If you live in one of the ger districts or more on the outskirts of the city, you are more likely to live in an individual home, but by and large, housing in UB consists of apartments. New high rise apartment buildings go up all the time, to the extent that there are probably more apartments than possible residents. In this post, I’d like to
High rise apartment building to the right. Multistory school building on the left. National park in the background.
highlight some of the similarities and differences (that I’ve noticed from personal experience) in apartment living in UB.
Before we moved to Mongolia, I pictured us living in a tiny, drafty, gloomy Soviet-era apartment. Rest assured these apartments exist in UB, but there are all kinds of different places to live at widely different price points, which brings me to the first few factoids.
- Apartments are owned individually (more like condominiums in the US), and your landlord may own just a few apartments or many different ones across many different apartment complexes. (Note: a landlord can make or break your renting experience. Choose wisely and agree on very specific terms in your contract!)
- Rent is not paid monthly as it is in the US (unless you have a special arrangement with your landlord). You pay everything upfront as part of your lease. If you’re leasing for a year, you pay for a year! Our current place (3 bedrooms, 1.5 bathrooms) is about $5k a year.
- Utilities are typically separate from rent and there is an additional (small) monthly fee paid to your building’s jijuur (maintenance person), which covers maintenance and cleaning of common areas.
There are a few other quirks to apartment living here. Of course, as in any apartment, you will hear your neighbors. Also, like everywhere in the world, some neighbors are friendly, some are standoffish, and others are just rude. Meh. That’s life. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Here are some of the quirkiest things that we’ve experienced.
- Apartment renovations at all hours of the day and night. Friendly reminder that the primary building material here is cement, so imagine hearing someone drill through cement walls for hours on end, starting at, oh, ten o’clock at night. What can you do about this? Pretty much nothing. Even if you’re Mongolian, asking your neighbors not to do this late at night could still be met with defensive anger. Since we’re *still* not fluent in Mongolian–we’re barely conversational–this isn’t something we’ve been able to address at all so we mostly grin and bear it.
- You might find garbage in the stairwell. Some buildings have trash chutes–our current one does!–and those are handy. Otherwise, there are likely dumpsters located in your complex, which may or may not be conveniently located. Even so, you still might find garbage in the stairwell, which is left with the assumption that the cleaning lady will pick it up for you. I’ve done this once or twice and received a passive aggressive note *in English* as a result so those were the only times I did. You’ll note in the picture to the right that there is a bag of garbage right below the trash chute. The bag can clearly fit in the chute, so I’m not sure why it wasn’t tossed. It was full of old meat bones so maybe that has something to do with it? I literally have no idea. Again: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
- You will hear your neighbors. This really isn’t unique to Mongolian apartments at all, but I think I now prefer being able to hear the day to day activities. It makes me feel connected to community somehow when I can hear my next door neighbor’s sneezes or the pitter patter of the
elephants children that live upstairs. Sometimes this means that you hear arguments–I’ve heard some doozies–but unfortunately, as an expat, even if you suspect domestic abuse, there’s not much that you can do.
- Water and electricity can be unreliable. You can expect to lose power and/or water in your apartment complex at some point. Sometimes power going out can be linked to a traffic accident in the area, sometimes it’s because of routine maintenance, and sometimes it’s because someone (maybe you!) blew a fuse. Have patience. It’ll come back on. 🙂 Water sometimes goes out with electricity. Other times, you might lose just hot water, like when the central heating cuts out in May. For the most part, these water outages are for a few hours, but the aforementioned hot water outage can be for a week.
Taken from our kitchen window, you can see an empty lot between our complex and the next. Note the ger! There are a couple in the empty spaces around where we live, but they are not the typical housing situation in central UB.
I, for one, think that there are plenty of advantages to living in apartments in UB–or living in UB in general. Grocery stores of all sizes abound throughout and around apartment complexes, which makes shopping relatively easy if you don’t have a vehicle and need to make more frequent grocery trips. (Read this post for a comparison of grocery shopping between here and the US.) There are a number of small businesses that pop up in residential areas as well–banks, mobile phone stores, dry cleaners, tailors, etc. This means that you can get a lot of your errands accomplished locally.
I’m sure I’m forgetting interesting facts and anecdotes at this point, but this post is getting quite long so I ought to wrap it up. For those of you who live or have lived in UB, what would you add? Do you agree or disagree with my assessment? Let us know in the comments!