Real Estate Agencies Malpractice in China
In the past decades, Chinese growth has been for a large part sustained by the real estate sector, the general mood for real estate agents has been frenzy, and this is reflected in commercial behaviour. Regulations do exist, but they are less developed than in western developed countries and few of the rules are actually implemented.
If you are looking for an apartment to rent, the major issue you'll face is the fake classifieds. Many agencies try to hook customers with attractive ads, precise description of apartments that will appeal to you, be aware that many of these ads do not correspond to anything. The apartment in the classified will already be rented when you call the agent, and then you will be drawn into the agency network, trying to make you rent any other apartment they actually have in their portofolio. In Europe and USA, it is strictly forbidden to put real estate classifieds on a website when the property is already rented (and it is all the more prohibited to advert apartments that do nor exist...), in China nothing is properly checked. So be cautious about the classifieds and websites.
Another problem can be the sub-rental of apartments without the landlord knowing it. In this eventuality, some people try to make money while scamming the actual landlord. There is as well cases about wrong landlords identities caused by the current limitations of ownership. The Chinese authorities try to limit the number of apartment per landlord in order to calm down the speculation and try to avoid a property bubble in China. The consequence is that many apartments are registered under a fake name. Stange occurrences can happen, apartments registerd under the name of the driver, the maid, or even dead people. For the tenant, there are risks, the most basic one is difficulties of registration with the authorities when you cannot contact the real landord.
There can be translation issues in the contracts, especially if you are a foreigner. Things can be omitted in the english version, for example anything relative to heating and air conditionning fees. Things can be told orally but the opposite is written in the contract. The most usual problem is agents that will tell you that heating fees are comprised with the rent when actually you'll have t pay for it separately. Be careful. A way to avoid this type of issues might be to have an agent specialized in expatriate rentals that will give you specific advice about these questions.
Agents that take commission from both the landlord and the tenant
Agents try to maximise their commission, by all means, and this can include taking commissions from both the tenant and the landlord. This is nor stricly forbidden but can have consequences regarding the apartments you will be shown : do not expect some agents to show you the apartments that correspond most to what you are looking for but the apartments for which their commsission is the highest. One way to limit this issue is to insist in visitinbg many apartments.