We provide a comprehensive apartment rental guide to renting unfurnished apartments in Medellín. In this article we look at finding an unfurnished apartment, rental contracts, apartment rental laws in Colombia, overcoming the fiador requirement and more.
On the Medellin Guru website, we have received many questions about renting apartments in Medellín.
So, we are starting a series of articles that will provide a comprehensive apartment rental guide for expats including renting unfurnished apartments, renting furnished apartments as well as furnishing an unfurnished apartment.
This is the first article in this series, we look at renting unfurnished apartments in Medellín. While the focus of this article is Medellín, most of this article would also apply to renting in other cities in Colombia.
Also, in October last year, we surveyed 1,000 unfurnished apartments in Medellín to determine unfurnished rental costs in Medellín in the five most popular neighborhoods for expats: El Poblado, Envigado, Laureles-Estadio, Sabaneta and Belén.
One thing to keep in mind is that unfurnished apartments in Medellín and Colombia typically only include a cooktop and possibly an oven and hot water heater.
You will have to supply a refrigerator, microwave, washer and other appliances you need as well as all the furnishings. We have a separate guide to furnishing apartments in Medellín.
Note the above photo is of apartment buildings near Santafé mall in El Poblado in Medellín.
Apartment Rental Guide: Finding Unfurnished Apartments in Medellín
There are multiple ways to find unfurnished apartments in Medellín including:
- Real estate agencies
- Newspaper ads
- Bulletin boards in grocery stores and other places
- Walking around neighborhoods
There are several websites that list unfurnished apartments in Medellín. The best of these in my opinion is the popular website Espacio Urbano, which is used by many real estate agencies to list properties for sale or rent.
Also, there are literally hundreds of real estate agencies in Medellín. You can find many of these agencies listing properties on websites like Espacio Urbano. And you can find real estate agency offices in many parts of the city. But some real estate agencies won’t have experience working with foreigners.
The benefit of using a real estate agent is that there are few exclusive listings with real estate agents in Colombia. So, real estate agents can represent most properties.
I rented several apartments from real estate agents. And a big benefit is they can show you many properties. But a downside is the fiador requirement that we discuss below.
If you use a real estate agents make sure to read our article about 11 things that real estate agents in Colombia may not tell you.
You can also find apartment rental listings from real estate agencies and from owners in local newspapers like El Colombiano. And I have seen apartment rental ads posted in bulletin boards in some grocery stores and other places.
Finally, one of the best ways to find unfurnished apartment rentals is to walk around neighborhoods you are interested in.
Available unfurnished rental apartments will normally have signs on the windows saying “Arrienda” with numbers to call. Most of these signs have real estate agent phone numbers but a few will have owner phone numbers. And don’t be surprised to see signs from multiple agents on the same apartment.
The first unfurnished apartment I rented in Medellín I found by walking around and calling numbers posted on windows.
Apartment Rental Guide: The Fiador Requirement in Colombia
First, what is a fiador? Once you start looking at unfurnished apartments in Colombia you will quickly find that real estate agents in Colombia generally require a fiador. Fiadors are not unique to Colombia and are common in other countries in Latin America such as Mexico and Peru.
A fiador is essentially a cosigner who guarantees a tenant pays rent. So, the real estate agent can go after the fiador of the tenant stops paying rent. And a fiador must be an owner of local real estate.
Under Colombian rules, a real estate agent is normally responsible for collecting rent. Essentially you have a contract with the real estate agent and the real estate agent has a separate contract with the apartment owner. And the real estate agent pockets the difference between the two contracts as his commission.
So, the real estate agent is responsible for collecting rent from the tenant and paying the owner. And this is why almost all real estate agents require a fiador.
When I first started looking for unfurnished apartments in Medellín nearly eight years ago, I was immediately frustrated as all the real estate agencies asked for a fiador. And some agents wouldn’t even show me apartments unless I had a fiador.
Apartment Rental Guide: Overcoming the Fiador Requirement
So, how did I overcome this fiador requirement? I first started looking for apartments by walking around and calling numbers posted on rental signs on apartment windows. And I found one I liked and wanted to rent.
