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Thinking about renting an apartment in Poland? There are some important things to know that might be different from your home country. Some are common sense, some are just strange, some could really cost you money and stress if you get caught out.

image pen and key lying on lease

Check everything before you sign on the dotted line

Here are 12 things to watch out for, based on experiences and stories from ex-pats who have moved to Poland. And you’ll find a lease signing checklist at the end of the article.

Your experience may vary, as is always the case with anectodal reports like this. But if nothing else, seeing what problems others have had might save you some real stress later. Some of these gotchas also apply to serviced apartments.
 

1. You may need to register at your local town hall, and have the landlord present

If you want to do anything serious in Poland, like register a car, get a PESEL number, or start a business you will probably need to be registered at both the voivodeship, and your local town hall. If you are lucky these might be in the same building.

To my surprise, I found that your landlord must actually be present in order for you to register yourself (this was in Sopot and Gdańsk). It makes no sense. The landlord doesn’t know why, the town hall doesn’t know why, nobody seems to know why. Rules may vary by town.

So if you are renting a place and want to register, be prepared to meet your landlord at the town hall and fill out your registration together. This might be a problem if your landlord does not live nearby, or even worse, if you have already moved in to the apartment and they decide for whatever reason they can’t be bothered to go to your town hall and do the paperwork.

Possible mitigation: Try and get registered immediately that you move in, before the landlord has had time to move away or lose interest in you.
 

2. If you want a home office you need a clause in your lease

When I say home office, I don’t mean dial in to the office and do some remote work. I mean if you ever want to run a legal business entity like Sp. z o. o. from home like I did, you will have to have a clause in your lease. Yes that’s right, when you go to try and set up your company you will need to provide a copy of your lease to the government, and being Poland, a standard lease just won’t do.

So if there is even the remotest possibility you will want to do it, get it in the lease when it’s being prepared to save yourself a huge headache later.

Possible mitigation: Decide in advance if you want to do this, and get it into the lease from the start, or more importantly, ensure there is no objection before you sign.
 

3. Most apartments are furnished

Many countries generally rent apartments unfurnished. It seems like the former iron curtain is a bit of a furniture curtain. While the Czech Republic is a mix of both, Poland is very much a furnished place, with 90%+ already furnished. If you find yourself coming from say Germany or Britain, you might have trouble sticking that truckload of furniture anywhere useful.
Options are quite limited..

  • get rid of your stuff
  • find a brand new apartment and get in before the landlord has had a chance to start buying stuff to fill it up
  • convince the landlord to remove their tat so you can install your stuff
  • buy your own house / apartment instead (shudder)

Possible mitigation: Tough to say, but the best approach might be to view furnished things, then see if you can wheedle your way into getting the landlord to take their stuff out.
 

4. Real estate agents often don’t have the keys

This definitely rates as bizarre for many foreigners. The estate agents that list the properties never have keys. That’s right, if you want to view a property, the landlord has to meet both you and the agent at the property. It seems the agent is something of a useless appendage, except for being a glorified telephonist / web page creator / email processor. If you are lucky, they might be able to help out with the language where the landlord can’t or won’t speak English.

They might also be able to make themselves useful if you want someone to twist the landlord’s arm into the above 1-registration or 2-clause.

Possible mitigation: Not much to say here, just be aware it can take a while sometimes to arrange viewings as you will need alignment of both landlord and agent.
 

5. Agent fees vary widely and sometimes have schemes

In return for being such an appendage, they want money. Sometimes a lot of money.

The first time I rented in Poland, I had a “seeking” agent, in fairness they did do some work with looking on the web and attending viewings when I came on preemptive visits. In the end, on signing day there was a large gathering of people, the landlords, and two agencies (or was it three) all passing bits of contract paper to each other, with me at the end of the chain, coughing up thousands of złoty to be paid along the chain in fees.

