The Difficulty of Renting an Apartment in India

by Sharell शारेल on August 5, 2010

in Culture Shock in India, Daily Life in India

If you’re not a married, vegetarian, Hindu couple or family, it’s likely that you’ll find renting an apartment in India harder than expected. In fact, it’s likely to be quite a challenge. Especially, if you’re unmarried or Muslim.

I first discovered the pitfalls of renting an apartment in India when I was living in Kolkata. Two of my English girlfriends and my husband (who was not my husband back then, but rather a guy I was seeing casually) decided it would be fun to live together in a large apartment as one big mixed happy family. Very naively, I thought that it would be a straight forward process to find an apartment. After all, we were decent people, who had the financial means to support ourselves. And this kind of shared living arrangement was common where I came from. Needless to say, it didn’t happen.

There was no anonymity of dealing with real estate agents like I was used to back home. Instead, we had to personally meet the potential landlady and be scrutinised by her, while she laid down a number of archaic conditions. “No alcohol, no staying out after 11 p.m., and no members of the opposite sex sharing the apartment”. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Had I all of a sudden travelled back in time? Surely it couldn’t be 2006. And I couldn’t be an adult. Those kinds of rules were for teenagers who were still going to school!

It wasn’t an isolated incident either. Everywhere we looked, we encountered the same response. Most property owners didn’t even want to rent their apartments to foreigners. And a man could definitely not, under any circumstances apart from marriage, occupy it with us.

Fast forward a few years to Mumbai. My husband and I still weren’t married, but we were planning to be. I was about to move to Mumbai and we needed to find somewhere to live. I shuddered at the prospect of finding a place. However, it was swiftly taken care of in the Indian way by my husband’s family (who, after four months of my husband’s pleading, had given the go ahead to our relationship). My husband’s mother, sister, and another auntie (who’s daughter was about marry my husband’s younger brother) formed a group and went on a search and find mission. My mother in law told the potential landlord that her son and his fiancee would be living in the apartment. The landlord eventually approved. But, then there was a hitch. It was a vegetarian apartment complex. We were not vegetarians, so wouldn’t be permitted to live there. Arguements between the landlord and my husband’s family ensured. Eventually the landlord relented. After all, a group of determined Indian women is a formidable thing! When we moved in, imagine the landlord’s shock to find that the fiancee was actually a white foreigner!

Fast forward a few more years, still in Mumbai, the most cosmopolitan city in India. I have a white friend who’s looking to rent an apartment. She wants to live with her Indian boyfriend. Yes, they’re not married. Nor are they vegetarians. And they are of mixed religion. After the intervention of five real estate brokers, and looking at dozens of apartments, they finally find a place in Powai where the landlord doesn’t disapprove of them. They are so happy. They give the landlord the deposit and first month’s rent. The deal is done. But did they end up moving in? No. The building society people didn’t want them living there. In India, it’s not enough that a landlord wants to rent his apartment to someone. The committee that oversees the apartment building also has to approve of whoever will be living there. So, what’s my friend going to do? Fake a marriage certificate from her country of course. After all, this is India where people fake documents all the time. And it’s the end result that counts, not how you reach it!

If you’re a Muslim, don’t expect to find it easy to rent an apartment either. Muslims are also majorly discriminated against. You don’t ever want to have to say that your name is Khan, like this poor unfortunate guy. And bachelors? Forget it. No one wants to rent an apartment to these untidy, dirty creatures in Mumbai!

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© Copyright 2010 Sharell शारेल, Diary of a White Indian Housewife 2008-2014. All Rights Reserved. Do not copy and reproduce text or images without permission.

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{ 103 comments… read them below or add one }

taryn June 11, 2012 at 3:20 am

My fiancee (Indian Muslim) and I (Australian) had similar issues when we first tried to rent together. We had a fairly small budget so we went into Navi Mumbai to find a place. He spent weeks talking to and negotiating with the real estate and owner. When we finally moved in and SIGNED A LEASE we lived there only two weeks before they kicked us out (building society decision). Every day someone would demand to come inside our house and we had no apparent rights in this respect. We bought all new stuff for our house (keeping it fairly basic it still added up in price), and when we were kicked out the real estate let us keep it there. After a month of Altaf trying to find another place, we were provisionally accepted in another place so long as we got married promptly. When we went back to get all our stuff from the real estate, it had ALL BEEN STOLEN.

