Barcelona / expat life / Spain

My Apartment Crisis: Why You Should Never Rent a Room Like This in Barcelona

Aprovechar”.

Ask any foreigner living in Spain, and they probably know exactly what that means. Spanish has a rather nice way of expressing getting taken advantage of. I got used to this word early on in my stay here.

Not that there’s anything wrong about Spain or Spanish people; it’s just that here my obvious foreign-ness makes me an easy target, whether that’s a greedy language school director, pickpockets eager to relieve me of my belongings…or nasty landlords.

landlord

Image retrieved via LeraBlog

OK, let’s rewind. I moved to Spain right after graduating college. At my small liberal arts college, pretty much everybody lived on campus all 4 years. I’d never rented a room before, so I wasn’t expecting the full unpleasantness of landlords.

Let me say this again: this isn’t a Spanish problem; it’s a landlord problem. There are jerks everywhere.

Anyway, I rented a room from a housing company specializing in short-term rentals geared towards exchange students. I wanted to avoid rental companies like this…except right when I arrived in Barcelona, there was a spare room in the flat. My friend was moving out, and she’d been constantly posting fun party pictures with all her roommates. I assumed it would be okay if a friend had lived there, and I thought it would be a fun place to live for a summer while I got on my feet.

That was in 2011.

Fast-forward 2 years, and I’m still confused about how I spent so long there.

Actually, I did have a few good reasons. First off, I had a huge, beautiful room.  Secondly, the flat was a fabulous place to host enormous house parties (the record for partygoers in the flat is about 90). And thirdly, it was right in the city center, just round the corner from Gaudí’s Casa Batllò.

However, it came with a lot of downsides.

Flats like these are usually decent-sized and in great locations. They are also expensive and poorly maintained. It’s very much like living in a long-term hostel; I got a whole crop of new roommates about every 6 months in a 6-room flat. At the beginning that was fun, but my roommate luck ran out towards the end, which really was the last straw.

barcelona-student-housing-upf

Nice Barcelona student housing. Image credit: UPF

The company is the real issue here though. Employees let themselves in when they wanted, rented the rooms to whoever paid the most, tried their best not to spend any extra on maintaining anything, and were rude and unhelpful . I loved my room and the location, but I hated the company the whole time I was there.

But it wasn’t until last month that I realized just how much the housing company “aprovechar-d” during my stay. When I said I was leaving, they smacked down a surprise new bill.

A 331 euro new bill.

Naturally, upon reading the email, I considered bursting into panicked tears. Then I decided I was going to try being kind and reasonable.

Ha.

You can probably guess how well that went. They insisted I owed 331 euros due to spending a long time in the flat. You see, that meant I had overspent on the gas, electricity, and water…which they had very kindly not told me about. So, if I would send them 331 in gastos extras right away, they would be very pleased.

apartment-lease

Image retrieved via quincyma.gov

I deployed my best “dumb blonde foreigner” tactics, but 10 days before the end of the month, the company decide to send in the troops – literally. One of their employees let herself into the flat at 8:45 a.m. and banged on my door.

“331 euros, immediately. The contract said we’re supposed to tell you every 3 months if you overspent, but the guy working here before didn’t really feel like doing that.  But that’s just how it is, and we need you to pay right away. Do you have cash on you?”

I tried politely explaining my confusion over the surprise charges, but the girl just snapped “Pay now or you have to get out by tomorrow morning.”

So I said I’d arrange a transfer from California, which gave me time to get out, rather than get evicted and pay 300 euros for the pleasure.

My 2 last weeks in the flat were extremely stressful. I was out of my “home” from 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. every day to avoid the company, and when I was in the apartment I was anxious and on-edge. I was afraid they were going to let themselves in and move all my stuff out to the street while I hid. After I got out, I stayed at friends’ places and was too scared to check my e-mail or phone in case the company had sent me a nasty message. I’m still a little worried about it, actually.

I’ve since found out just how typical my experience is with companies like this. I rented from Rent Room Barcelona, and I heard similar stories from a nearly identical company called Habitage Jove. AVOID these guys. These agencies take advantage of young, inexperienced people. Their rooms may look attractive and it’s certainly convenient at first, but you’ll pay the price later.

rent-flat-international-student-barcelona

What these companies say they offer is only half the story.

I got a lovely big room in the city center, but it came with major strings. The company was rude, unhelpful, and never fixed things (to a greater extent than just your typical bad landlord). For instance, the boiler never worked properly, so there was never enough hot water. There was also a 4-month spell in the middle of winter where the bathrooms were roofless, so we were literally showering in the snow (had I not had a huge personal crisis going on, I definitely would have moved out then). There were always broken things that didn’t get fixed for months, like windows. I didn’t care too much when I had fun, social roommates, but it got old when it was coupled with rude, unpleasant strangers.