Back to your flat hunting, you might get agents asking for no fee, 50% of first months’ rent, or 100% of first months rent. There are no rules, but often there is no fee for you and the landlord pays it.

With some flat hunting experience under my belt, last time I was looking, I had my Polish assistant service ask the agent in the first minute of conversation if they had a fee to the tenant. If they said yes, the assistant was instructed to politely decline their service, and end the conversation. This was on the basis that I had a personal value call that I could afford to wait rather than blow thousands of złoty, and besides, often the same property would be listed with multiple agents.

We also found that when the agent realised that the assistant was about to sign off, sometimes they would suddenly become very flexible about the fee, and “perhaps could come to some other arrangement”.

If an agent tells you it’s normal to pay a fee, take it with a grain of salt. It’s also common for the landlord to pay.

I can’t really go any further without mentioning the excellent relocation help I had from Euro Concierge, I don’t know how I could have managed without them. They even handled the German speaking jobs to do with the apartment I had left behind.

Possible mitigation: Negotiate with agents. As with any negotiation, don’t appear too desperate or keen, even if you are.
 

6. Importing your stuff from outside the EU can get blocked

If you are importing your goods crossing in or out of an EU border, you can expect some level of bureaucracy hassle. Unfortunately, as you would expect, Poland is special. I have to be specific that we are talking about the port of Gdynia, and a truckload of goods from Switzerland. Experiences may be different when rolling the dice with other source countries and port authorities in the mix.

There is a lot to this story and it doesn’t apply to many people, so it’s under this tab to make it easier for skim readers:

The import blockage story

The package

So, the goods were on a truck. Coming from Western Europe where houses are unfurnished, the goods consisted of household furnishings, no alcohol or other goods that should be subject to further scrutiny. No new goods, no goods to sell, just my own second hand stuff. The drivers were based in Poznań, and had travelled to the Trójmiasto to drive the goods from the customs area to my new apartment and unload.

The problem

The problem? Customs would not release the goods. Not because there was anything suspicious in there, but because they didn’t believe my story. Apparently, if for example I had a Polish wife / girlfriend who had convinced me to come here, that would be ok. If I had a local employer, and could show proof of a job offer, that also would have been fine. The scenario of coming here as an entrepreneur, to form my own company, seemed too incredible for them to process. It seemed more likely that I would spend €5,000 to ship my stuff, which was bought at inflated Swiss prices, in order that I could sell it in Poland, for €5,000. Ah yes, that was my secret plan.

The extraction

Here we were, with my stuff sitting in customs, five guys from Poznań sitting around twiddling their thumbs, sitting in an empty apartment. What they wanted, in order to prove I was committed to Poland and not just spearheading an elaborate resale plan for my Ikea furniture and mouldy gym socks, was for me to register as a resident. So, even though there was no legal requirement, and they were not entitled to ask for it, and I had an EU citizenship with right to live here, I had to go through both the voivodeship and town hall registration process in order that they would release my things.

The infiltration

I had a quote for a total of over 2000 złoty + VAT to have this done by a relocation agency (not EuroConcierge who are way less, I didn’t know about them back then). And, the relocation agency with its staff of one, was “not available” for a few days.

The moving company, who was as annoyed as I was with this whole fiasco, and had five guys sitting around waiting, in the end sent one of the moving guys with the best English to take me through all the application processing, fill out the forms, find the right kind of photo, the works. Eventually, the job got done, and I inadvertently saved 2000zł +VAT in the process.


Possible mitigation: Register in advance, have a job prearranged with supporting documentation, or have a “good reason” to move to Poland.
 

7. Hidden billing / media charges

In German it’s “Nebenkosten”, in Polish it’s “Media”, in Britain / commonwealth it’s not so common as utilities are usually paid by the individual, but sometimes there will be a building management charge on apartments.

