Within the classifieds, many of the phone numbers will look suspiciously identical. Real estate agents hold the lion’s share of what’s available on the market, and that is mostly bad news for you. Agents will ask for a fee equal to one month’s rent. So, if you lease the apartment for just six months, that’s a 17 percent commission. It’s important to remember that everything is negotiable in the universe of Italian real estate, especially the rent itself, and agents’ commissions are no exception. Even the outgoing tenants may ask for a cut”it’s referred to as key money, a fee to hand over the keys. This is illegal and has become less common in the past few years. Still, it can show up in different forms: If you take over an apartment contract from a friend, for example, you have essentially inherited that person’s debts, such as lingering energy bills or any damage caused to the apartment, unless you specify your liabilities carefully”and in writing”with your landlord.
The most common contracts these days are four-year agreements, which make it easier for landlords to free themselves of a delinquent tenant, but don’t necessarily mean that you need to be in there for four years. You are legally required to find another tenant to take your place if you want to leave sooner, but this is rarely a problem in the big cities, where a good apartment will be snatched up quickly.
You will be asked for at least one month’s deposit from the owner, and sometimes as much as three months. Most contracts will stipulate that any repairs made to the apartment, including repainting or cleaning fees, will be deducted from your deposit when you move out. If it is a furnished apartment, the owner keeps a detailed list of every item in there, right down to the last napkin holder, and will run through the list on move-out day. It’s almost impossible to avoid losing some of your deposit; the owners’ grievances can be outright comical; e.g., the sheets weren’t ironed neatly enough, so you should negotiate for just one month’s deposit if at all possible.
It may be included in your rent payment, and therefore goes unnoticed, but every apartment owner needs to pay a contribution to the condominio (association of apartment owners in the building). The associations pay for the portinaio, a sort of hybrid between a doorman, a building administrator, and a concierge; plus cleaning services, garbage removal, lights, elevators, etc. Some associations make you pay more for the elevator if you live on the upper floors. Finally, prepare yourself for significant utility bills (see Household Expenses). They can reflect anywhere between 10 and 25 percent of your monthly rent.