on the scale, because it only takes you one hour as opposed to two for others to get to school every day. But whatever the reason is, speaking as someone who has been renting outside of school for three years, I must first wish you the best of luck, for the process is by no means a walk in the park; in fact, be prepared for a journey as arduous as that of the dwarves’ to the Lonely Mountains in The Hobbit (and with no cool eagles to shorten your journey either). And prices for flats aren’t cheap; Hong Kong is notorious for having the most outrageous land prices, with us cramming over 7 million people into a tiny space, and while I find renting in Sai Ying Pun/Kennedy Town still fairly reasonable, the rent is sure to shoot up with the imminent opening of the new MTR station. My last flat yielded a rent of $13500 for a mere 400+ sq feet, and I was paying around $2000 per month (minus utilities) for a sofa space.

But living in non-uni administered flats has its obvious perks too. There’s no pressure to ‘contribute’ in activities or even socialize, and no all-visitors-must-leave-by-10:30pm rule. You have a lot more autonomy and privacy, and if someone takes food from your fridge, there are a lot less suspects on your list. If you’re looking for community spirit, you may be better suited for a hall, but provided that you have a good bunch of people, your flatmates could also be a great support group and a real home away from home – mine definitely was.

Step One/Two: Look a flat and flatmates

Which one you do first is generally a matter of priority. If you decide to first look for a flat, you may end up with the annoying situation of having an empty apartment with no one to shoulder the burden of the rent with for a month, but if you first look for flatmates, it may take a while for you to gather enough people who are actually determined to look for flats together, and by that time whatever place you have your eye on may be gone. Usually these steps are followed closely by one another, or even done simultaneously.

The HKU CEDARS Accommodation section is always a good place to start. If you’re lucky, you may be able to find listings on the mini-hall section; people posting there are those who have already found a flat, but have available rooms and are looking for more people to split the rent with. All you’d have to do then is to contact the student, take a look at the flat, and if everything seems alright, you’re good to go. If you’d like to start from scratch, however, the site also has listings of landlords, and using this channel you’ll both be able to avoid the exorbitant agency fees (sometimes up to a month’s rent). If you’re an international student thinking of approaching agencies (e.g. Midland Estate) yourself, you can hire translators – there are agents who deal exclusively with these cases – but to prevent getting ripped off, a better option may be to ask your Cantonese speaking local friend to tag along, because you’d never know what deal these agents and the landlords are negotiating on behalf of you.

Flatmates are a tricky issue. People you are good friends with may not necessarily make good flatmates, and in some cases it may even jeopardise your friendship. If you’re not opposed to living  with strangers, keep an open mind and trust your gut feeling. First try your luck on Facebook by posting a status; friends may help spread the word to people they know. If that doesn’t work, CEDARS has a helpful service called iMap ( which is a flatmate-hunting site (amongst other things) that operates like a online dating platform. If all fails, there’s always the Facebook group FindYourRoomInHongKong, though the crowd on there is generally more non-student working expats, and short-term leases dominate.

Step Three: Leases, Agreements, and Ground Rules

I cannot pretend to know a lot about this, since there were two guys I lived with that pretty much handled everything in the two occasions that we moved, but genereally HongKongers refer to tenancy agreements as 生約(literally living lease) and 死約 (dead lease). The former is more flexible and can be terminated any time by either side so long as notice is given within a stipulated period, while the latter is usually fixed term with no break clause and cannot be terminated by either party.

If you choose to be the one to sign the agreement and handle the dealings with the landlord, it may be problematic if the lease spans for more than one year. If your flatmates are on exchange or not committed to staying for long term, you may want to rethink whether you want to rent with them. It may therefore be a good idea to find people in the same year as you. Even if they are full time students, it’s likely that new situations will arise (e.g. financial difficulties, summer jobs abroad) and so it’s good to state upfront what your obligations are. For example, if they’ve decided to stop renting, let them know that they have to be responsible for looking for new flatmates, and the notice they have to give you and others. Some has gone as far as to sign contracts, but an informal agreement everyone binds by may suffice.

Sharing a flat can give rise to many conflicts, and that’s where setting ground rules come in. Sheldon’s Roommate Agreement with Leonard may be a bit far-fetched, but it never hurts to come to a consensus as to how the expenses of daily necessities will be divided, the hours in which visitors are welcomed, and arrangements for boyfriends/girlfriends staying over. Basic rules on keeping the flat tidy (e.g. washing up responsibilities after meals) should also be made and observed.

Step Four: Shopping

Unfortunately, unlike university-administered accommodations, loads of flats are unfurnished, but on the bright side, you’ll get to personalize it your own way. IKEA is the obvious place to start, but the nearest one is at Causeway Bay, so for other more trivial utilities, there are a couple of PriceRites and Japan Home Centres in the Western District that will be good enough. If you don’t mind second-hand stuff, Buy and Sell @ HKU may be a good place to look; its peak periods are usually at the end of the semesters when exchange students are leaving. The furniture section of Hong Kong Property ( can also be helpful.

Step Five: Moving In 

If you’re an exchange student, chances are you probably only have 1-2 suitcases worth of stuff, but if you’re a local student, try to survive on as little as you can, and don’t feel the need to move the entire contents of your room at your parent’s place to your new flat, because when the time comes for you to have to move out, you’ll be tearing your hair out. Recently the lease at my old flat just ended, and since there’s a 9-day gap between that and when my summer residence at Lung Wah (the Residential Colleges) begins, I’ve had to deposit all my belongings with four different friends. It appears that even after I’ve moved all of my winter coats home, I still have three full refugee bags worth of clothes, around 40 novels, and a suitcase of miscellaneous items (e.g. the Kurt Cobain wall art I picked up at Thailand, my Beatles coffee mug, a mini-blender, law books I can’t throw out because chances are they’ll be useful if I manage to be admitted into the PCLL programme three years from now……). It took 5 days, countless taxi rides, lots of THANK YOUS to the wonderful people who allowed me to store stuff at their place, and my amazing helpful but skinny ex-flatmate to finish moving everything. If you didn’t have to coordinate people at different times and only have one place to send your stuff to, calling a van (such as 雞記) is probably a better option, though some companies may refuse to do it if the distance is too short. If you have friends that drive and owns a car, now may be a good time to bribe them with a meal in exchange for chauffeuring services.

Finally, here’s a little something I wrote in my first year of moving out, and a lot of it still holds true now. Happy flat-hunting!

Ten Things You Learn When You Move Out

1) Laundry does not magically do itself.

2) No restaurant will ever be able to produce anything that even remotely tastes like the food you get at home.

3) Plan flatmate dinners way ahead of time. Even if the six of you live together it’ll still at least a month to get everyone in the same room at the same time.

4) Things tend to disappear and then reappear weeks later, when you’ve already gotten replacements or don’t need them anymore. When you find them, they’re always either under the sofa or on someone else’s bed.

5) Any desire to invent new dishes (a.k.a. wreck havoc in the kitchen) will evaporate when you realize how much time and work you need to clean up.

6) Hair is everywhere.

7) Sleep is for the weak.

8) A tube of toothpaste that looks like it’s done can still last a week even when shared amongst six people. And it will last a week too, despite the fact that it’s less than 20 bucks and you live next to a supermarket.

9) Buy two sets of everything unless you want your rucksack be stone-heavy every time you go back home for the weekend.

10) There’s no place like home. Really.

(Picture: View from my old Kennedy Town flat on North Street, Summer 2012).