Unfortunately the Polish system seems rife to use this as an opportunity to extort extra money from tenants, especially foreigners, but Polish are not immune to being victims. I have to emphasise this is not always the case, my present landlord is very good with it, and provides a breakdown twice a year including scans of all bills, and certainly does not exploit it.

Ex-pat Matthias tells of his bad experiences, not once but twice:

I agreed on a fixed amount of rent including the bills before I came to Poland, but then over 3 or 4 months the landlord raised the prices so that I could not afford it anymore and started searching for a new flat. His comment was just: “I am not paying for your bills, you have to do that. If you want to take a shower one hour per day you have to pay for it. My wife and me we even do not use so much water as you.” (although I showered for 10min maximum each day).

Then I moved to the next flat in Sopot and there the prices were skyrocketing over half a year and we have not seen any bill. I lived in a flatshare, so you never know where all the prices came from. But for sure, something about the gas was definitely wrong, as gas bills in Poland are always very low, from my point of view.

Even the locals can have problems with this, cold comfort that it is. Pole Edyta tells of the landlord who cut off her gas supply to try and extort more money.

Hint: if you get asked to send two separate payments, one for the rent and one for the media, it’s an annoyance, but it’s probably a good thing, because it means they are declaring the rent as taxable income rather than anything under the table.

Possible mitigation: The only time you have any leverage really is when you are signing the lease. Look for clauses on the media cost, how much it is, and whether electricity is included. When I moved into my last place I insisted on seeing a slip for a previous months’ bill. Press them for specific examples of summer costs and winter costs. Landlords with scruples will understand your concerns and have no problems showing you this. If they are evasive, take it as a warning sign.
 

8. Date confusion, payment dates, contract dates

It’s not so strange for some, but if you come from Britain or commonwealth countries, watch out for lease dates fixed to the calendar month.

I went through an entire lease signup process with the start date being the 10th of the month, or at least, that’s what I thought. After signing, the move date got closer, the notice had been given on the old place, and movers booked, so essentially a one-way street. On moving in day, I was presented with a bill for the deposit, and a whole calendar month of rent.

After much argument it turned out that my lease was not running from the 10th-10th every month, but in fact for the 1st. I paid for a 10 day “gift” where I didn’t have access, or keys to the place. Not a killer, but bad enough.

Sopot special: often landlords can make so much from short term rentals in summer that they kick out all the “normal” tenants at the end of June, then open up again in September. So if you want to live in Sopot, you will need to really search to find full time rentals, or get ready to move often.

Possible mitigation: Either plan to move on the 1st, or explicitly request the first month is a partial pro-rata payment, at the time of signing.
 

9. Cleaned.. or not

Experiences may vary, but anyone coming from Switzerland or Germany will probably be shocked at the state of places they move into, Zürich or Berlin apartments for example are typically gleaming and immaculate. While you might get lucky, often the previous tenants and landlords do absolutely nothing in the way of cleaning between tenants.
I recall moving into one place and almost puking while scraping out rancid food remains from the fridge.

Possible mitigation: Agree on the cleaning expectation when signing, or even viewing. If the place looks messy, or you have any concerns, make it clear that it will be given back in the same state without commercial cleaning. Take photos on moving in day of any grossness, then feel free to leave the place in the same state when you go.
 

10. Witholding of deposit

Personally I got lucky with this and never had an issue. The landlords I have had always paid out within a month. But the stories are rife in Poland of problems with landlords not paying back the deposit. Giving someone a large pile of cash, we’d like to think that they put it in a nice separate account waiting for the day we move out, but it’s conceivable that they are just going to go out and spend it. Polish locals tell me that it’s commonplace to pay the last month’s rent using the deposit. Unthinkable in many countries.

I did, however, have one lease where they specified that the last months’ rent could not be paid with the held deposit. If you get this sort of clause, insist that they provide evidence of where this will be held in order that you have some sort of reassurance that they are not going to go and immediatley blow it on a tropical holiday.

