Most expats rent accommodation in Italy rather than buy. In the bigger cities, prices are prohibitive, and homeowners are reluctant to sell.
After committing to move to a new country, the most difficult decision is where to live, and the process of securing accommodation isn’t much easier.
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 terraced houses (villette a schiera) exist in small towns, detached homes in Italy are typically reserved for villas and farms. Farmhouses (cascine) are often hundreds of years old and come with a large piece of land and an equally hefty price tag. These are often 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.
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 tenant's rights.
The more flexible convention contract (contratto di convenzione) comes in several 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.
The convention contract results from 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 – instead of a free-market contract, where the owner can set the rent at any price.
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.
Furnished and unfurnished
Choosing between furnished and unfurnished accommodation in Italy largely depends on an individual’s circumstances. Furnished properties offer a convenient solution for short-term stays or those who prefer not to invest in furniture.
Unfurnished rentals can be significantly cheaper and allow expats to create a personal touch in their new homes. An unfurnished property typically includes basic fixtures, but the rest is up to the tenant to furnish.
Finding accommodation in Italy
It is essential to know the local market when looking for a rental property in Italy. An expat could secure reasonable rent prices in cities such as Perugia or Bologna, but the chances of this in Rome, Milan or Florence are 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 ensure 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 after arriving, while staying in short-term accommodation.
- Immobiliare.it: Find various rental options across Italy
- Browse property listings in Italian cities and towns with Casa.it
- Subito.it has many categories for buying and selling, including an accommodation section.
- Explore short-term rental options perfect for initial stays on Airbnb Italy
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 the landlord will typically pay for fixes themselves.
Leases and deposits
Leases must be in writing and signed by the tenant and owner. When signing an agreement, expats will have to provide copies of their passports, stay permits and banking details.
Leases in Italy are legally binding documents and provide security for both the tenant and the landlord. They outline the terms of the rental, the duration, the rent amount, and other conditions such as maintenance responsibilities. A lease also details the deposit amount, typically equivalent to one to three months’ rent, serving as security for the landlord against damages or unpaid rent.
Deposits and fees
Paying a three-month deposit is standard. Expats are advised to pay the deposit and rent by a bank transaction. Where cash is exchanged, expats must ask for a receipt to keep track of the payment.
Deposits in Italy are refundable at the end of the tenancy, provided there is no damage to the property. Expats need to understand the terms regarding the deposit in their rental contract. In addition to the deposit, a tenant might also incur agency fees if they have used a real estate agent to find their property. These fees vary but are often equivalent to one month’s rent plus VAT (Value Added Tax).
Terminating the lease
Terminating a lease often requires giving a notice period as stipulated in the contract, commonly ranging from one to three months. If a tenant leaves before the contract ends without proper notice, they may lose their deposit. In Italy, leases may also include a diplomatic clause that allows expats to terminate the lease early without penalty under specific conditions, such as job relocation.
Utilities in Italy
For expats settling in Italy, understanding the nuances of setting up and paying for utilities in Italy is a crucial step towards a comfortable living experience. Some regulations apply across the board regardless of the type of contract. Most expats are required to pay their own utilities, an additional cost to budget for. These utilities include gas, electricity, internet, cable and garbage collection.
Most utility companies offer online registration for ease of setup, which can be convenient for those with a grasp of Italian or who have assistance from a local friend or interpreter. Payment options are quite flexible, with direct debit (RID, or Rapporto Interbancario Diretto) being the most common and hassle-free method.
Alternatively, bills can be paid via online banking, at the post office or at authorised payment points like ATMs or SisalPay counters. It's worth noting that utility contracts and bills will typically be in Italian, so expats may need assistance translating and understanding the terms to begin with. Prompt payment of bills is important, as delays can lead to penalties or even disconnection of services.
When settling in Italy, setting up electricity is a priority. Expats should compare providers to find the most cost-effective tariffs. Italy operates on a 220V supply voltage and 50Hz, with power sockets being type F and L. It's advisable to check if any adapters or transformers are needed for personal electronics brought from abroad.
Electricity is deregulated in Italy, allowing consumers to choose their providers. Electricity prices vary depending on the provider and the tariff plan chosen. Expats should consider the energy efficiency of their accommodation as it significantly affects electricity costs.
Natural gas in Italy is used for heating, cooking, and sometimes for water heating. As with electricity, the gas market is deregulated, and prices will vary by provider. It’s crucial for tenants to ensure that the gas systems in their rental properties are compliant with safety standards.
Italy’s gas providers offer various packages, and in some regions, gas may be more economical than electricity for heating. When moving into a new property, ensuring the gas connection is set up and the boiler is serviced is important for safety and comfort.
Water rates are generally included in the condominium expenses if living in an apartment block. For standalone properties, the tenant usually pays based on their metered usage. Water quality in Italy is generally good, but some prefer to use filters or buy bottled water for drinking.
Although tap water in Italy is safe to drink, its high mineral content may taste different from what some expats are accustomed to. Installing a filtration system can enhance the taste and soften the water.
Bins and recycling
Waste disposal and recycling are taken seriously in Italy, with stringent regulations on separating and disposing of waste. Charges for garbage collection are typically included in the utility bills, and expats should familiarise themselves with the local recycling schedule and rules.
Expats should be aware that Italy takes environmental concerns seriously, and non-compliance with waste disposal regulations can result in fines. It's essential to learn the waste collection timetable and sort refuse accordingly.
- Enel is a major electricity and gas provider in Italy
- Acque d'Italia provides information about water services
- Gruppo Hera is a leading utility service in Italy for waste management
- For comprehensive information on setting up utilities, expats can visit ARERA (Autorità di Regolazione per Energia Reti e Ambiente), the Italian regulatory authority for energy and the environment.
- Another useful resource for understanding the recycling rules in different municipalities is Il Rifiutologo, offering detailed guidelines on waste management.
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. Buying in Italy is a complicated process, but below are the basic steps:
Step 1. Expats must decide upon a price. They can negotiate this by being aware of the fine details of not only the property but the area too. Expats should be aware of information including how long the property has been on the market, when it was built, and the state of the property, among other things. Knowing this and then consulting with one’s lawyer and estate agent is highly beneficial. Once a reasonable price has been decided, expats can submit a written offer (proposta d'acquisto irrevocabile). This document is supplied by the estate agent. Once signed by both parties, it locks in the price of the property. Expats typically pay a 10-percent deposit at this stage as a sign of good faith, but it’s not compulsory.
Step 2. Engage the services of a geometra. A geometra is a surveyor and architect rolled into one. They ensure that the property meets housing codes. Expats can hire one themselves or ask their estate agent to do so on their behalf.
Step 3. Commission a legal check of the property and a credit check of the seller to ensure that there are no title disputes or mortgages. This can be done by an estate agent, a lawyer or the geometra.
Step 4. Sign the preliminary contract (compromesso). This legally binding contract is drawn up by the estate agent and commits both parties to the transfer of ownership on the terms and conditions agreed to. At this stage, a deposit of at least 10 percent of the purchasing price must be made.
Step 5. Commission a final conveyance and legal check. This must be done by a licensed Italian notary (notaio). The estate agent can recommend one.
Step 6. Sign the deeds of sale (rogito). This is done before a notary with a translator present if one doesn’t speak Italian. At this point, the remaining amount due for the sale must be paid to the seller.
Step 7. Ensure the notary registers the sale at the local land registry (ufficio dell' agenzia del territorio).
What do expats think about Italian accommodation?
"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.
►For more on Italian work culture, read Doing Business in Italy
►See Teaching English in Italy for more on this possible career path
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.
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