I’ve never been so angry, hurt and disgusted with Indian culture as in that experience, and speed forward to February this year – trying to get hotel rooms despite having a marriage certificate. Everywhere we went I was looked at like a hooker, despite wearing salwar kameez and generally having my hair covered, the fat & sweaty hotel proprietor would look over me and my partner before shaking his head. We went to so many hotels over a period of 3 hours, each one behaving the same way I was ready to murder someone. Luckily my husband keeps a much cooler head than I do, and eventually the only work around we could come up with was to go to an internet cafe and pay for a more expensive hotel than our budget could allow, and hope they would let us stay because we had already paid (this worked btw).

It is because of treatment like this we are moving to Australia and waiting the visa process (and have been apart for ten long months waiting for this to happen).

Despite this I remain addicted to Indian culture, and I know when I meet Indian people, like my husband’s family – generally they are truly wonderful and go out of their way to make me feel at ease. Whenever I am in Australia I miss India like crazy (not to mention my wonderful, cool-headed husband), but dealing with behaviour like the above just wore me down (I also ended up with malaria in Bombay so be careful for the mosquitoes!!!).

We think we might be able to return once we have a child and people may not treat us so poorly, because we don’t want to always live in Australia – but when I am there at least we both will be treated as first class citizens regardless of where we are and what we are trying to be doing (you can get into huge trouble in Australia demanding a male do a job over a female; it is no one’s business what your relationship status is etc.) – of course I worry about the racists because I know they are here – but since they are actually in the wrong (unlike in India where people are free to prejudice against you if you want to rent a room or an apartment or get a job) I hope it will be easier for us. I do know at least we won’t get stared at walking down the street together, and no one stares at me when I walk down the street alone.

BUT still, how I miss India!

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Sharell शारेल June 11, 2012 at 8:03 am

Ugh, Taryn, I’m so sorry to hear that you’ve had to experience all that. I can pretty much relate to all of it and it gives me such a bad feeling. To be honest, I want to move back to Australia after we’ve had kids (when they go to school) because I just don’t want to bring them up in such an environment in India. Even though I don’t necessarily want to live in Australia, I do want my kids to grow up in a positive environment, and one that I feel comfortable in. People’s behaviour in India really wears me down too. Funnily enough, it’s not the dirt or lack of luxuries or anything like that will make me leave India — it’s people’s attitudes. And funnily enough, I’ve talked to plenty of Indians in Australia who feel the same way. So, that’s really saying something. :-(

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Rahul June 27, 2012 at 4:02 am

I know this article is back from 2010 and now you must know better about how things work here… but a few points below:
“Two of my English girlfriends and my husband (who was not my husband back then, but rather a guy I was seeing casually) decided it would be fun to live together in a large apartment as one big mixed happy family. Very naively, I thought that it would be a straight forward process to find an apartment. After all, we were decent people, who had the financial means to support ourselves.”
First of all the very moment one decides to cohabit with a guy who one is not married to takes away the ‘decent’ tag in India. Like it or lump, no matter how much Fosters we gulp or drive swanky imported cars, at heart we remain traditional. We do not think that any decent person, no matter which part of India they are from, lives with a girl permanently without marrying. The ones who do it are just wannabes or just experimenting/flirting with western lifestyles and at the end will end up doing the traditional thing.
“And this kind of shared living arrangement was common where I came from. Needless to say, it didn’t happen.”
And should people stand up and take notice that you have just arrived from Australia and maybe read up a lil’ bit on Australia so that they can treat you the way you are accustomed to be treated back home? Does one goes to Saudi Arabia and complaints that one can’t wear hot pants or a mini skirt just because its “common where I came from”???
Another instance of judgement:
“No alcohol, no staying out after 11 p.m., and no members of the opposite sex sharing the apartment”. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Had I all of a sudden travelled back in time? Surely it couldn’t be 2006. And I couldn’t be an adult. Those kinds of rules were for teenagers who were still going to school!”
Why do westerners have this bad habit of judging non-western cultures with their own yardsticks and then coming up with such hogwash as above? I always thought white people (at least officially) proclaimed the end of colonialism when the Brits left Africa in 1962, but hey, how to treat those still suffering from colonial syndrome? (And before you say Australia has no history of colonialism, I must remind you that a majority of you still trace your linage to Britain and anyway you culturally remain a western country)
“a white friend who’s looking to rent an apartment. She wants to live with her Indian boyfriend. Yes, they’re not married. Nor are they vegetarians….But did they end up moving in? No. The building society people didn’t want them living there. In India, it’s not enough that a landlord wants to rent his apartment to someone. The committee that oversees the apartment building also has to approve of whoever will be living there.”
Well done building-wallas, must call a spade a spade and not indulge in this freedom to live freely BS. We have a way of living and way of thinking and if that doesn’t looks up to frivolous arrangements like live-ins in positive light then so be it. Who are these goras to pass a judgement? Do we fret about their divorce rates or argue that half of these rational thinking human being can’t make their marriage work? So why should they value judge us? After all research in western countries has itself proven that most live-ins don’t end up in a marriage, so why let the gori and the swayed Indian open a brothel in a respectable neighbourhood?
“So, what’s my friend going to do? Fake a marriage certificate from her country of course. After all, this is India where people fake documents all the time. And it’s the end result that counts,”
ha! Wonderful, this woman seriously got the best of Indian culture, no? And how typically western> John Stuart Mill style – the end justifies the means. If this gori is so desperate for the swayed away Indian, why can’t she take him to her own country where perhaps people with jump with joy about the prospects of of seeing a white gurl and an Indian guy living together. Why people like you and your friend want to spread this filth here? If you don’t like it, lump it – simple right? But as I said, the white man (and the woman) has still not gotten over the superiority complex of the colonialism syndrome…

