[Letters] How to protect your rights as tenants

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[Letters] How to protect your rights as tenants

An acquaintance of mine who is a fellow real estate agent was angry that a customer would not pay for her services. The customer was a foreigner, and my friend failed to make him understand her legal right to the payment. But even with this right, she did not want to make the problem worse with a lawsuit. The problem is that this kind of case is not unusual for her.

I can easily guess that the customer was also embarrassed when she requested payment. I explained to her that in some countries, a tenant is not expected to pay a realtor’s fee.

Sometimes, lack of knowledge of local practices and laws can result in very serious trouble in real estate transactions. I once heard a story on a television show that a foreigner had failed to recover her security deposit. Of course, if all countries had the same rules for real estate transactions, everything would be very easy. However, such transactions are governed by practices and rules that are different from country to country.

For example, pursuant to the real estate license act in Korea, a real estate agent has a legal right to demand payment from both seller/tenant and buyer/landlord when they close a contract. The amount of payment or commission is determined by categories, ranging from 0.3 percent to 0.9 percent of the transaction price depending on the type of tenure and region. I will summarize the leasing practice in Korea to help [foreign tenants] protect their money and rights.

In some countries the security deposit is returned within a short time after you move out of a rented property. But in Korea you have to ask for your security deposit back from the landlord before removing your belongings from the property. If you do not get your security deposit before vacating, you will lose out on any claim on the property against other creditors in a court action. To keep your preferential right, you have to satisfy two requirements.

One is to prove the existence of a legal deed or lease on the day the transaction is concluded. This is called a hwakjung ilja. Go to the municipal center in your dong, the lowest unit of local government, and have your lease contract stamped with an official seal. The employee in charge will stamp your document with the date, registering it officially. The other requirement is to report your change of address to the Korea Immigration Service. When you fulfill these requirements, your preferential right will take effect on the next day.

Tenure on a lease could be of great concern to foreign tenants. Under Korean residential landlord and tenant laws, you have right of tenancy on a property for two years even when your lease is for a shorter term. And you can still move out ahead of the expiration of your lease, provided you find someone to sublet or take over the lease, and pay the realtor’s fee instead of your landlord.

In case the owner is reluctant to return your deposit, a certified letter requesting it is appropriate. Just make three copies of the letter and send it through the post office. However, if you are under pressure to move out, you have to register your tenant’s interest in the property, again, at your dong office.

Above all, the most important thing is to find a reliable agent. It may be hard for a foreigner since most agents are not fluent in English. Also, some people have had bad experiences with so-called agents for U.S. soldiers who have enjoyed preferential rights in real estate transactions. But there are many certified real estate agents ready to help foreigners; I am one of them. They will help you through the entire process, from looking for housing to moving out. I hope you can give them your trust as your agent and leave without any bad experiences.

Cho Hang-joon, realtor, Seoul
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