But the real estate agent wanted a fiador, which I clearly didn’t have as a foreigner. So, I said I didn’t have a fiador but asked what if I paid six months of rent in advance.
This agent didn’t have any experience in renting to foreigners eight years ago. So, she called her lawyer and also the apartment owner. And both were OK with my paying six months of rent in advance without a fiador. So, I signed a six-month rental contract and paid six months of rent in advance and received the keys the same day.
So, one way to avoid the fiador requirement is to pay rent in advance. Another way is to rent directly from owners where everything becomes negotiable. For example, I currently rent directly from an owner without a fiador.
In addition, some real estate agencies will rent unfurnished apartments without a fiador if you pay a deposit. However, I have talked to several expats that paid deposits and had problems getting their deposit back. A deposit may be in the form of a CDT, which is similar to a CD at a bank.
In addition, deposits cannot legally be part of a rental contract in Colombia. But deposits sometimes are established either indirectly or through an intermediary such as an insurance company. However, I recommend trying to avoid deposits due to problems I have heard from other expats.
Another method to overcome the fiador requirement is to use an insurance company, which will evaluate your safety as a tenant by looking at any economic activity you have inside Colombia. But you have to be established in Colombia.
My Experiences Overcoming the Fiador Requirement
I have signed rental contracts in Colombia for a total of eight years without a fiador.
And in my eight years of rental contracts, I never paid a deposit and also never used insurance to avoid the fiador requirement.
I was able to avoid the fiador requirement by either paying rent in advance with real estate agents or renting directly from an owner.
In addition, I have met many other expats living in Medellín that also rent apartments without a fiador. So, the fiador requirement can be overcome.
Apartment Rental Guide: Renting Unfurnished Apartments Directly from an Owner
Over the past two years I have rented an apartment directly from an owner. There are two major benefits of bypassing real estate agents and renting directly from an owner.
First, the fiador requirement becomes negotiable and may not be needed. And second, you avoid the real estate agent commission, which can be at least 7-10 percent or even higher. So, you can negotiate a lower rent payment.
Many of the phone numbers posted on apartment windows are real estate agency numbers. But in my experience, you can find owner contact information by sweet talking the apartment building doormen (porterias) or neighbors.
Apartment Rental Guide: Typical Unfurnished Apartment Rental Contracts in Colombia
Typical apartment rental contracts in Colombia have a number of common sections, which include:
- Names and identifications of the parties involved in the contract (lessor and lessee)
- Identification of the property under contract including address
- Apartment rental price and payment format.
- Term of the apartment rental contract
- Identification of who is responsible for public services (electricity, gas and water) for the property under contract, this is normally the renter
- Renewal and early termination terms
- Other terms related to Law 820 in Colombia, which governs apartment rentals
Apartment rental contracts can be verbal in Colombia. But we strongly recommend getting a written apartment rental contract that is signed by the parties involved and notarized.
In my eight years of rental contracts in Medellín, all of these rental contracts were in Spanish and were signed and notarized.
Also, you don’t need a cedula (local ID) to rent unfurnished apartments in Colombia. My first two unfurnished apartment rentals I did in Medellín were accomplished with just my passport.
In addition, you can see some sample Colombia rental contracts in Spanish on the Metro Cuadrado website.
Apartment Rental Guide: Apartment Rental Laws in Colombia
Colombia’s regulations related to unfurnished apartment rentals are detailed in Law 820 of 2003. Several Colombians I have talked to aren’t aware of these rental regulations.
Highlights of Colombia’s apartment rental regulations include:
1. The monthly rental price is limited – The monthly rental price of a property cannot exceed 1 percent of the commercial value of the property. So, a property that is valued at 160 million pesos could be rented for a maximum of 1,600,000 pesos per month.
2. Annual rent increase is limited to inflation in Colombia – There can be an increase in the rental price every 12 months. This increase is limited to 100 percent of the inflation increase (consumer price index) in Colombia for the preceding calendar year.