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Sharell शारेल June 27, 2012 at 9:59 am

Wow, that was a huge rant! Hope you feel better now. :-)

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K October 30, 2012 at 2:25 pm

@Rahul
Which century did you drop in from….Wake up and smell the coffee. The boarders moral degradation or whatever you call it is is none of the landlord’s business and hence they should not have a say in it. The issue on discussion is strictly people’s difficulty in renting apartments and not people’s lifestyle choices.

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kareen September 29, 2013 at 6:18 pm

@Rahul
Seriously ??!!!

… (still shocked with the comment)

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Rahul July 6, 2012 at 6:38 am

Haha! Sharell, so you censored my comment because the facts were serious enough to damage your reputation (whatever that is in your case)? So much for a person who revels in being from a country that’s more “liberal” and values free speech. It only goes on to highlight your own hypocrisy, one that you will dare not talk about (or even be posted) while constantly bashing one that prevails in India. So much for the love of the country, eh?!

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Sharell शारेल July 6, 2012 at 10:34 am

Oh Rahul, please don’t flatter yourself. Your comment was deleted by my blog moderator, no doubt because it didn’t add anything worthwhile to the topic of the blog post. I’ve just taken a look in the trash and seen what you wrote. It was completely irrelevant. And, what facts? It was just more nonsensical ranting which I have do desire to get involved with — and it was not even about this blog but my travel site! Get real. I suggest you don’t waste your time because it’s not going to get published here.

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Tan August 6, 2012 at 5:53 pm

A great article !! Came across it while searching a place to rent for myself and my girl friend. Delhi is more tougher nut to crack when the guy is christian and his girl a muslim. And to be very honest to comment on Andy’s view – even christians are discriminated against in this part of India where the house owners decide upon what to eat and what not to cook. That I experienced well before when I wanted to rent as a single guy.
The sole point here minus chauvinist jargon is – people did’nt evolved yet. They still plunge into a mire of orthodoxy that makes themselves look fool from others view point.

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K October 30, 2012 at 2:36 pm

Hi Sharell
I have been hooked to your blog since I found it. Good job. I may not agree with you on certain points but then disagreement always opens up doors for pleasant ‘discussion’.
However this is one issue on which I can completely empathize with you. I have been a sufferer of ‘nakhras’ of landlords for a long time. The fights I have had over curfews and no opposite sex rules had to be seen to be believed. You would be happy to know that while working I have stayed in Bhubaneswar for 2 years. If you thought metro cities were difficult then you should see the smaller towns. I used to have hair-tearing shouting matches with my landlord over having parties at home, inviting my male friends over etc.
Thankfully in Bangalore I now live in the ideal flat where guys and girls actually live together as friends. Mostly the building society is not bothered about people’s lifestyles. I have friends who are couples living together in both Mumbai and Bangalore without the marriage certificate. However it still does get very difficult for couples to rent a flat without the “certificate”.

