This guide was written prior to Russia's 2022 invasion of Ukraine and is therefore not reflective of the current situation. Travel to Russia is currently not advisable due to the area's volatile political situation.
Accommodation in Moscow can be exceedingly expensive, but expats will find that it is not too difficult to secure a place in the city. Expats are often able to negotiate with Russian landlords about various things, although lowering rental costs is unlikely.
Types of housing in Moscow
Expats expecting only Stalinist relics or cookie-cutter communist apartments will be pleasantly surprised by the variety on offer. Almost every type of accommodation is present, from high-priced villas and houses clustered in suburban gated compounds to modern, fully equipped, expansive apartments in the city centre.
There are more options available in older buildings than in Western-style highly secured complexes. Though they may be old, they often house stylishly renovated apartments that can be rented for more of a bargain.
Furnished, unfurnished and semi-furnished accommodation is available in Moscow. Expats will find that for the right price, landlords are willing to add or remove furniture as tenants wish, and prospective tenants shouldn't be afraid to negotiate.
Finding accommodation in Moscow
One of the most important points to keep in mind when searching for accommodation in Moscow is that most areas of the city have severe traffic issues. Expats should choose housing that is conveniently located near a metro line for ease of travel to and from work or school. That said, living near a metro station often means living in a more polluted and congested area.
Most expats in Moscow live in the city centre, within the circular metro line. Expats should keep in mind that the closer one gets to the Moscow city centre, the more expensive rentals generally become.
For those who prefer an area with more fresh air, new apartment buildings, gated communities and villas are springing up in the suburbs beyond Moscow’s outer beltway. The extra space and accessible greenery come at an additional cost, and the commute into the city centre can be as much as 90 minutes each way.
Those who don't speak Russian generally use a real-estate agent to help them find and secure accommodation. These service providers typically charge the equivalent of one month’s rent, although this varies. They assist in finding accommodation options and negotiate a secure lease. They can also deal with landlords when there is a conflict.
Renting accommodation in Moscow
Securing accommodation in Moscow is often not done to the book and many landlords demand monthly rental payments in cash to avoid paying taxes. Those lucky enough to secure an accommodation allowance through their company may not be able to pay cash. Although, in this case, they may find that landlords charge more.
It would be wise for expats to seek help from an estate agent to arrange a lease in Moscow. Leases are often written in both Russian and English and range from one to three years. Rent is normally paid on a monthly basis. Dependent upon agreement between the landlord and tenant, rent can be paid in roubles, US dollars or euros.
A standard security deposit equivalent to one month’s rent is generally requested. If possible, expats should negotiate for it to be used to pay the final month of rent. Landlords will often find any excuse not to return this payment, even if all inventories are returned as they were received, and even if the apartment is left in a better condition than it was found.
For the most part, water and gas should be included in the rental cost. Electricity, internet, television and telecommunications are for the tenant's account. Be sure to address this topic during lease negotiations. Utilities tend to be cheap and are state-run.
If expats live in a normal Russian apartment and not in one of the luxurious Western-style apartments they will have limited control over their heating. Heating will come on and be switched off when the central heating centre decides it is cold/warm enough. There is nothing one can do about it.
During summer, hot water is cut off for a week or more to allow general maintenance of the pipes. This happens in every area of Moscow, and one should look for notices in the building or surrounding area informing when to expect the water cut. Some apartment buildings may have their own water heating systems to compensate for this, but many will not.