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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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DISCOVER ITALY

TRAVEL: Nine tips for making the most of a Rome city break

Planning a trip to the Eternal City? Here, The Local's reporter in Rome shares some pointers on making the most of your stay.

TRAVEL: Nine tips for making the most of a Rome city break

Familiarise yourself with the concept of aperitivo

If the aperitivo originated in Milan, it’s been wholeheartedly embraced in Rome.

For those unfamiliar with the custom, aperitivo is a kind of Italian happy hour – except instead of discounted or two-for-one cocktails, you get food along with your drink.

This can be anything from a small plate of crisps or bowl of peanuts to bites of sandwiches and pizzette to a full-blown all-you-can-eat buffet (in which case it’s more likely to be referred to as an apericena), ideal for travellers looking to fill up on a budget.

Some of the popular Rome bars that used to serve buffets ended the practice for good during the pandemic, but a number of others have now started up again.

Regardless of whether or not you want to substitute an apericena for an actual dinner, sitting down for an aperitivo can be a good way to keep your energy levels up if you’re planning on waiting till 9pm to eat like an Italian.

People enjoy an aperitivo in downtown Rome.

People enjoy an aperitivo in downtown Rome. Photo by Vincenzo PINTO / AFP.

On weekends, book in advance for restaurants

After several years of living in Rome, this one still catches me out: most popular restaurants will be fully booked on Friday and Saturday evenings and for Sunday lunch.

You’ll always eventually find somewhere that will take you in – but if you want to avoid being snorted at derisively and turned away from multiple establishments, it’s wise to book in advance, especially if you have somewhere well known on your list.

People eat a lunch in a restaurant in Campo dei Fiori square in downtown Rome.

People eat a lunch in a restaurant in Campo dei Fiori square in downtown Rome. Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP.

…And museums

Foreign visitors have started returning to Rome en masse, but some Covid restrictions are still in place: meaning that now more than ever, it’s important to book visits to the major attractions and museums in advance to avoid being disappointed.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about travel to Italy this spring

This has always been true for the Vatican Museums, where you can expect to queue for hours if you’ve not booked ahead of time (even if you have booked, you can still expect to wait in line for staff to check tickets and conduct security checks).

A tourist walks outside the Capitoline Museums in central Rome.

A tourist walks outside the Capitoline Museums in central Rome. Photo by ANDREAS SOLARO / AFP.

If you’ve left it too late to secure a time slot for the most famous attractions, don’t assume your trip’s a write off – Rome is packed with numerous lesser-known museums and churches that are still worth visiting. 

Pick your gelato wisely

There are a lot of great gelaterias in Rome – and a few mediocre ones.

The first time I visited the city, such distinctions were meaningless to me, and I was irritable with an Italian who tried to instruct me otherwise: ice cream is ice cream, and if I want to get one from somewhere right next to the Trevi Fountain, why shouldn’t I?

I maintain that food preferences are a matter of inviolable personal taste, and if bright blue bubblegum flavoured gelato is what you like best in the world, then you do you.

READ ALSO: How to spot good quality gelato in Italy – and how to suss out the fakes

When eating gelato in Rome, it's worth seeking out a quality gelateria.

When eating gelato in Rome, it’s worth seeking out a quality gelateria. Photo by Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP.

But after consuming many, many gelati, my tastes have regrettably and against my will become more refined than they once were.

If you want a good quality gelato that a Roman would eat, avoid bright artificial colours, places where the ice cream is piled high without melting (it means the gelato is high in vegetable fats and emulsifiers), and shops that are really going out of their way to advertise themselves with a lot of garish signposting.

Do your research on where to eat

In a similar vein, it can be tempting to assume that every restaurant in Rome serves good food just because it’s here.

The one time I was persuaded to eat at a place without indulging my neurotic compulsion to first check its ratings on various review platforms, it was bad.

When we looked afterwards, my suspicions were confirmed: it was poorly reviewed online.

READ ALSO: How to spot the Italian restaurants to avoid

People eat at a restaurant by the Pantheon in downtown Rome.

People eat at a restaurant by the Pantheon in downtown Rome. Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP.

This might not happen to you; but if you’re only here for a few days on holiday, why risk not checking that the place where you’re about to eat has at least decent reviews?

Restaurants accredited by the Slow Food Association (which was founded in Rome) are a good start: they use only local, seasonal ingredients, so the food tends to be very fresh and flavourful.

READ ALSO: What are the rules on tipping in Italy?

Wear comfortable shoes

Rome is a very manageable city to visit as a tourist, with most of its major cultural and historic sites within walking distance of one another.

That said, the sampietrini cobble stones with which much of the city centre is paved are not kind to wearers of high heels or other stylish but impractical footwear.

If you’re planning on strolling around the city for any length of time, make sure to wear – or at least bring with you as a back up – some shoes that won’t punish your feet.

A tourist cools off at the Barcaccia fountain by the Spanish Steps in central Rome.

A tourist cools off at the Barcaccia fountain by the Spanish Steps in central Rome. Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP

Buy several bus/metro tickets at a time

You can’t buy a ticket on the bus in Rome, and the machines that distribute them at metro stations can’t necessarily be completely relied upon to work.

The only other place you can buy them is from tabaccherie (tobacconist shops) – but these are often closed in the afternoon and on Sundays.

You’ll be stung with a €50 if caught without a validated ticket (time stamped using the small yellow machines you’ll see on the buses), so it’s important to have one on you. If you’re in town for a few days, it’s wise to buy several tickets when you get the chance so you won’t be caught out.

People stand by a bus stop in front of the Colosseum in central Rome.

People stand by a bus stop in front of the Colosseum in central Rome. Photo by FILIPPO MONTEFORTE / AFP.

An alternative is the Mycicero app, which allows you to buy and virtually validate Rome bus and metro tickets on your phone. 

Budget some time to wander aimlessly

With so much to see and do in Rome, it can be tempting to pack your itinerary till it’s bursting at the seams.

But one of the best ways to appreciate the city is by simply meandering around its streets getting lost.

Trastevere, with its shaded alleyways and vine-covered, terracotta-hued arches is an ideal place to soak up some of the city’s beauty as a tourist.

Testaccio, just across the river, is a historic Roman neighbourhood where you’ll find a thriving food and artisanal products market open every day except Sunday, as well as a 2000-year-old artificial hill made entirely from broken amphorae, once the site of an ancient Roman rubbish dump.

A fruit and vegetable seller picks artichokes at the Testaccio market Rome.

A fruit and vegetable seller picks artichokes at the Testaccio market Rome. Photo by Vincenzo PINTO / AFP.

Don’t get too hung up on niceties

You’ll often see online reviews that complain about waiters’ rudeness in Italian restaurants and bars.

Sometimes, this is fair – there really are places that are particularly rude and dismissive, especially to tourists who don’t speak Italian.

But a lot of the time, it’s just the way the city is. Being a bit brusque and short with customers is normal – after all, there’s a lot of tables to wait and a lot of caffe to serve.

Eating at a bar or restaurant in Rome may be a different experience to what you're used to.

Eating at a bar or restaurant in Rome may be a different experience to what you’re used to. Photo by ALBERTO PIZZOLI / AFP.

You’ll also find that many less-formal restaurants or trattorie allow people selling roses or sometimes even singers of traditional Roman folk songs to go around customer’s tables and ask for change – and diners will often give it to them.

You might find this irritating, but it’s good practice to throw your hands up, accept that you’re in a foreign country with different customs to your own, and follow the example of locals.

There’s some kind of saying about that…

Staying in Rome for longer? Here are 15 simple hacks that make living in the city easier.

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