Landlord and tenant issues are some of the most frequent controversies we see with expats, so today I’m offering tips on renting in Mexico to avoid problems.
The laws that govern real estate rentals are usually found in the State Civil Code where the property is located. The laws are generally pro-tenant, so expat renters have many rights.
A smart landlord will have a contract that waives many tenant rights under the law. Due to abuses by tenants, such as staying many months or years extra without paying rent, many landlords require a guarantor called an aval or fiador. This person is a property owner who owns real estate and serves as a guarantor if the tenant trashes the property and has no assets or disappears.
After dealing with numerous issues between landlords and tenants, I can tell you that many of the disputes can be avoided. Here are some simple tips to avoid disputes between landlords and tenants:
1. Do not rent a property without personally inspecting it. Photos do not tell the true story because you can’t hear dogs barking, smell open sewers or see the mold that might be there. Also, there are fraudsters out there who rent properties that do not exist.
2. Ask who will be managing the property locally and who will attend to emergencies. Water being shut off or a broken pipe are hard to fix on the weekend when the landlord is in the U.S. or Canada and you speak little or no Spanish, don’t know who to call and if you do call someone, the landlord says you paid too much and doesn’t want to pay.
3. Ask to review the utility bills and make sure all are paid. We have seen cases where someone finds a bargain rent of $3,000 pesos a month and then finds the house has electrical problems and the electric bill runs $4,000 pesos every two months, not quite a bargain. Also check to see if the last tenant paid all bills or else the utility company will not give you service until they are paid. In one case, the people never paid the electric bill and over $20,000 pesos were owed. The old tenants would bribe the meter reader with $200 pesos instead of paying the bill. The new occupants were in a tough spot because the landlord said the debt wasn’t his.
4. Have a written contract that you can fully review before signing and make sure, if it is in Spanish, that you have a translated copy and someone to explain it to you. Also be sure to get an original signed copy. Many times you get a copy in English but the fine print says that the Spanish version prevails, so you need to know exactly what that version says.
5. Make sure that any promised repairs or improvements are done before you sign the contract and move in. Once you sign a contract, landlords often are slow to do work, if they do it at all.
6. Have the contract specify who will take care of repairs if something goes wrong and specify an amount in pesos, such as $500 pesos. For anything over $500 pesos the landlord will pay and anything under that amount the tenant will pay. Quantifying amounts will avoid having to define what is a major repair and what is a minor repair.
In the event a case has to go to court, it can be long and expensive. The reality is that most small landlord and tenant disputes are not worth litigating so avoiding problems before signing a contract is the best way to go.