For most people, apartment-hunting in Rome is time consuming, stressful – and expensive.
According to Numbeo, a database comparing living costs across the world, a one-bedroom apartment in the city centre will set you back an average of €1,040 a month, rising to €1,994 for three bedrooms.
But it seems that a lucky few have been able to snare apartments in the centre of the capital, a stone's throw away from tourist hotspots like Piazza Navona and the Colosseum, for just a few euros each month.
An investigation aimed at increasing transparency in the city council's activities has revealed that hundreds of buildings owned by Rome are being rented at rock-bottom prices.
So far 574 cases have been uncovered - but this number is likely to rise.
In a statement on Tuesday, Rome prefect Francesco Paolo Tronca, who is leading the investigation, said: “The contractual rents are well below the minimum market value. In many cases, the rents are a few dozen euros per month.”
Tronca was handed the assignment after Rome mayor Ignazio Marino resigned in November, and is managing the city until a new mayor is elected in June.
The homes include an apartment in Borgo Pio, close to St Peter’s Basilica, for €10.29 per month; one in Corso Vittorio Emanuele, one of Rome's main streets and close to Piazza Navona, for €24.41 per month; one with a view of the Imperial Forum at €23.36 per month and one on Via del Colosseo at a bargain €25.64 per month.
The properties are rented to private tenants for what amounts to small change – often the price has remained unchanged for decades.
Although the statement did not reveal how the properties came to be rented for such low prices, Tronca said that "investigations are underway to determine if any of the properties are being occupied illegally,” since in many cases the current occupants and the contract holders are not the same.
The commission also hopes to identify any council-owned properties for which rental contract renewals have been long neglected, while also hoping to claw back cash for Rome’s empty coffers.
Tronca intends to continue the "clean-up" until all of the city’s property assets have been checked.
A Rome estate agent told The Local that the city's authorities were most likely lax in doing their job of keeping up with leases, letting many fall by the wayside over the years.
In one astonishing case, captured in the investigation by Corriere in the video below, an apartment in Corviale, a housing complex in Rome's outskirts, is rented at the bargain price of €0.60 per year – that’s five cents every month.
The resident tells Corriere’s reporter that even this small amount has not been paid since his grandfather held the rental contract, when Lira was the national currency and the rent was 900 lire a month.
He says he is no longer charged any rent and that he didn't officially inherit the apartment's rental agreeement.
"No (inheritance) contract was ever made," he said, when asked if he is illegally occupying the building.
"The contract expired, the council hasn't bothered to renew it. My family has never left this house. Would you call that unlawful?"
By contrast, in the same building another resident who is not renting from city authorities said he pays €750 a month for his home.
Meanwhile, reports in the Italian media say the tenants in homes in some of Rome's swankier areas are mostly middle class and not eligible for social housing, and pay the meager sums because simply no one has ever bothered to raise them.
The city has announced that from now on it would make sure that rents are in line with market rates and cancel the lease in cases where the legal renter has covertly sublet the apartment.
The estate agent said that in some cases, the properties "may have been used as bribes" by people working for the authorities.