Searching for a single room to rent in Rome isn’t difficult at all. There are a number of websites like or that have new listings every day for properly priced rooms all over the city.

Really, the only definite hard part is when you see a room you sort of have to be prepared to give an answer, because if you think: well maybe I’ll shop around first, chances are you might not find anything as good and then you’ll lose the first room to a more eager renter.

housing scams abroad

Needless to say I was quite pleased when I found a great room within a week of looking last June for my move in August. Within my price range (all inclusive which is great so I don’t have to try and read an Italian electric bill), right next to the metro and a central piazza, and it was a 2 single and 1 double bedroom with one bathroom and a kitchen with two refrigerators. Nice. Before the final agreement was made and I paid the one month security deposit back in June, I of course inquired who else lives in the apartment… if you’re going to be sharing a space with people, especially in a foreign country when there might be language barriers, it’s totally the right thing to be a bit choosey. The owner told me that the people currently living there had been students this year and they’d all be leaving around August 1st, the day I’d move in, anyways. He said since I was the first new renter, when other people come to look at the other rooms I could have a say in whether he accepts them as tenants or not. How nice. So reassuring. NOPE.

I didn’t hear from the owner all summer until I met with him again a couple of days before I moved in to pay the first month’s rent and get the keys. I asked if he found anyone else to rent the other two rooms yet and he said no. This should have been the first red flag, because well-priced rooms by a metro would normally take a couple weeks at most to find a tenant, especially in the end of summer as students and young workers who still go home for the summer will be looking for their new place for the academic year. I instead however thought maybe he was waiting for me to meet people, maybe he’d been on vacation, maybe he just wasn’t in a rush or didn’t feel like dealing with it and wanted me to find people myself. MAYBE NOT, THOUGH.

The day before I moved in he told me there were people in the other rooms, but it was a last-minute thing and it would only be for the month of August. It was a guy in the single room, and that guy was renting out the double room to two summer students for the month, an American guy and a Spanish guy. Trust me when I tell you the actual situation, you too will wonder why such a specific lie. As a solo female traveler I wasn’t too pumped about living with three dudes I’ve never met, but I already paid and it’s just one month and one of them will definitely speak a mutual language so let’s give them the benefit of the doubt.

The morning I moved in, with all of my way too much stuff, I opened my bedroom door to find it occupied. Um… excuse? The boy staying in the room was definitely as confused as me, I showed him my messages confirming the date and time of my move in with the landlord and he didn’t seem surprised. Apparently he still had another night according to his agreement with the landlord. This was the least of the problems. He graciously agreed to stay at a friends that night as I definitely had no place else to go, and before he left he told me not to trust the landlord and good luck staying here. Gulp?

That night I met the other tenants. In the single room stayed two friends who would be there for three more days, in the double room was a family of four and their giant unfriendly dog who would be there for two days. Both rooms were being rented out to tourists by the man the landlord told me was living in the single room. He told me it was with AirBnB, but I was never able to find the listing on that site, but it pretty much works that way — people come and go,  but there seems to be no restrictions on how many per room or house rules. I messaged the landlord immediately assuming he didn’t realize this man was running a boarding house out of his apartment. Not only was he fully aware, but he had told the man that I said I was completely fine with it, which obviously did not happen. (Note that I had a translator and there was no miscommunications, just admitted lies).

Hypothetically speaking of course, when you do potentially illegal things in foreign countries, like renting without contracts, which is actually really common, it’s a bit unclear who can have the upper hand with the law. Owners sometimes know this and they know that renting to foreigners mean the tenant might not necessarily know how to look up the exact laws or know how to execute legal action. It became evident that the owner had assumed I would bail and forget my money after it was clear I wasn’t getting it back (that’s 900 euro total with security and one month’s rent). Being a freelance writer, that’s not a move I can afford to make. I’m here for two months (the second without paying rent to make back my security deposit).

At first I thought, okay, this is not ideal by any means, but I’ve done the hostel life before, it’s just two months, the worst that will happen is it will be a little messy, right?

I have a severe case of mono and have been hospitalized multiple times, considering my history, the doctor could only believe it was from inadequately cleaned water glasses and general lack of sanitation at my apartment.

My credit card was stolen.

I awoke from sleep to find a male tenant, who had just arrived that day, had broken into my room and was standing by my bed staring at me. Awesome. I’ve never been so glad that my parents put me in karate as a kid in my life, and I’m lucky it apparently stuck. (It’s common in apartments like this in Rome, intended to be rented to young people, that while the bedroom and bathroom doors have locks with keys they’re actually all the same basically rendering them non existent).

I have come home to find the apartment door blatantly open and no one home.

My no smoking in the apartment signs were put up to no avail. One guy even felt fine opening my room when I wasn’t home so air could flow through all the windows and not make the apartment smell like weed. Super.

On a number of occasions my landlord has come over for a visit unannounced. Sometimes I come out of my room when I wake up to find him chilling in the kitchen by himself.

Oh, and it’s REALLY messy.

I feel like I could list things forever.

Aside from tourists, a huge problem is that the landlord specifically told me it was always quiet here (I asked because I work from home) and quite the contrary, the neighbor blasts music all day and the disco behind the building blasts it all night.

Don’t get me wrong, there have been plenty of polite normal travelers, but there have also been whackadoodles and people who made me (for obvious reasons) feel very rightly unsafe. I have been to so many places at this point, and Rome is my favorite city, but these past two months have been without question the worst of my travel life. And I can’t help but to think I could have avoided this. It’s live and learn for me but I’m hoping it can be read and learn for you.

When renting a room abroad, it is important to meet all the current tenants, and if there are no current tenants, rule it out or possibly ask for references (and by references I don’t just mean whatever number they give you that could be their friends, I mean ask for the number of a previous tenant along with a copy of that tenants name on a contract so you know it’s legitimate.) Spend a day hanging out in the neighborhood into the evening hours to get an idea of the atmosphere. Ask other people you see coming to or from the building if they like living in the building. Even if it’s not true, claim some knowledge of the area and past experience living in the country and local friends. All you can really do is cover your bases like normal apartment hunting but take it to an extra level even if that seems annoying, and let yourself be a little paranoid because problems can be hard to spot. If you can take a local with you, do so. Of course this can happen in your own country as well, it’s just a lot less likely as owners will know you’re perfectly capable of pursuing them legally and knowing your rights as a tenant.

Also, P.S.,  if you are traveling and staying in a shared apartment for a few days… be clean… be polite… don’t go in other peoples rooms…

Have you ever had a housing scam abroad?

American by chance, but Roman by choice, Sarah is currently feeding her adventurous soul with expatriatism and pizza. Her finest moments are always on the wrong bus with a backpack and an upside down map, waiting to see what the world’s got for her next, so long as she can blog about it. She likes writing more than talking, dolphins more than humans, old movies more than new, and Rome more than anything else.


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