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Ten things to expect when renting an apartment in Italy

Ten things to expect when renting an apartment in Italy
Photo: Unsplash/Katy Cao
If you're renting an apartment in Italy, you might be in for a surprise or two. Here's a heads up on what you can expect.

Waking up in your own cosy Italian apartment, opening the shutters and stepping out onto a sunny balcony as you look out over the old town below. Sounds nice, doesn’t it? And renting is a relatively quick way to make it a reality.

READ ALSO: Renting in Italy: the crucial vocabulary you need to know

Whether you’re planning to stay in Italy short-term, want more flexibility, or just need time to scout out the perfect forever home to buy, renting an apartment might be the right solution when you make your move. But there are a few things to be aware of.

We all come with our own ideas and expectations of rental properties, landlords, and letting agents, which will of course vary depending on where you come from. Will the Italian version match up? Here’s a quick primer on what you can expect.

Note: As with pretty much everything in Italy, things can differ from one region or city to another, and of course there are always exceptions. If you’re renting at the higher end of the market, you’re likely to encounter fewer problems. We hope this guide can give you a general picture of what to expect from the rental market overall.

Buildings in central Rome. Photo: Ludwig Thalheimer/Unsplash

Think twice about those beautiful old buildings

Whether you’re browsing rental listings in the big city or a quiet town, chances are there will be some unique apartments listed in stunning centuries-old palazzi.

It can be hard to resist the appeal of living in such a historic building, with unique architecture and bags of charm. But they’re not usually the most practical choice.

These apartments often come with issues like poor insulation, damp, strange layouts and ancient plumbing. Bathrooms, installed many decades after the apartment was built, tend to be poky afterthoughts. Many such buildings won’t have an elevator, or central heating (and yes, that will be an issue if you’re planning to be there in winter!)

If you like convenience and home comforts, you may prefer to opt for a newer – if far less atmospheric – apartment building. These are unlikely to have those problems, and may also come with a dedicated storage room (ripostiglio) and garage (box auto).

Photo by Philippe Lopez/AFP

However, some people complain that new buildings come with their own issues, such as being noisy, havng poor insulation, and having windows looking directly into someone else’s living room.

Those rare recently-renovated and comfortable rental apartments inside historic but well-maintained buildings can be found, but usually for a high price. And they tend to be snapped up quickly.

Furnished or unfurnished?

You may find these terms mean something slightly different than what you’re used to back home.

In Italy, “unfurnished” means the place is totally empty. That means there won’t even be light fixtures or a kitchen (not just missing appliances – no worktops, cupboards, sink. Nothing.) The apartment will contain nothing at all apart from the sanitari (toilet and bidet) and perhaps a bathroom sink unit.

A part-furnished apartment should have a kitchen in it, probably without appliances, and might even come with a few pieces of the owner’s grandparents’ old furniture. It’s very unlikely to have a bed or sofa.

Most long-term rentals come unfurnished or partly-furnished.

Short term rentals (a year or less) however will most likely have all, or most, of the furniture you might need. These are more commonly found in big cities and tend to be aimed at students and young professionals.

Pet-friendly?

In some countries, like the UK for example, it can be near impossible to find a rental that will allow pets. In Italy, this doesn’t tend to be as much of a problem.

This may be partly because few rental apartments have been recently renovated, so there aren’t as many shiny new finishes to damage. But you’ll probably also notice that, for better or worse, in Italy it’s not unusual for people to keep pets in small apartments, including large dogs.

If your rental contract does have a ‘no pets’ clause, feel free to ask your landlord about it – they might not actually mind that much. If they’re unsure, you can always suggest introducing them to your four-legged friend.

While there are lots of pet-related cultural differences that can be jarring for foreigners, it is true overall that Italians tend to be animal lovers.

How much is all this going to cost?

As with anywhere, rents vary greatly in Italy depending on where you want to live, but the average monthly rent on an apartment in an Italian city is now around 600 euros per month according to recent Istat figures.

It can be double that in the most expensive areas, such as in central Milan, and as low as around 300 euros a month in the cheapest.

READ ALSO: These are the Italian cities where rent prices are rising fastest

Many landlords ask for the first month’s rent upfront plus at least one month’s rent as a security deposit. Many will ask for two or even three months, but you may be able to negotiate that down.

And don’t forget that the letting agents’ fee is generally a month’s rent – and then you’ll have to pay a whopping 22 percent tax on that fee, as well.

Overall, you’ll need to budget for over three months’ rent just to move in. And of course, that’s before factoring in the cost of furniture, moving, and setting up utilities.

A lettings agent is probably a good idea

In Italy most apartments are rented out by private individuals rather than big companies. This can be a good thing in many ways, but it also means landlords are often inexperienced, for example when it comes to legal issues, or are too busy to deal with any problems you may have.

Most private owners choose to work with an agent, instead of spending thir time handling viewings and contracts themselves, which means you’ll have the easiest time and the biggest pick of apartments if you go to an agency.

While agencies charge fees, they’re actually useful to have around as most private landlords in Italy tend to be simply inexperienced, or not particualry interested in the ins and outs of the property business. This means they may not be up to date with the latest regulations, or the fine print of rental contracts. Not only will a good agent advise them on these things, but they can negotiate with the owner on your behalf.

Of course, you may have luck finding an apartment through word of mouth that you can rent directly from the owner, or perhaps online – although advertising on property websites is still not the default option in Italy, and more often than not you’ll still have to go through the agency even if you’ve done all the searching yourself.

You really can negotiate the rent

You can and should try to haggle with your Italian landlord. The idea might make people from some countries cringe, but it’s not seen as rude – and landlords may be asking for more than is realistic or reasonable (whether intentionally as they expect hagglers, or out of inexperience or over-optimism).

