Searching for a rental apartment in one of the big cities is a process to which most Olim will dedicate some weeks or months. There are a number of pitfalls and factors to take into account. While searching for apartments, I often found that I forgot to ask about one or more important points, so I wrote them down in a message to myself to ensure I covered each one. For the benefit of future flat-seekers, and to help people be marginally quicker at skim-reading posts for the important information, I’ve decided to collate these major considerations in one place with a bit of Hebrew too. The relative importance of each consideration will obviously vary from person to person, but these are the factors that most people take into account.
Things to consider about the apartment
- Price (מחיר; sometimes שכ”ד – abbreviation for S’khar Dira, rent; also דמי שכירות – rent)
- Typical bills: in particular Va’ad Bayit (building management) and Arnona (municipal tax). These will add to the price and can vary drastically depending on how modern the building is and whether there are expensive things to maintain such as lifts. The other bills (water, gas and electricity) usually come to a fairly predictable amount, although that will be influenced by whether there is a solar water heater (דוד שמש) or electric (דוד חשמל) among other things, so this is worth checking too.
- Agency fee (תיווך) – if an advert is posted by an agent (usually obvious from the fact that the advert is well-formatted, or the name of the user who posted the advert), you will have to pay one month’s rent to the agent. Supposedly this is not supposed to happen anymore unless you yourself commissioned the agent, but it still does.
- Number of rooms – note that the convention in Israel is that:
- 2-room = 1 bedroom and 1 living room
- 2.5-room = 1 bedroom, 1 living room, 1 small spare room
- 3-room = 2 bedrooms and one living room
- 3.5-room = 2 bedrooms, 1 living room, 1 small spare room
- 4-room = 3 bedrooms and one living room
- Location (מיקום) – distance to beach / friends’ apartments / supermarket / Shuk / public transport (both internal and intercity). Is it within distribution area of online grocery orders?
- Noise – often the advert will say that it’s שקט ועורפי – quiet and not facing the street. Check this by visiting the apartment and listening to the noise. In particular, ask if there is going to be construction nearby during the lease.
- Photos and quality of apartment: is it renovated (משופצת)?
- Kitchen: are there lots of surfaces? Is there a fridge (מקרר) / in-built oven (תנור) / stove (כיריים) / dishwasher (מדיח כלים)?
- Balcony (מרפסת) or rooftop (גג)?
- Air conditioning (מיזוג \ מזגן) – is there a unit in every room, or is it central? Does it have a heating function?
- Furnished (מרוהטת) – does the apartment come with furniture, and if so, to what extent? Anything goes here. Some places are completely empty after just being built or renovated – lacking even a fridge. Items like sofas / beds / cupboards sometimes come with the place and sometimes not. It is normal for the previous tenants to own some of the furniture and want to sell them on.
- Washing machine (מכונת כביסה) – some places have ‘em, some don’t, in some cases you buy from the previous tenant, as with other furniture.
- Parking (חניה)/ place to put a bike – if the place comes with a private parking spot, this can usually be rented out (in Tel Aviv) for 600 – 1000 shekels per month. Sometimes they will note in the post that there is lots of public parking (blue and white striped pavements) nearby.
- Landlords – are they really nasty or really nice? You can sometimes find this out from the previous tenants.
- Floor number (קומה) – this seems to bother a lot of people. If it’s on a higher floor, it’s worth finding out if there is a lift.
- Length of contract – typically a year
- Entrance date (תאריך כניסה)
- Mutual liability on contract – is there just one total figure that the tenants are collectively liable to pay? This is less ideal than a contract which specifies how much each tenant is separately responsible to pay.
- Sublet – if you’re joining an apartment with existing tenants, it’s possible you’ll be acting as a subletter: an official tenant has a contract with the landlord, and you just pay money to that person. Often this will be written explicitly on the advert. A more flexible and lightweight arrangement but sometimes technically disallowed by the contract and may mean less legal cover.
- Security deposit – there are several types of deposits and guarantees, and landlords often ask for a combination:
- Pikadon (פיקדון): a cash deposit given to the landlord which they have to return at the end of the rental period (or is sometimes used to pay the last month’s rent). Usually equal to 1-3 months of rent (legally capped at 3 months) and can often be negotiated down to one month.
- Shtar Hov (שטר חוב) (promissory note): effectively a pledge by a guarantor (ערב, Arev) to pay a certain amount under certain circumstances specified in the rental contract. The landlord can use this to redeem money you owe them.
- Arevut Banka’it (ערבות בנקאית) (bank guarantee): the bank acts as your guarantor; it ringfences the money in the guarantee, and charges a fee for the service. The landlord can go to the bank to redeem the money without entering into a lengthy lawsuit. The advantage is that it allows someone who doesn’t have guarantors in Israel to provide guarantees to landlords.
- Cheques: it’s fairly typical for the landlord to ask for 12 post-dated cheques for each month’s rent. Sometimes they’ll also ask for a cheque as a guarantee, which they won’t cash unless they need to redeem the guarantee. Often they will also ask for blank cheques addressed to billing companies so that they can pay the bills if you leave without paying them.
- Check there are no extraordinary charges on the contract. It’s worth getting the contract reviewed by a lawyer before signing, there are some pro bono services for new Olim, and also a discounted legal counsel service for Tel Aviv residents – (49 shekels if you have a DigiTel card).
There are a few things to establish about the flatmates specifically which may constitute dealbreakers. It’s always worth having these discussions up front to check that you agree on some basic rules rather than discovering major problems later on.
- Pets (often disallowed by the landlord anyway)
- System for keeping the apartment clean
- Having guests / liaisons – this can get particularly tricky in the case of boyfriends and girlfriends. On the one hand, you signed up to live with the flatmates, not their significant others (whom you may not like); on the other hand, it’s their apartment too. Worth agreeing in advance.
- Grocery shopping, whether food will be shared or not
- Noise and parties
- Kashrut in the flat, and observance of Shabbat