Companies like this also bank on you not knowing the housing laws (I didn’t until after). It turns out the company did quite a few illegal things during my stay, including that 331€ surprise charge and entering the flat on a whim. Even though they look appealing at first, stay away from agencies like Rent Room Barcelona and Habitage Jove. Don’t let these jerks aprovecharse de ti like they did to me. Know what you’re really getting into. 

And like Cassandra from Gee Cassandra mentioned in the comments, this happens with regular landlords too. Being a foreigner makes you an easy target for people like this. If you’re in a weird situation, don’t put up with it and find somewhere else to live.

So where can you find a better room situation in Barcelona? I have a post all about apartment-hunting in Spain. And if you’re here doing an exchange or short stay, you can find a flat with people in a similar situation using something like the Erasmus Student Network Facebook pages. Around the beginning and end of the semester, they’re flooded with postings for non-agency flats that provide what I was looking for – a fun home with young, friendly roommates. But without the strings.

Have you had any landlord disaster stories or personal experiences with getting “aprovechar”-d? Share them in the comments so we can commiserate!

Besos!

-Jess

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39 thoughts on “My Apartment Crisis: Why You Should Never Rent a Room Like This in Barcelona

  1. Yikes, what a crappy situation! I wasn’t familiar with these sorts of businesses–that’s terrible how they aprovechar so much from unwitting foreigners.

    Unfortunatly, these things can happen with regular landlords, too! I mentioned briefly that I had problem with my previous landlord in which he told me I needed to dar de baja in my empadronamiento THAT WEEK; his reason was that he was going to bring his mother to live there after I moved in a few months,and he claimed that only a specific number of people could be empadronado in such a small space. Wellll, it turns out that this was a big fat lie. He also did sketchy things like come in unannounced–it got to where he wouldn’t even knock on the door! Crazy. It’s too bad that these are the sort of things you can’t figure out during the initial visit to check out the flat…

    Anyway, good for you for writing about your experience–hopefully this review will help others avoid the same lousy companies!

    • Yeah, it really is! I mean, it was definitely partially my fault, but still…and unfortunately, it’s not just these companies. Like you said, it happens to regular landlords who want to take advantage of foreigners too.

      It’s totally illegal to enter without telling the residents, I found out last week. That’s really sketchy. Glad you got out of your situation!

  2. Oh my god, you poor thing!! I have dealt with hundreds of crappy landlords in my time, but never in a foreign country, which I imagine is even more stressful. In my very early uni days I rented privately, big mistake. The landlord let himself in all the time, even let himself into my BEDROOM one morning while I was sleeping! Painted over mould in the bathroom and blamed us when it came back through, tried to keep our entire bond as we moved out before the lease was up. Luckily the stupid bastard hasn’t lodged it with a bond agency (highly illegal) so we threatened him with court and got it all back. I hope your new place is much better than the old one!!

    • Yeah, being in a foreign country definitely made things way worse, and the company jumped on that. But fortunately, I found a really great new place and I’m very happy.

      That’s soooo creepy about your landlord! Glad you got your bond back. They always try their best to hang on to every last penny possible.

  3. I know EXACTLY what you mean!

    I had a landlord problem like this in Madrid. My first landlord was a rude and awful Spanish man and his wife (equally rude). He tried to take advantage of me and my then-roommates, knowing we were all from North America and that none of us were fluent in Spanish at that time. He did his best to overcharge us for gastos every month, and the place itself sucked – our roommates were loud and totally trashy (I still feel bad for the one family that lived there – the rest were awful British students and we swear there was a prostitute too). Things broke, he didn’t tend to them. Then, I decided one day I wasn’t going to put up with it anymore. I found someone to take over my part of the place, he agreed to it, then tried to get extra money out of me. He tried to intimidate me, but I brought a friend who was fluent in Spanish to make sure he knew I meant business. We signed off on everything and he signed a clause saying I was officially out of the place, but then months later he tried to scam me out of money. By that point, I was pretty much fluent in Spanish and told him what I really felt about him. I talked to some lawyers I know back home – including one who knows Obama lol – and let him know that I was consulting lawyers as what he was doing was illegal, and being the pre-law kid I was, I knew what he was trying to do. That got him off my back, finally, but he was awful.