The annual inflation rate in Colombia in 2017 was 4.09 percent. So, rental increases in Colombia for 2018 are limited to a maximum of 4.09 percent.
But this is negotiable. In several of my apartment renewals I had no rent increase or I was able to negotiate an increase lower than inflation.
In addition, if a tenant thinks that the increase by a landlord is higher than the inflation rate, the tenant has six months to request a revision with the Mayor’s office of the city where the property is located.
3. The tenant must pay rent and services on time – Rent and services (such as electricity, gas and water) must paid according to the terms in the rental contract and must be paid in a timely fashion. Also, make sure to keep receipts for proof of payment.
4. Deposits are not permitted – Deposits are not technically permitted to be included as part of apartment rental agreements in Colombia. Article 16 of Law 820 specifically states:
Prohibition of deposits and real guarantees. In leases for urban housing, deposits in cash or other types of real guarantees may not be required to guarantee compliance with the obligations that the lessee has assumed under said contracts. Such guarantees may not be stipulated indirectly or by an interposed person or agreed in documents other than the one in which the lease contract was entered.
But some real estate agents will still ask for a deposit to be established separate from the rental contract or through an intermediary like an insurance company.
5. There is a stiff penalty for early termination of rental contracts – For a tenant or landlord to end a lease early, at least three months written notice must be given. And there is a penalty (indemnification), which is typically equal to three months rent.
Since there is a stiff penalty for terminating rental contracts, apartment rental contracts are rarely terminated early in Colombia.
6. Landlords can terminate rental contracts only for specific reasons – Landlords are fairly limited in the reasons they can terminate an apartment rental contract, which include:
A landlord can unilaterally terminate a rental contract if:
- Tenant is defaulting in rent payments or utility payments.
- Property is being used for criminal activities.
- Tenant sublet the apartment without consent of the landlord.
- Tenant made improvements to the property without consent of the landlord.
In addition, a landlord can terminate a rental contract with three months notice and payment of three months rent in the following cases if:
- Owner needs to occupy the property for no less than one year.
- Property is to be demolished to build a new building or the property needs to be vacated for major repairs.
- Owner has sold the property.
Also, a landlord can terminate a contract if it has lasted not less than four years by paying a penalty equal to 1.5 months of rent.
My Experiences with Early Terminations
In my eight years of renting in Medellín, I have experienced two owners that wanted their rental apartments back before the end of my rental contracts.
The first was leased from a woman living in Bogotá who was moving back to live in Medellín. I was planning to move anyway and negotiated to receive two months rent for terminating early.
The second was leased from a landlord who wanted his apartment back, as he supposedly had sold the apartment he was living in and wanted to live in the apartment I was renting.
I pushed back since I had six months remaining on my contract. And the owner didn’t want to pay me three months rent to terminate early. So, he waited until the contract term ended.
Apartment Rental Guide: Is Spanish Required?
One of the biggest challenges in renting unfurnished apartments in Medellín and Colombia is that most real estate agents and apartment owners don’t speak English and only speak Spanish.
Also, in my experience all apartment rental contracts are in Spanish.
So, if you don’t speak much Spanish it’s recommend to find someone bilingual to help when looking for unfurnished apartments.
The Bottom Line: Apartment Rental Guide: Renting Unfurnished Apartments
Renting unfurnished apartments in Medellín and Colombia is much more difficult than renting furnished apartments in my experience. In our above apartment rental guide we discussed the challenges to overcome including overcoming the fiador requirement and the need to understand Spanish in most cases.
But if you follow the recommendations in this apartment rental guide you can benefit from my experience in renting unfurnished apartments over the past eight years in Medellín.
When I first started looking at unfurnished apartments in Medellín, I was quickly frustrated, as I am sure many expats have experienced.
But after renting for nearly eight years I now have the process down and it has been relatively painless to find new apartments and move three times. In addition, each time I have moved it has been to a nicer place, which is one of the benefits of renting — flexibility and the ability to easily pick up and move if things change in your life.
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