Each foreigner coming to Poland finds it difficult to rent a flat, unless he is a student with a place in student hostel given by the university. But after some time he wants to change it for a flat. Those who can move to their friends' or friends' friends' place find it the easiest. If you haven't got any friends, you have to look for it by yourself. And here, the foreigner must remember two things – rent agreement and registration. As far as the first thing is easy to settle, the second one is a great problem. In Poland you are obliged to register, what means that if you go to the mountains for more than 3 days, according to the law you have to register. This law is not obeyed but it is not so in the case you are foreigner because to apply for a stay permission, we have to submit a proof of temporary registration. And here we start to wangle, but we don't want, we just have to.

To find a flat in Warsaw and have the possibility to register your stay there is tricky, anyway just to rent a flat is not so easy. How to look for it? Just like everybody does – via newspapers and Internet, and we come across many agencies, even in the private ads. How do such agencies work? In most of the cases it looks similar: you go there, sign the agreement, pay about 250 PLN and wait for sms messages with offers that might fit your requirements. Does it guarantee that you will find anything? No. But it is written in the agreement that if they don't find you a flat, the agreement is automatically prolonged, and what's interesting, it is free then but...after some time you get less and less messages.

And how does visiting a flat look like? You come and ..the price has already grown up and there are more people interested, who negotiate with the owner. Or you have an appointment at one o'clock, you ring the door phone and you hear „It is already off”. The need for flats in Warsaw is so big that it is not you who looks for a flat, the flat looks for you. Sometimes it goes to the extremities – an interview on how much you like partying. Of course, so is the case with cheaper flats. If you can afford a one – room flat for 2000 PLN, you will find it quickly because there are few people interested..

If you speak with no accent, you've got more chance to make an appointment by phone.
But if you don't, you'd better ask a Pole because the answer to the question „ Is the offer still on?” ( which is phonetically easy ) is often ..”Yes” but if you try to make an appointment, you hear ...” but I've already got somebody”. Sometimes, when you ask „Why?”, you get the answer „ I had Ukrainians, Belarusians, Russians who stole the furniture.” As a matter of fact, Poles cannot cheat and steal the furniture from the flat. But these are extremities.

Me, I was looking for a flat for one and a half month. I was a PhD student, I had a work permission, I was employed, I had a stay permission, I have been living here for three years.
I couldn't find anything, finally I was ready to pay more only to have a flat. I used to go for the meetings just after the worktime – well-dressed, with make-up and stilettoes, I looked very serious but there was one „but”. - I was from the East. I wanted to rent a one-room flat and live there alone.
There was one offer at Raclawicka Street, when I went there and asked some questions, I decided to tell the owner that I wasn't Polish and ask if it is no problem for her. I saw a sign of surprise on her face ( my accent is hard to recognize ) I heard „No”. She promised to call me back. She did just to tell me she rented it to somebody else who needed it for much longer time. I wanted to rent it for a few years ( I can't afford to buy a flat ) but....Did she find anybody who wanted to live there forever?

After a month and a half I moved to a one-room flat which was left by my friend. The owner signed the agreement but the registration was out of question. I was registered by my employer. To get a permanent stay permission, you need the rent agreement and registration at the same address. In the Foreigners' Department I was given an advice to sign a fake agreement for 1 PLN with my employer to avoid the problem. So..to be short, I couldn't submit the real agreement and the registration at the other address. The clerks couldn't accept this, I had to wangle, sign the fake agreement to submit it in the Foreigners' Department to get permanent stay permission.

Each foreigner applying for stay permission is checked by the district policeman. And so was my case. The policeman came to visit my employer on Saturday, because the meeting was fixed on this day, so I was to show up at the office to greet him and show him my pass. The policeman was clever and he must have known that I wasn't living there but he didn't make any problems. But even this absurdity was not as absurd as what I am going to write below.

I worked in the transport firm, we had 13 lorries which transported goods to the East, ( Russia, Belarus, Ukraine). I wasn't the only foreigner there. The boss employed four drivers from Belarus and registered them at his place!.Because each of them had to be registered. Polish drivers were loading goods in the West and carried them to the base near Warsaw and Belarusian drivers who had Polish work visas ( and these are internal visas, not allowing you to enter another country) attached these loaded semitrailers and carried them to Minsk, Moscow, Samara, Nizny, Perm ( because they needn't have visas to the East). When there came up the question of getting stay permissions, so that they could continue to the West to load and then to Moscow to unload, it turned out that they need the rent agreement! So the lorry driver whose job doesn't require having a flat and living in Poland had to submit the rent agreement. Being an experienced person, I prepared the rent agreement for 1 PLN on our beloved employer's name ( he cannot be called otherwise ), I printed them and gave him to sign them. The policeman checked them all, each of them got the permission. What is a person without such an employer going to do?

What do the others do? They register at their friends' place. I know several mixed pairs in Warsaw, who register their foreign friends. A friend of mine told me that the policeman asked him why he had already registered five persons. And the clerks think that finding a flat and to register is an easy thing and recommend to by-pass the law if we have anybody who could register us. Where am I registered? At the very place where I life. How did I manage to do this? I was registered temporarily with my rent agreement without the owner's knowledge, there was a person in the district office who helped me. What will happen when the owner will find out? I don't even think but I have to be registered to legalize my stay in Poland.

The absurdity is that Poles don't want illegal immigrants in their country, but they don't want to do what is their obligation so that a foreigner could legalize his stay ( you rent a flat to somebody, you have to register him).

There are opinions that you aren't willing to register the person you don't know. But to unregister is as easy as to register, the more so that temporary registration expires. People say you should know each other.
After a year I asked for the registration for the second time. I was renting the flat for a year, I paid for the rent, electricity, gas and water in time. I changed tubes in the bathroom and painted the walls there because I was allowed and he didn't even want to see the bills. I was giving him all the parcels and letters. Everybody will say these are very good relations. I asked for the registration for the second time, - „no way” he said and I started to wangle again...

Text by Maria Strelbicka
Translated by Agata Bogucka