Over the last few years, I changed four countries and 10 apartments.
So by the time I decided to settle in Kyiv, I felt as if I had already mastered the art of flat hunting in any city and for any budget and could fit all my belongings into two suitcases to move across the continent.
I also developed my own step-by-step procedure whenever I needed a place to stay for longer than two weeks (in this case, Airbnb sufficed.)
“I can manage it in Kyiv,” I thought with the confidence of a person who spoke Russian and who could easily tell the difference between “stalinka” or “khrushchevka.”
I thought I had an advantage and experience on my side. Alas, I struggled anyway.
Self-ads on Facebook
The first thing I did was join several Facebook groups that promised flats with “no intermediaries, no commission, directly from owners.” I didn’t want to pay to anyone for doing something I had successfully done myself many times.
However, there were far fewer rental listings than posts from homeless group members.
A typical post would read something like: “We are Katya and Stas, 24 and 26 years old. We are looking for a one-bedroom flat or a spacious room for two close to Obolon metro. Up to Hr 6,000. We both work and we are fun, outgoing, and tidy. No pets, no bad habits.” A selfie of the couple would be attached.
Many used a special app that turned the ad into the standardized infographics and presumably made the flat seeker stand out in a stream of self-descriptive summaries.
Bait from agencies
Having figured that social networks wouldn’t get me far, I spent a couple of nights surfing apartment rental websites. It quickly became clear that paying 50 percent commission to a real estate agent was inevitable.
First of all, the number of listings under “directly from owner” category was significantly lower than from the agencies. And secondly, the best-looking, conveniently located, and affordable flats were from the agencies too.
Unfortunately, some of those too-good-to-be-true ads turned out to be just baits to lure potential clients to whom agents tried to lease real but far less attractive flats.
Weeks after I had moved to my current flat I would still receive calls from agents: “Hello, are you still looking for a flat? We have one-bedroom in Pozniaki. Would you be interested?”
There are groups of people generally considered as “undesirable tenants” across countries such as pet owners or smokers. But, depending on culture, people of a certain gender, ethnicity, occupation, or marital status may also be disfavored by landlords.
In Turkey, for example, it wasn’t rare to see ads specifying “no single men” or “families only.”
In Moscow there is “Slavs only” rental policy, which I presume many of you reading this post have never heard of. It is a sad but common practice when Russian landlords refuse to lease flats to non-Slavic or non-European-looking people, particularly to migrants from Central Asia and the Caucasus.
Kyiv has its own discriminatory rule too, called “No people from the East” meaning there has been a prejudice against those who have been moving out of eastern Ukraine since the war with Russia broke out in 2014.
I heard various reasons for this ranging from cultural (perpetual confrontation of the capital versus regions, east versus west) to political (nobody wanted to risk accidentally hosting someone with pro-Kremlin views) to economic (what if resettlers didn’t have jobs in Kyiv?) to legal (apparently, there is a law that prohibits eviction of refugees.)
In conversations with my foreign and local friends in Kyiv, we came to a conclusion that there’s an enormous mismatch between the condition of property on lease and rent rates on the market.
Location played a huge role. The closer to the city center or a metro line the apartment was, the higher it would cost. The problem was that the city center was occupied by old buildings, beautiful on the exterior but constructed before the revolution of 1917 (“tsarsky dom”).
Other terms for residential property that I had to learn were “sovmin” – huge brutalist residential sites built for Soviet elite in 1980s, “obkom” – basically better version of “stalinka” with elevators, and “malogabaritka” – low-class Soviet mass housing with a tiny living area of 26 square meters.
Then I expanded the area of search and went to check a couple of two-bedroom apartments in one of newly built residential sites. Both apartments were beautiful with modern design and a lot of light but getting there took me 40 minutes by metro and 15 minutes by a mini-bus. I had to say ‘’no.’’
I also wondered where the $500 rents for a two-bedroom came from in a country with an average salary of below $300.
On post-Soviet Kyiv rental market, “non-Soviet interior” was advertised as a huge advantage and directly correlated with the rent price.
But neither high price nor a magic word “Euroremont” (European renovation) actually guaranteed that the place wouldn’t be a tasteless eyesore. I had to turn down so many options because of gaudy wallpaper, over-stuffed furniture, gold lame drapes, huge wooden cabinets filled with books and crystal glassware, or walls covered with carpets and paintings.
I grimly joked that cheaper rentals looked like Varenichnaya Katyusha, a Soviet-styled restaurant chain in Kyiv. And more expensive ones looked like they had belonged to former Prosecutor General Viktor Pshonka whose opulent palace may be the tackiest house in the human history.
“I just want a place with plain walls, minimum amount of furniture, and good lighting,” I complained to my friends. “Is it too much to ask for?”
As I was getting desperate and was running out of time, I hired a real estate agent who had helped two of my colleagues before. And I had to lie to him (I’m sorry, Nikolay, if you are reading this!) that I was allergic to dust to ensure I wasn’t offered apartments with carpets or over-stuffed furniture.
Nikolay did his job excellently. Three days after our initial conversation, I signed a lease.
Bermet Talant is a staff writer at the Kyiv Post.