Renting an Apartment in Montevideo – An Eight-point Checklist to Help Protect Your Interests

Apartments overlooking Pocitos Beach in Montevideo, Uruguay
It happens all the time--all over the world. Someone signs a lease on an apartment...and then learns the water only comes out in a trickle. Or their sofa won’t fit on the elevator or around the turn of the stairway. Or the landlord slipped an unfair clause in the contract.

In addition to finding a nice apartment in a good neighborhood, it’s important to attend to the practical details, which includes due diligence.

What specific practical details you ask? Following is an eight-point checklist to help you protect your interests when you rent an apartment in Montevideo.

1-Check to make sure things work 

•    Check for good water pressure; drains don’t back up; no signs of leaks.
•    Test electrical outlets and light switches.
•    Test appliances and any included heating or air conditioning equipment.
•    Check in cabinets and dark corners for signs of pests.

Tip: bring a pocket flashlight and a nightlight to check outlets.

2-Check to make sure your furniture will fit 

•    Determine how you can arrange your furniture in the apartment
•    Also, determine a path for moving your furniture from the street into the apartment

Tip: Bring dimensions of your larger furnishings and a tape measure

3-Visit the building at different times 

An apartment on a street with light traffic when you visited on the weekend might have heavy congestion during weekday commute hours.  Or there could be a business operating out of the apartment next door, with lots of people coming and going during business hours.

Note: Many buildings in Montevideo do not stipulate that apartments can only be used for residences. So it’s not uncommon to find residential buildings with offices mixed in.

4-Talk to other residents living in the building 

Introduce yourself to people living in the building, and ask how they like living there. Besides learning their thoughts, you'll likely get a sense of the building’s culture.

Tip: If you are not a Spanish speaker, visit with a bilingual friend or translator.

5-Understand the terms of your rental agreement  

First, a few points about rental agreements:

A typical lease period in Montevideo is one to two years. The lease may include an option to renew. However, Uruguayan law gives a tenant with a good payment history the right to extend his or her lease beyond the contract dates. (To avoid this automatic extension, some owners will include a clause with a sharp rent increase if the tenant stays beyond the original term.)

A condition report and apartment inventory are completed at the time the tenant takes possession of the property and become a part of the agreement.

A deposit is commonly equal to five month’s rent and is held by Uruguay’s state-owned mortgage bank, Banco Hipotecario del Uruguay (BHU). I have heard of tenants using a property they own in Uruguay, as well as other assets, as their rent and damage guarantee.

The contract will likely indicate how to pay the rent, which is often making a deposit to the landlord’s bank account. (In Uruguay, people rarely pay rent by writing and mailing checks.)

A rental agreement is a legal contract. So, it’s important you fully understand what you’re signing.

If you’re not a Spanish speaker, and you're new to renting in Uruguay, seek out the help of a real estate professional you trust or a bilingual  friend with enough knowledge and experience to help you. Or, consider hiring a reputable bilingual attorney to review your contract and guide you through the process.

6-Calculate move-in costs before you make a commitment 

Typical move-in costs include:
•    First month’s rent – paid in advance to the landlord
•    The deposit or guarantee.
•    Real estate agent’s commission, if you use a real estate agent.
•    Attorney’s review fee, if you use an attorney.
•    Utility connection fees and or utility deposits
•    Costs of moving furniture and appliances
•    Or, if you are starting fresh, the purchase of furniture and appliances you’ll need to get started

7-Estimate your total monthly housing expense 

Gastos comunes - Common expenses 
The biggest additional cost to rent is often a building’s common expenses, called gastos comunes. These are expenses shared by people living in the building. It covers routine building maintenance, landscaping, the lighting of common areas, salaries for porters and any other building staff.

Note: In general, buildings with more amenities and services and fewer units to share the costs have higher gastos communes.  Buildings with fewer amenities and services and more units to share the costs generally have lower gastos comunes.

Other utilities 
Be clear which services are included in the rent and which are not. Water is often included in the rent. Electricity, Internet, and cable TV are usually not included.

Tip: Make sure to change utilities into your name. Make sure unpaid balances from the previous tenants can’t be charged to you.

Note: Winter heating costs can vary considerably depending on the size and energy efficiency of your apartment, the type of heating equipment, and how much heat you use.

Some apartments come with a heating-and-air-conditioning system. In other apartments, you need to provide your own heating equipment. You’ll also find buildings with central heat. In these buildings, the cost of heating is included in the common expenses.

To get a general idea of heating costs for a given unit in a given building, talk to other residents, the porters, or a property administrator.

Property taxes
In Montevideo, the lion’s share of property taxes, which includes the Contribución Inmobiliaria (real estate contribution) and Impuesto de Enseñanza (education tax), are paid by the owner.

However, a couple of small taxes are commonly paid by the tenant. One is the Tributos Domiciliarios (residential taxes). These are due every other month.

There is also the Tarifa de Saneamiento (sanitation fee) also due every other month. It's sometimes included in the gastos communes.

Tip: Regarding expenses, a good question to ask a trusted real estate agent, consultant, or attorney is: “I am aware of these costs (list the costs you are aware of), are there any other move-in costs or monthly housing expenses I may encounter?”

8- Know who to call if you have a problem

And one last thing. Find out who to call if you have a problem, such as a leak. (Real estate agent? Owner? Property administrator?) Get the person or company’s contact details. And confirm it with the individual or company directly.

Would you like to see a sample copy of a standard residential rental agreement with an English translation?  Montevideo attorney, Mark Teuten has prepared a PDF study copy which you can access and download here. 

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