Buenos Aires, by Noelia Diaco. Photo is not visible, used only for sharing on social networks.

Renting in Buenos Aires: fraud, scams and tax evasion

February 8, 2012
We're moving out of our apartment at the end of March, thanks to a cranky landlord and rental laws that give foreigners few rights.

Not unlike elsewhere in the world, the real estate industry here seems to be full of fraud, scams and tax evasion. It's common to hear of renters not getting their deposits back at the end of their lease, even though no damage has been done to the apartment. Sometimes renters put a deposit down never to actually receive the apartment — and of course don't get their deposit back. All prices are listed in dollars and many landlords try to demand rent in dollars, in violation of Argentine law.

There are also different types of rental contracts. The standard Argentine lease is for two years and isn't usually available to foreigners (because they don't have a garantia). There's a separate type of temporary lease with a duration of no more than six months. Since there's a large number of foreigners and students here, as well as tourists looking for a cheaper alternative to hotels, there's a large market catering to short-term rentals. These apartments are usually furnished and the price is usually all inclusive (taxes, utilities, internet).

As Ben wrote previously, the government recently imposed restrictions on buying dollars, which means that Argentines who haven't been declaring their rental income can't convert rent paid in pesos to dollars. But foreigners are also unable to convert to dollars, meaning they need to pay in pesos.

The new rules don't matter for tourists looking for an apartment for a week. It's easy for them to bring dollars with them (the legal limit is still $10,000) and pay for their apartment in dollars. And the biggest short-term rental site, ByT, has hundreds of listings. There are some horror stories of people whose apartments rented through ByT weren't what they were expecting. But, at the least, the option of renting with them exists (we rented through them our first month and had no problems).

But ByT has no interest in serving clients looking for more than a one- or two-week lease. If you want to know any more than the basic information about an apartment, they decide you aren't worth their trouble and pretty much stop dealing with you. There's no assistance in finding the kind of listing you want -- you have to search through every listing on their site, and inquire individually about whether they're available. And for long-term rentals, they're willing to show you one and only one apartment in person. If you don't like the one you choose, tough luck.

There are other sites that are more willing to facilitate long-term leases. After all, signing someone up for five months assures that the apartment won't be vacant at all. But many of these sites don't have the same range of apartments. In most cases, filtering for our neighborhood and our current rent + $300 returned only one or two results. On ByT, there were dozens. And most of those sites still cater primarily to tourists.

I've never worked in real estate. But I have to imagine that there's a value to medium-term rentals. If you're renting a place out every week, you have to have the staff available to deal with all the requests and also to check-in and check-out guests. Plus there's the risk that an apartment will remain vacant for a week. With rentals of a month or more, the work involved in renting an apartment decreases significantly. You have to welcome guests much less frequently, and there are fewer opportunities for guests to be unhappy about the quality of their apartment.

I'd love to see someone start a real estate agency here aimed at affordable medium-term rentals. Sign up enough owners who are willing to accept rent in pesos in exchange for more guaranteed income. Market yourself to foreigners living in Argentina, not to tourists. And don't scam people. This would be a huge improvement in the city's real estate scene. And there are plenty of people looking for exactly this kind of service.

- Steph

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