Not all landlords are monsters, and some have good personal standards, are interested in a harmonious relationship with the tenant. You must also remember that sometimes landlords also get screwed over by tenants, so some level of suspicion on their part is normal.

Possible mitigation: Always – ALWAYS record the condition of the place when you move in, even better if you have an estate agent as a neutral third party who can verify inspection points / photo dates etc. Check the lease for any rules around the deposit storage and last payment. Make your last payment using the bond, if possible.
 

11. Maintenance woes

Leases should be similar to other countries, in that landlords are responsible for maintenance of the apartment and any chattels therein. However, some leases include clauses for the tenant to have some responsibiliy for maintenance, and no doubt landlords will not fall over themselves to tell you this at signup.

Ex-pat Matthew reports that his lease had “minor repairs” in there as a tenant responsibility, and so ended up lumbered with bills:

..we have been here 6 months, washing machine belt, 2 water leaks and a blocked drain later we have had to pay the tradesman direct.

Ex-pat Jodie tells us:

One of my ex landlords refused to fix our toilet and then tried to make us pay an enormous water bill (a consequence of the toilet being broken) – I’m sure it’s not legal to try to force tenants to fix something that they didn’t intentionally break. However, with us being foreigners I think she knew that we wouldn’t know how to get advice cheaply so we just didn’t pay the last months rent and moved out.

Possible mitigation: Check for maintenance clauses on the lease before signing. Find a Polish speaker who can help, ideally someone who lives locally, or a concierge service, or even a lawyer. You might find a law firm will be willing to help as a backup, just their presence or even showing their business card might help, without costing you dearly.
 

12. Poor fire safety

I didn’t actually notice this until sometime after I had moved in – no smoke alarm. UK tenants will be used to this mandatory fitting, but not here.

Poland is not alone in this, and it’s not a big deal, but (wagging finger) make sure you get yourself at the bare minimum a smoke alarm. I have a smoke alarm, a fire blanket in the kitchen, a fire extinguisher and leave a key in the door overnight ready to unlock and open.
 

Appendix: Lease checklist

Consolidated from the above, here are some things to look out for when reviewing a tenancy lease. Remember, this is probably your one and only shot at having any leverage over the terms and conditions.

  • Necessary clause to allow company activities, if applicable
  • Verify agency fees, though you should have this established in advance
  • Look for clauses on “media” costs. What is included – electricity?
  • How is media cost calculated, what evidence will be shown to you and how regularly
  • Where will meter readings be recorded, especially on day one, you are not liable for anything from before your lease commencement
  • What is the lease commence date, if you have a partial month is it calculated pro-rata
  • Are there any lease conditions on cleaning, beware clauses mandating commercial cleaning on return, if it is not commercially cleaned when you move in
  • If there are no clauses specifically saying you cannot use the deposit to pay the last month’s rent, keep your mouth shut about it
  • If there is a clause saying you can’t use the deposit, press for information on where the deposit will be held and make sure you are satisfied with the answer
  • Look for contractual guarantee of return time on deposit. If it’s not there, ask to have it added
  • Organise that you will record the condition of the place and make photos available to them
  • Look for clauses about maintenance, if there are any asking for the tenant to take responsibility, you should either push to get them removed, or make sure you are paying under the average price to compensate.
  • How many sets of keys will you get, and is it written down
  • If you have seen anything around the place you would like to improve, it might be a good time to agree on partial payment, e.g., “you buy the paint, I’ll paint the walls”. Not because you are reviewing the lease, more because it could be the one time they have a nicey-face on while trying to get you to sign.

This list is not the be-all and end-all, you’ll also need to check all of the general conditions.

That’s about all. At 3000+ words it’s truly been a mega-article, and even the Google crawler might have not made it this far through.

If you take at least one thing away from this article, it’s been worth it. We’d love to hear from you, especially if there is something in here that helped you out.

Best of luck and I hope you enjoy your new life in Poland!
 

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