Because most rentals come from private owners, they can be more flexible than a big rental company or buy-to-let landlord would be.

However, the fact is that a lettings agent or a local friend will have better luck negotiating than you will. Even if you speak fluent Italian and have excellent haggling skills, you could still come up against  the unfortunately common assumption that foreigners moving to Italy must have more money than sense.

Know your rental contracts.

Some people might tell you that there’s no need to bother with a contract, and that it’s “normal” for people to rent without contracts in Italy. Our advice is to steer well clear of this sort of arrangement.

While it’s not unknown for Italians to have these informal arrangements, perhaps when renting from friends, it’s essential as a non-Italian that you have everything done officially – not least as you’ll need to provide a copy of your rental contract when applying for Italian residency.

READ ALSO: ‘No southerners’: Milan landlady refuses to rent to woman from south of Italy

If you drive, you’ll also need it to obtain a residents’ parking permit. While this might not make it easier to find a space, you’ll be paying parking fees daily otherwise.

There are a few different types of rental contract available in Italy. You’ll probably want a residential (uso abitativo) contract, which can have a duration of 3+2 years (meaning the contract is valid for three years with the option to renew for another two), 4+2, 4+4, or even longer.

There’s also the option of transitory (uso transitorio) with a duration of one to 18 months, and student rentals (uso studenti universitari) with a duration of between six and 36 months. The terms and conditions for each type vary, and you should check the contract carefully with your agent.

Once you’ve signed your rental contract, your landlord or the agency has 30 days to register it officially with the local authorities.

They will then need to give you a copy of this legally registered, stamped contract, which is what you’ll use for your paperwork.

And you might not be thinking about this while moving into a new place, but make sure to check the terms and conditions on giving notice to leave the apartment. Many contracts will stipulate that you need to give at least three months’ notice to your landlord if you move out, which can come as an unpleasant surprise. You might be able to negotiate that down before signing.

The most important thing is to know what the contract says, and to have it to hand when it comes time to leave. Just in case your landlord is anything like the ones we’ve encountered, and tries to tell you that the period is actually six months.

You’ll need to set up the utilities in your name

In some countries, tenants usually pay a set fee to the landlord every month to cover utilities such as water, electricity, and even wifi. Not so in Italy, and you’ll need to have all these bills sent directly to you.

This may be as simple as having the electric and water companies change your landlord’s details for yours on the system.

But if the apartment isn’t already set up with utilities, you’ll need to go and visit the various utlity company offices yourself and set up accounts with them. Make sure you remember to get this done before you actualy move in.

Cleaning supplies should be your first purchase

It’s common to hear tales of landlords leaving their apartments filthy and neglected. With a few exceptions – such as new builds, holiday lets, and rentals at the pricier end of the market – we have unfortunately learned that plenty of apartments in Italy will be rented out in a terrible state.

You might not have noticed quite how thick the dust was when you visited the property, or maybe the landlord had strategicallty placed a plant pot over a stain or two. But be prepared to do some serious deep-cleaning and decorating when you move in.

Expect thick dust, patches of moudly plaster, broken furniture and bags of rubbish left in very room, and windows too dirty to see out of (If the experiences of The Local’s editors are anything to go by…)

If you’re lucky, your landlord will have freshly repainted the place, but don’t count on it. So you may want to factor in the cost of a few tins of paint into your budget.

Any minor repairs needed will also be yours to take care of. The owner may at least cover the cost of any hardware you need to buy.

Getting to know your neighbours

It’s worth trying to meet a neighbour or two before you decide to take the apartment.

If you’re used to apartment living being anonymous and private, you can forget about it once you move to Italy. Your neighbours are soon going to know all of your business – and not just because your dividing walls are paper thin.

Photo: Unsplash

It can be surprising to find that, even in big Italian cities, there’s a sense of community in apartment buildings and all of the neighbours do tend to know one another.

There’s a good chance your neighbours are looking out for the safety of the building and everyone in it, and won’t hesistate to lend you a hand, take your parcel deliveries, and be openly curious about your habits and every visitor you have. if you’re lucky, they’ll occasionally bring you baked goods.

Whether you find this neighbourly relationship claustrophic or reassuring entirely depends on you.


Member comments

  1. I have been living in a pleasant house for over 10 years (with legal extensions of my contract).
    It is a “furnished” little house with huge garden near lake Como.
    During this time I improved a number of aspects from cheap furniture to reasonable…
    By now I believe I should renew e.g. the mattresses on 3 beds ( I use only one and moved them around 🙂 ).
    I also need to replace the Ikea sofa (the cheapest in the catalogue 🙂 ) and a few other pieces.

    Does “the law” foresee this situation and the question of who should pay?
    Does anyone have experience?

    One alternative for me is that a very complicated discussion with the elderly lady who owns my rented house (and her slightly slow nephew) could be more distressing than buying it all at my cost …
    Any suggestion — most welcome.
    Thanks
    Pol

    1. Hi,

      In my own experience, beds/mattresses and sofas have always fallen into the category of things we had to buy as tenants. When other items have had to be replaced (eg. a broken fridge belonging to the landlady) we just did it ourselves and told her we were doing so. We tend to replace or repair most things at our own expense and trouble in order to avoid the bigger headache of attempting to get the landlady to help. Of course, it all depends on your contract and your relationship with the owner. Hopefully other readers will have more advice!

      Best wishes,
      – Clare

  2. I have been in Rome for 4 years now but I have changed houses 3 times. Only one of those houses gave me a signed registered contract. I just moved to a new one with a transitory (uso transitorio) contract for 18 months. I have previously not registered any apartment with the commune since I arrived. Can I register for residency with this 18 months transitory contract?

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