2017-08-10 10:05:46

Hangzhou has become China’s first city to announce a comprehensive housing rental platform after the central government vowed to standardize the country’s underregulated rental industry, in which tenants often fall victim to scammers.

The Hangzhou Housing Security and Management Bureau signed an agreement with e-commerce tycoon Jack Ma’s Alibaba and Ant Financial on Wednesday to codevelop an online platform for the city’s rental market, according to a statement posted on the bureau’s official website.

Hangzhou, in eastern China’s Zhejiang province, was among the 12 pilot cities selected by the central government in July to boost local rental markets. Requirements included creating a comprehensive rental platform, standardizing leasing contracts, and keeping an online record of every contract.

To streamline the leasing process and stamp out scams, Hangzhou’s landlords and housing agents will soon need to register on the platform with their real names and submit information about their properties. The local housing bureau will then verify the property’s ownership before making the information to the public on its platform, the statement said.

E-commerce giant Alibaba and its financial services affiliate Ant Financial — both of which are headquartered in Hangzhou and have long cultivated a cordial relationship with the local government — will provide big data technology to rate every landlord, tenant, and agent.

Not all of the regulations have been finalized, however. The housing bureau said in its statement that it will partner with Ant Financial’s personal credit system, Sesame Credit, and that tenants with high credit scores will likely not need to pay deposits, and will be allowed to pay rent in monthly installments instead of every two or three months, as is common in China.

The platform will be launched in late September, Han Junqing, director of the property transaction registration center, which falls under the local housing bureau, told Sixth Tone’s sister publication The Paper.

“There have been many rental platforms, but none of them provide comprehensive information,” said Yan Yuejin, director of the real estate think tank E-house China R&D Institute in Shanghai. Hangzhou’s upcoming platform, however, “collects and combines all sorts of information and resources,” which in the future can be better used to analyze rental behavior, Yan told Sixth Tone.

China’s fast-paced urbanization, combined with skyrocketing home prices in major cities, has spawned a lively but underregulated rental market. Unscrupulous housing agents and landlords have been caught raising rents at random, forcing tenants out before their leases end, refusing to return deposit fees when tenants move out, and flouting construction safety standards when remodeling properties.

Policy changes have also made renting more popular. In July, the city of Guangzhou in southern China announced that it planned to give tenants the same rights as homeowners when enrolling their children in local schools.

As of February, some 160 million people — from migrants flocking to work in cities, to students attending university far from home, to young couples living separately from their parents — opted to rent, according to the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development. In Hangzhou, rental transactions increased 9 percent during the first six months of this year compared with the same period of last year, the local housing bureau stated.

Editor: Kevin Schoenmakers.

(Header image: PhotoAlto Agency/VCG)