Renting a home in Mexico is generally easy and affordable. Since most Mexican families also rent their homes, those who plan to rent will find plenty of options, from small bungalows to fully furnished houses. Renting can be a good choice if you eventually plan to buy, but you want to get to know the local community and real estate market first.
As in any country, rental markets in Mexico vary distinctly by region. In some cities, there is ample housing for rent at a range of price points. In others, you'll have a harder time finding a place that is appropriate and affordable. Depending on where you look and what type of housing you need, rental properties could cost anywhere from US $200 for a small apartment to a US $4,000 for a multibedroom luxury home. A simple two-bedroom rental averages around US $400 per month in Mexico, though prices vary tremendously by region (as well as by type of property).
Finding the right place
Looking for a place to live in Mexico is a pretty straightforward process. Generally, you browse listings in the newspaper or online, you make an appointment with the owner or a broker, and you go to visit the property. If you like it, you sign a lease, pay a month's rent and deposit, and move in.
Throughout Mexico, you will often see For Rent signs in the windows of homes and apartments. If you find a neighborhood you like, spend a few days wandering the streets to see if you find any rentals. Bring your cell phone along, and make a call as soon as you see a place you are interested in. Often, an agent or doorman will be available to show you the apartment immediately.
Word of mouth can also be an important tool in Mexico. Stop into corner stores in neighborhoods you like and ask the proprietors if they know about any rental properties. Make sure you let any friends or acquaintances know that you are looking for a place.
The Rental Market
There are two very different (but slightly overlapped) rental markets in Mexico. One rental market is principally focused on vacationers who would prefer to stay in a house than stay in a hotel. Usually, these rentals are meant for short-term stays, so the monthly rates can be a bit higher than a long-term rental. However, you may be able to negotiate a better deal if you want to rent long-term. Most vacation homes are fully furnished, have telephone and television service, and are equipped with kitchen supplies. They may also have maintenance or cleaning staff. However, not all vacation rentals are necessarily luxury accommodations. You may be able to find a basic and simply furnished place designed for inexpensive short-term rental.
In addition to vacation homes, the much larger and more ubiquitous rental market covers local long-term rentals -- principally unfurnished houses and apartments. In general, you will find listings for rental properties in the local paper or in the window of the property for rent. The owner may handle the process, or the property may be represented by a rental agent. Foreigners can rent from Mexican or foreign landlords without any restriction.
Furnished vs. Unfurnished
The standard unfurnished rental in Mexico can feel a bit bare-bones by U.S. standards. Of particular note, unfurnished houses and apartments rarely come equipped with kitchen appliances, and some will even come without kitchen cabinets, shelves, or countertops. (If the rental ad says cocina integral, that indicates that there are kitchen furnishings, like shelves and cabinets, already installed.) Throughout Mexico, the tenant is responsible for buying a refrigerator and stove, and they will likely also be responsible for other basic items like window dressings, mirrors in the bathroom, or even doors on the closets.
If you don't want to invest in appliances or furniture right away, you can rent a furnished home. A furnished rental may run the gamut from barely furnished (just kitchen appliances and some basic bedroom accessories) to fully decked out, with art on the walls, cable television, and a telephone line. Often, the most lavishly furnished rentals will be called suites. You'll save more with an unfurnished rental, but you should be ready to invest in some basics when you sign the lease.
Owners will often list their homes directly in the newspaper, but many also use rental agencies or real estate offices to help promote properties. Rental agents show the property, perform any necessary background or financial checks on the tenant, oversee the signing of the contract, and collect the deposit. Most rental agents receive a commission for their services -- usually a month's rent -- though some receive a monthly commission for overseeing the full duration of your rental. If you are directed to pay your monthly rent at the agency, it is likely the latter. (Needless to say, this arrangement includes a rather substantial markup of your monthly rent.)
Overall, there is little advantage or disadvantage to working with an agent, as long as he or she is receiving a one-time fee. In Mexico City, a few large rental companies represent hundreds of properties. Oddly, the situation may not always streamline the process for the renter. Often, different agents from the same company will represent different properties; you may have to make an individual appointment with each.
