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Rome’s bargain homes: lucky few pay just €10 a month

Rome authorities have been caught up in a new controversy as an investigation revealed that hundreds of its property assets were being rented at rock bottom prices.

Rome’s bargain homes: lucky few pay just €10 a month
The view of St Peter's from Borgo Pio, where renting from the city can cost just over €10 a month. Photo: Nicola

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.

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RENTING

Reader question: Can my landlord legally increase my rent in Italy?

With the cost of living crisis can Italian landlords increase your rent, and if so, when and by how much? Here’s what you need to know about the laws protecting tenants.

Reader question: Can my landlord legally increase my rent in Italy?

Question: ‘Is my landlord in Italy legally entitled to increase my rent and is there any protection for tenants?’

As living costs keep rising across Europe, so do concerns about meeting them: in Italy, 57 percent of families are already having trouble paying their rent, according to a recent survey by consumer group Coop.

In an effort to help renters, several European countries – including Spain, France and Denmark – have recently brought in temporary caps on the amount by which landlords can increase prices, but Italy isn’t following suit.

So does that mean Italian landlords can legally raise their tenants’ rents? And, if so, when and by how much?

Though there is no single law explicitly preventing landlords from increasing the rent, a number of rules (commonly known as ‘corpus normativo’ or ‘body of law’) actually stop owners from raising monthly fees after a contract has been signed by both parties, with only one legal exception.

READ ALSO: Ten things to expect when renting an apartment in Italy

Apartments in France.

Italian landlords cannot legally increase rent in most types of contract. Photo by Francois GUILLOT / AFP

Italy has two main types of residential rental contracts (‘contratti di locazione’ in Italian) available to renters (‘inquilini’) and landlords (‘proprietari’): contratti di locazione a canone libero and contratti di locazione a canone concordato

Under a canone libero contract, the monthly rent is negotiated and agreed upon between landlord and tenant, and the length of the agreement follows the ‘4+4’ formula. That means that, after the first four years, the agreement automatically renews for four more years, unless one of the parties chooses to terminate the contract (usually six months’ notice is required).

As for contratti a canone concordato, the monthly rent can never exceed a threshold agreed upon by formally recognised local landlord associations and tenant organisations – these thresholds vary by region.

Also, these contracts follow the ‘3+2’ formula, meaning that the tenancy agreement of interest automatically renews after the first three years unless one of the parties chooses to terminate it.

Now, at no point over the course of either of the above agreements can the landlord raise the rent as, even when contracts are renewed for a further four or two years, the amount owed by the tenant/s must remain the same

In other words, if an Italian landlord wishes to increase the rent, the only way he can do so is by terminating the current contract – naturally, the tenants must also agree to withdraw from the contract before its natural expiration – and then draw up and agree upon another agreement, this time with a higher monthly fee.

READ ALSO: These are the most expensive places to rent a room in Italy

As previously mentioned, there is only one exception to this legislation: landlords can revise the rent annually based on cost-of-living data provided by the Italian National Institute of Statistics (ISTAT), also known as ‘indici ISTAT’. This is an instrument that effectively allows landlords to protect their purchasing powers.

An adeguamento can only happen under tenancy agreements in the canone libero category and is only legally acceptable if the tenancy agreement originally signed by both parties expressly included a provision (clausola) allowing for the yearly revision (adeguamento annuale).

If a contract does not include the above clause, then the landlord cannot legally review the rent on a yearly basis. 

Annual revision

Though it may seem like a rather unfathomable concept at first glance, the annual rent revision can de facto be explained fairly quickly. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Do renters in Italy have the right to keep pets?

In short, every year, ISTAT estimates how much the average cost of living across the country has changed by analysing expenditures related to a number of sectors, from grocery shopping to utility bills to transport and healthcare costs. The resulting estimate is expressed in the form of a percentage value, commonly referred to as ‘indice ISTAT’.

Apartments in Milan, Italy.

An annual rent revision in line with ISTAT’s cost-of-living estimates can only be applied to agreements in the ‘canone libero’ category. Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP

The annual rent revision is then calculated by means of the following formula: 

Yearly rent x indice ISTAT / 100

For instance, suppose that a tenant’s yearly rent was 7,200 euros and the indice ISTAT for the year was 2 percent. By multiplying the yearly rent by the indice and then dividing the product by 100, the tenant would get an annual rent revision of 144 euros (equal to 12 euros a month).

Naturally, while the value of the yearly adeguamento can be calculated autonomously, there are a number of online services offering to do the maths for you, including ISTAT’s own platform, Rivaluta.

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