Wednesday, June 12, 2024

What to check before you rent that really cool place in Mexico

As mentioned in the previous article, your experiences may vary. So much depends on where you rent and who you are renting from. However, some issues are common enough that they warrant being discussed. So, let’s talk about some legal and quality-of-life issues that might affect you.

What is a “fiador” or “aval”?

The biggest challenge for foreign rentals is Mexican landlords’ need to have some kind of firm assurance that rent will be paid.

The most common way to do this is to have a guarantor who may be called a “fiador” or an “aval”. Essentially, this person owns property in the area you wish to rent and is willing to cosign the lease, using the property as collateral. 

This is nearly impossible for foreigners (and most out-of-town Mexican renters). The requirement comes, in part, from the cultural assumption that the renter has a local family willing to do this. This belief persists even in Mexico City, which has absorbed millions of people from other parts of the country for about a century.

In rare cases, employers will act as “fiadors” (generally to landlords they know).

Alternatives to a “fiador”

In Mexico overall, it is still pretty rare to find landlords willing to take the first/last/deposit scenario that is common in the U.S. It seems to be easier in areas with a long history of renting to foreigners, such as Lake Chapala and San Miguel de Allende, and Edyta Norejko of ForHousse real estate says “it is slowly getting easier in the Roma/Condesa area of Mexico City as well.” 

But other options may exist if your landlord does not accept such an arrangement.

The least expensive overall is to pay months of rent in advance. How many months of rent will depend on your landlord and your negotiating skills. I know several people in Mexico City who do this, paying about six months in advance on average.

If that does not work, you have two options. In all cases, tenants must pay these fees.

  1. Some companies will act as a fiador, or issue a rent insurance policy called a “fianza”. These are expensive, up to 10% of a year’s rent.
  2. Increasingly popular is a kind of background check called a “póliza jurídica”. Done by certain law firms, they check your immigration status, income, and references you provide. Their popularity comes from the price, generally only 30-50% of one month’s rent. Just ensure your references know that if there is a problem with the landlord, they do not have legal obligations to pay anything.

Do I need a rental agreement?

The answer is yes, but don’t naively believe that said contract will always be followed to the letter. 

Rental contracts will almost certainly be in Spanish, even if the owner and renter are foreigners. These contracts mostly consist of familiar clauses, but it is best to have someone review them in detail with you for your first contract. One common point is that while tenants pay the utilities (not unusual), they are unlikely to be allowed to put those utilities in their names (except for the Internet). One reason for this is that changing the name on an electric or water bill is an absolute bureaucratic nightmare.

Whether it is in the rental agreement or not, there is a good chance your landlord will insist on payment in cash (and for the reasons you suspect). Get a receipt to protect yourself.

Now, about sticking to the agreement

Any contract is better than “he said, she said,” but how much a landlord follows the contract can depend on their assessment of how much you are willing to enforce it. If you are from a culture that assumes the landlord fixes every bit of maintenance and other tenant problems, which is important to you, you must be prepared to live in an upscale neighborhood.  

The biggest issue here is the security deposit. I already knew this from experience, but inquiries online blew up my social media networks.

I had more than a few responses from people who got their security deposit back just fine. But the most common answer is that in Mexico, no matter what the rental agreement says, you do not pay the last month’s rent because if you do, you will not get the deposit back, no matter how clear the contract may be about the deposit not being used for rent payment. You essentially have three options: 1) assume you won’t get the deposit back, 2) don’t pay the last month’s rent (some people report issues with landlords over this, but not many, and 3) investigate the landlord thoroughly to see if deposits are returned. (The Ajijic area has a Facebook group to share information about landlords.)

The other issue is maintenance. Again, standard contracts put the responsibility for routine work on the landlord, but in many cases, the tenant will wind out doing minor repairs as it is easier than a drawn-out fight with the landlord. 

Pets

Twenty years ago, I would have told you unequivocally that finding a rental is not a problem if you have pets, even with multiple/larger animals. Today, your options may be narrowed, especially in furnished places or more upscale ones with amenities. You will find one, but you may have to trade off to have your fur babies with you.

Noise

Mexicans generally are more tolerant of noise than many of us from north of the border and Europe. At the very least, you will hear fireworks from patron saint celebrations and perhaps street parties. This is more true in middle, lower-class, and rural neighborhoods than in upscale developments. Check out your prospective neighborhood at night, especially on weekends, to get a feel for this.

Water

Mexico is one of the major consumers of bottled water in the world, so one of the most accessible services to contract is the delivery of huge returnable jugs called “garrafones”. Very few Mexican or foreigner people drink water straight from the tap. Cooking with it depends on several variables. Water in your faucet is not directly from municipal pipes but from rooftop tanks (“tinacos”) or underground cisterns for each building. The question becomes, “How often are these cleaned?” By the way, this water delivery system is why your shower water pressure may be nowhere near home.

A list of questions

It is impossible to cover every possible issue here, but here are a few more things to consider. 

  1. Garbage pick-up arrangements vary a lot. Some are very efficient, but others can be informal and/or assume someone is always at home.
  2. There is a good chance that your place will need more electrical outlets. Power strips and the like are easy to find.
  3. Kitchens in urban areas tend to be smaller and not eat-in, especially in newer construction. 
  4. Mosquito screens seem to not be a thing in the mountains of central Mexico. These areas don’t have the same issues as the coasts, but mosquitos do appear during the rainy season. 
  5. Ask the landlord how to work the water heater. It might be very different from what you are used to. Check the temperature, too… (If there is solar water heating it is a definite plus)
  6. Last but not least, ask if your building’s plumbing can handle toilet paper. You would be surprised how many cannot.

Let me end by repeating that not all these considerations will apply to all rental prospects, but they have applied enough for enough people to be worth keeping in mind.

Leigh Thelmadatter arrived in Mexico over 20 years ago and fell in love with the land and the culture in particular its handcrafts and art. She is the author of Mexican Cartonería: Paper, Paste and Fiesta (Schiffer 2019). Her culture column appears regularly on Mexico News Daily.

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