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Arattukulam November 28, 2012 at 3:24 pm

Amazingly well written.Everyday thousands of people look for an apartment in india but forget to consider few things.

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Ravi December 24, 2012 at 11:39 am

Back in 2004-05, I and my sister used to live in an apartment in Hyderabad. My girlfriend, who went abroad for higher-ed, was back in town and came over to visit me. My neighbor lady immediately called my mother to report the news. Her complaint is – she has teenage daughters (who btw, i used to treat like sisters) that I am setting a bad example to.

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Anne March 20, 2013 at 7:43 pm

Hm, i still think there is an important point in all these prejudices. I’m not an Indian, but I am a vegetarian and I mostly agree with the point of view that community people have. Of course,it sounds sort of too much, but I really respect their culture, traditions and habits. After all- you are the one who is a stranger, foreigner, the one, who must adapt to local people, not vice versa.

I’m sure Western democracy and civil rights, individualism and free will are not the perfect system. Europeans for example have been very friendly to muslims, hindus and all other possible people and religions. And what do we encounter now? More and more nacionalistic parties are getting popular in Scandinavia, France etc. Because there are cultures and values that just dont go to compromise. I’m Swedish and I can tell you that muslim people more and more often show their disrespect to Swedes and they do it very openly. And it’s partly Swedes’ fault- we are too cowardly and too friendly.
So in case of India- I think it’s better to be tough from the very beginning than to face serious disintegration problems later.
I think one must stay in the country, where both parts feel comfortable and not disturbed by each other presence. It’s very simple actually.

And by the way, if I had a possibility to rent a flat in a veg neighborhood I’d be just happy. And i certanly would not like that one day there’s a smell of meat in a staircase or even worse- in my room. And I am even not a religious person, like 99% Hindus are. So let’s respect the feelings of locals .

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Kevin Crasta March 30, 2013 at 7:14 am

Hi Sharell I hhave enjoyed reading through you blog and found it so enjoyable to read. I love the down-to-earthness about it. Have you ever considered moving to Bangalore. You will not be discriminated if you are vegetarian or not and you will find that most people speak English including auto drivers. The weather is always mild and you can afford to live close to downtown since its not as expensive as Mumbai. Too bad to dont like Idilis and Sambar :) Also Bangalore has the most number or pubs and night clubs in India, I’m sure your husband wont find it difficult to get a new job.
Thanks for the read! tc

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Sharell शारेल March 30, 2013 at 10:20 am

Hi Kevin, you do have some good points but the reason why we’re living in Mumbai is because his family are here and we want to be close to them. Otherwise, we’d be on a beach somewhere or in the hills! ;-)

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Melange April 9, 2013 at 3:11 pm

I am Indian girl and vegetarian. But I completely identify with what you described.
Me and my female friend tried to rent an apartment together in a so-called up-scale neighbourhood close to an IT park, where both of us worked. We were interviewed by the prospective landlords/landladies and several of them asked us why we were still single inspite of being of “marriageable age”. Nearly all of them told us that guys cannot visit us in our apartment and that we should not come back late in the night (as only prostitutes do that). It took me a lot of self-restraint to stop myself from strangling one of them.
We finally ended up living in a paying guest. Even there, everyone in the complex (from the security guards to the jobless “aunties”) kept a watch on us. If I came home late from work or if a male friend dropped me off at home, the security guards would leer at me. The “aunties” would shake their heads and cluck loudly.
One of them said loudly to her husband “Girls like these should not be allowed to stay in respectable housing societies”. I was PMSing at the time and without thinking, I started screaming at her. I called her some names that I regret but that sealed our fate. We were asked to vacate the PG immediately.
All this was a month ago and rest assured, it is going to remain the same for the next hundred years. Till then, I was an intelligent and successful career woman. But suddenly I wasn’t all that anymore. I realised that no matter which year it is and how “modern” the neighbourhood is, provincial thinking dominates Indian society. It is still a patriarchial and regressive place.

