After committing themselves to the move to a new country, the most difficult decision an expat is likely to make is where to live.
Most expats rent accommodation in Italy rather than buy. In the bigger cities, prices are prohibitive, and homeowners are reluctant to sell.
Types of accommodation in Italy
Italy is a country of apartment blocks. The post-war population boom is immortalised in the thousands of pastel-coloured buildings that crowd every city and town. Simply put, an expat would not easily find an Italian family living in their own detached home, let alone find one for themselves.
While townhouses exist in small towns, detached homes in Italy are reserved for villas and farms. Most are hundreds of years old and come with a large piece of land and an equally large price tag. Often these are heritage-listed or bound by strict laws about what can and can’t be done with them. They are also usually in need of some serious renovation.
Finding accommodation in Italy
It is important to know the local market when looking for a rental property in Italy. An expat could secure reasonable rent prices in cities like Perugia or Bologna, but the chances of this in Rome, Milan or Florence are very low.
Expats can find accommodation through online property portals or listings in local newspapers. Otherwise, new arrivals should contact local real estate agents, although agency fees can be pricey.
Expats should make sure that they meet the landlord and see their potential new home in person before committing to anything. Most legitimate landlords will, in any case, want to meet the tenant before finalising any arrangement. This makes it difficult to search for accommodation from overseas. Expats are likely to get the best results by conducting their search while in Italy staying in short-term accommodation.
Renting accommodation in Italy
Most standard rental contracts are signed for a year or longer – expats on shorter stays should investigate fully furnished properties that are rented on short-term leases with utilities included in the rental price.
Renting conditions are generally good. Renters have the right to demand that anything broken or run-down be fixed and most times the landlord will pay for fixes themselves.
The free-market contract (contratto di libero mercato) is a direct agreement between the owner (locatore) and tenant (locatorio or conduttore). These are called ‘four plus four’ contracts (quattro più quattro) because they usually last for four years, after which they are renewed for another four years.
A landlord must give six months’ notice if they wish to reclaim the property. This must be in writing and is only possible under certain conditions to protect the rights of the tenant.
The more flexible convention contract (contratto di convenzione) comes in a few different forms. Among these is the residential-use contract (uso abitativo) with a minimum duration of three years and a renewable period of two years, which can be extended.
If staying for a shorter period, expats should aim for a transitional use contract (uso transitoria), which is for a fixed period of one to 18 months. For this contract, tenants must prove they legitimately need temporary housing. Expats working in Rome for a limited period can prove this with a copy of their employment contract.
The convention contract is a result of the Italian government’s efforts to make more low-cost housing available and the contract follows guidelines set up by tenant associations and landlords. Owners get tax breaks in exchange for limiting how much they charge for rent – as opposed to a free-market contract, where the owner can set the rent at any price.
Leases and deposits
Leases must be in writing and must be signed by the tenant and owner. Paying a three-month deposit is standard. When signing an agreement, expats will have to provide copies of their passport, stay permit and banking details. Expats are advised to pay deposit and rent by a bank transaction. However, where cash is exchanged, expats must be sure to ask for a receipt to keep track of the payment.
Some regulations apply across the board regardless of the type of contract. Most expats are required to pay their utilities and this is therefore an additional cost to factor in. These utilities include gas, electricity, internet, cable and garbage collection.
Buying property in Italy
Although renting is more common, especially in cities, buying remains an option. Buying property in Italy has advantages that renting does not, although it has its downsides too. Buyers aren't as protected as renters. Most Italian apartment blocks were built in the 1960s and 1970s, so potential buyers need to ensure they get a good and thorough building inspection before they finalise any deals.
►For an overview on purchasing a home, read Buying Property in Italy
"The housing is generally good. The prices match England and most rentable accommodation is already furnished which is great for an expat." Read what Linda has to say about accommodation in Sardegna in her expat interview.
"Expensive and very small compared to SA but you can get a reasonable deal if you shop around and you are more flexible." Brian compares accommodation in Italy to South Africa in his interview.
Are you an expat living in Italy?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Italy. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
Elisa is an Australian journalist who came to Tuscany for a year, and fell in love (how cliché?), and decided to stick around. Cutting her teeth in frenetic-paced Rome, she now writes a Tuscan travel blog and online travel guide about her new home, the infinitely beautiful Tuscan Maremma, so that others can get a taste of la dolce vita.
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