Negotiating the Rent
Rental prices in Mexico are often, surprisingly, negotiable. If you have found a place you like, you can let the rental agent or landlord know that you were looking for something a bit more inexpensive and ask if the price is flexible. Often, and especially in a less competitive rental market, the owner will be willing to drop the price US $100 or so. It is not considered rude or unexpected to ask if a rental price is flexible.
Mexican rental agreements are similar to what you'd find elsewhere, with clauses describing the terms of the rental, its duration, the cost, late payments, notifications, and the security deposit. In many cases, landlords will use a boilerplate contract they've purchased at a stationery store, possibly modifying certain clauses. The rental terms tend to last for one year, with an option to renew (along with an option to increase the rent) after the first year. Renters are usually expected to return the home in the condition in which they rented it. All major changes to the property must be approved by the landlord, though occasionally, the owner will agree to split or fund improvement projects if you suggest them.
Rented houses and apartments should be rented in good condition, usually with a new coat of paint on the walls, functional plumbing and electrical appliances, and working locks. Both the tenant and the landlord should note any defects in the apartment at move-in. If you find something wrong when you first move in, let the landlord know right away. Thereafter, unless explicitly stated, you as the renter will be responsible for all minor upkeep, like plumbing or gardening or painting.
It is not unusual for landlords to ask for proof of income, especially if you are renting in a big city, like the capital. They may request pay stubs or, if those are unavailable, copies of your bank statement. To cover the cost of any damages to the home or apartment, most owners also request a deposit in addition to the first month's rent. Sometimes, landlords will also request an additional deposit for the telephone line, since calling can be so expensive in Mexico and tenants occasionally leave large debts behind. In some cases (such as for brand new houses), the owner may request a double deposit, though this is unusual. Generally, the landlord will review a property when it has been vacated and will subtract costs from your deposit. Even small damages may be deducted, so be prepared to sacrifice some of your deposit to the wear and tear of daily living.
Mexico's laws aggressively protect the rights of renters; for that reason, many landlords feel the need to aggressively protect their own interests. To do so, some owners will ask for a cosigner on your lease, known as a fiador. The fiador must live in the same city you are renting and, in most cases, must own a property there, with no mortgage owed. Fiadores are commonly requested in Mexico City -- and they are fairly consistently requested there! In other parts of the country, they are far less common. This pesky requirement can be particularly difficult for foreigners, who may not have an acquaintance willing to cosign their lease. Sometimes, your Mexico City employer may be able to fulfill the fiador requirement. If you don't work at a large company, it may be easier to look for the elusive apartments that do not request cosigners or offer to put a trust in the bank. Outside Mexico City, foreigners can usually talk a landlord out of a fiador by offering to pay a larger deposit.
Unless you have a full-service rental or vacation home, you will likely be responsible for paying all the utilities on your rental property, including water, electricity, and gas. Both water and electricity bills, if not overdue, can be paid at a local convenience store or bank. Mexico does not have public gas service, so if your home needs gas, you will have to purchase it from a private company (prices, however, are fixed by the government). Many houses have gas estacionario (stationary gas tanks) on the roof with readable meters; you can call the gas company and refill the tank when gas runs low. If you do not have a stationary tank, you will need to buy cylinders of gas, which you hook up to your home's main gas line. When the cylinder runs out of gas, you call up the gas company and request a refill (cylinders, unfortunately, do not have meters, so you'll either have to wait until gas runs out or use multiple tanks to avoid running out).
Telephone service is the most complicated and expensive utility. For that reason, many rental homes do not come with ground lines, and those that do may ask for an additional deposit (phone bills can run hundreds of dollars if international calling is involved). If your rental home doesn't have a phone, it may be possible to solicit a new line. To do so, you will need to visit Telmex to check availability and buy a new line in your name. Once you move out, you should cancel the associated address; you can transfer your line to a new place or sell it.
From the book Moon Living Abroad in Mexico by Julie Doherty Meade. Excerpted by arrangement with Avalon Travel, a member of the Perseus Books Group. Copyright © 2012. For more information, visit http://www.moon.com.