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Sharell शारेल April 9, 2013 at 3:16 pm

So sad to hear about your experience, Melange. People really need to broaden their minds. :-(

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Lorah August 20, 2013 at 5:46 am

thank you for this article. i had no idea it was like this in India. i must say I would be quite shocked if i had gone there without knowing.
having read the blog and all the comments i would like to say i agree with the Indian culture though. what it is about India that you love? Looking at western society I see where our free choice has got us. we are intolerant of diversity, unable to keep a marriage, and immune to disciple. I am from Australia and I am a single mum. I wish I had lived in a culture that was more intolerant of defacto relationships because if so I would not have to raise children on my own. i didn’t marry my ex because i never wanted such commitment with that awful man, but yet it was frivolous and shortsighted of me to ‘find myself pregnant’. in hindsight i really value the Christian values no sex until marriage. i have also been a vegetarian and appreciate not smelling meat (but then, i don’t like the smell of curry either). i will certainly be raising my children in a culture of diversity, but one that is strict on being a disciplined homemaker (no late nights) and honoring the sacred covenant of sex and marriage. i can see what a lack of respect to these principles does to a society.
with India being so overpopulated, respect for others is even more important. also respecting the culture of the country is vital for everyone’s spiritual health. living in domestic violence I am sensitive to how others thoughts and feeling spill over to others (hostility, control, intolerance) but also happiness, purity and love; and in India, living in tight places, it would be even more important for everyone to feel comfortable so they can share good, complimentary feelings. having cleaned out the violence in my life and began to live in purity, i can now feel the difference between hostility and tolerance, lust and love, homeliness and selfish career aspirations. in a nut shell, the difference between family values and self-centred western acquisition. so i understand why these pure Idnian’s look down on working late and defacto relationships. it is not an intolerance of you or an outdated culture, it is a distaste for worldliness in a sacred spiritual purity. the very thing that brings India its quality and careless values are destroying it. they are not judging you, they are protecting their heritage.
so i wonder, given that rant, how i would go looking for an apartment in India with two young children on my own?

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Amit Verma September 6, 2013 at 10:33 am

I am willing to start a service for renting small studio apartments on short term basis Especially for those from outside India. Just like a Youth Hostel.
Any ideas guys or any takers for that ?

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Smritilekha Chakraborty September 30, 2013 at 10:03 am

I don’t know if it is that bad! I live in Navi Mumbai. And yes, I’m a single female & my boyfriend visits occasionally!
Yes, initially I had trouble finding a place. Primarily because I was working in a BPO & I’d have night shifts, odd hours etc.
After browsing through a couple of houses, I found this Studio Apartment sort & I’m doing fine. Apart from a few curious stares I don’t remember encountering any major problems!
But for a White man/woman the trouble would come from elsewhere. They’ll always hike up the price just ’cause the renter is White! ‘Racism’ is on a different turf here!

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magdalaena October 25, 2013 at 1:15 am

Me (white) and my husband (indian) are humiliated by so many people trying to rent some place. We are unsucessful for 1,5 months. I think we better leave India as we can’t even rent anything. Indians are biggest racist in this world.

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A December 13, 2013 at 5:18 am

We are in flat hunt in Delhi NCR right now and we are experiencing the same kind of difficulties.

I can’t come to India because my boyfriend – obviously a bachelor, why would I date a married man! – cannot find a place where bachelors would be accepted.

Most people I know here in Europe, lived in live-in relationship at some point (some for years)

I used to enjoy indian culture, but right now I feel utterly disgusted.

My only hope is to offer a higher rent and to see if respectful indian citizens are ready to sacrifice their profit in order to defend their moral values.

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Sree February 3, 2014 at 12:22 pm

Dear Friend,
India is a country there only married people can stay together.
and you can tell you willnot take alcohol and can take secretly.Thats our culture-please proud of it

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Jonathan May 6, 2014 at 9:07 pm

Hi Sharell!

I have to say that I experienced no trouble at all with finding an apartment in Mumbai, as a white bachelor in my mid-20s. I must have been very lucky! Also perhaps if Muslims find it difficult to get apartments, I recommend finding a Muslim landlord. My landlady was an 80 year old Muslim lady, with all the arrangements run by her grandson, daughter-in-law and granddaughter-in-law. They were very kind to me and I had no trouble at all. The building cooperative society also did not mind me being there – I just paid my fees to the society for the building services and that was it. My broker lived in the same building, and my landlady’s family lived in the building next door. My immediate neighbours were flexible too. I didn’t object to their babies crying or pre-wedding songs all night, and they didn’t object to whoever I had round or whatever time I came in at night. Community living :)

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