    Second landlady was amazing, but funnily enough she was a very internationalized German lady who’d lived everywhere. Even talked to her in persian (what my dad speaks)! She was great, and unfortunately made me realize that I’d rather deal with English speaking landlords in Spain (thus, most non Spaniards). My friends and I are definitely going to try to avoid agencies and shady businesses (and shady landlords)… this can’t happen again!

    • Ugh that sounds awful, a lot like where I was living, with the rudeness, gastos, and all! I wish I’d had your pre-law knowledge and guts. It’s so stressful when you get intimidated in another country. I speak Spanish fluently, but I was really unsure where I actually stood on legal ground, and they knew it. Thank goodness for my friends, who helped me through that one!

      Glad you had a better experience the second time around. Live and learn, eh?

      • I wasnt 100% sure either but have less prudence than you, I think. I tend to claim things like I know them (it’s arrogant, but works at times like this!). Very lawyer like, haha

        But yeah, at least experiences like that help you figure out what you want/dont want. You’ll know when to bail on this one!

  4. funny, hubby and I were just talking about this! we rented a house in SoCal(Northridge) and put down a security deposit and one month’s rent when we moved in. My experience is you use the security deposit as your last month’s rent and then you get your deposit back.well….this woman came up with all kinds of things she claimed we did and refused to give us our deposit back. plus, she demanded we pay that last month’s rent! but her husband intervened and we didn’t have to pay that. she wore the pants in that relationship ;)

    next, we rented the house from hell our first place in St. Paul. our first night there the kitchen ceiling fell in – we called the landlord even tho it was midnight. like WTF?? he yelled at us and told us to never call him at midnight again. next, they hired the cheapest roofers who forgot to put tarps up there….ah, the memories. I had every pot and bowl in a line from the dining room through the living room collecting the water from the ceiling due to torrential downpour and basically no roof! and did I mention the bats? :D anyway….at the end when we were moving out, they let themselves into the house too to show it to new renters. ah…..

    so, it does happen everywhere. sorry you had to go through all that and I hope your new place continues to be much better!! kinda scares me for when we move to Malaga….I haven’t a clue how to look for the right landlords. guess I better figure that out huh?

    • The security deposit for the last month’s rent was my expectation too, but it seems like lots of landlords seem to think it’s just a bonus for them!

      Sounds like you had some awful housing experiences. It’s surprising they got away with no roof, bats, and fallen in fans. Jeez!

      My new place continues to be lovely, thanks! My tip for moving to Malaga is just being better prepared and know more about housing laws, I guess. You can’t always avoid bad landlords, but you can be ready to get out of bad situations. I bet you know lots more about housing laws than me just because it won’t be your first time renting, and that’s already a plus in your favor.

      • yes but it’s been years since we rented. however I do have a contact there who has already given me the name of his lawyer in case I need it. what a guy! by the time we leave we’ll likely be experts :D

  5. Wow, what an awful situation! I suppose I’ve never had such problems … thankfully! When I first lived on my own in Spain, my internship bosses found me the place and handled it all, and from then on it was with Mario or in a place he had found in his hometown (Zamora), which I believe has a lot fewer scams, just because it’s not so popular with young, naive students and/or recent grads.

    I cannot imagine living with that anxiety! I hope you never have to experience that again.

  6. The first place I lived in Madrid, I moved into sight unseen (bad idea!!). My two American roommates and I hadn’t signed a contract but we were told this was pretty common in Spain. The woman actually renting the place was basically subletting all the rooms. In any case, there was basically no common space to live in. She had all her crap in these boxes all over the living room so I felt so suffocated stuck in my room. Not to mention, she was there all the time (she sometimes slept there if one of the rooms had no tenants, not sure where she slept the rest of the time). After about a month, my roommates and I had had it so we moved out which we could do since we had signed no contract. Of course, we got no deposit back because our subletter made up all these excuses about how we were supposed to give her 2 months’ notice or something ridiculous.

    We moved into an amazing apartment with an equally amazing landlord (who stayed amazing, even when one of my roommates nearly burned the place down and killed us all but that’s a story for another day). My second year I moved into a basement apartment with a really bizarre landlady… The stories I could tell in that apartment: cockroaches, black outs, mold growing in the bathroom, the out of date appliances, not to mention the neighbor’s cat who somehow broke into the apartment a few times…

    Renting an apartment was definitely always an adventure in Spain!

    • That is SO weird! That sounds like a disaster, and I bet it never felt like the space was ‘yours’. Of course she made up a new rule when you were leaving.

      Glad you had a better experience the second time, but too bad about the third time. Actually, that last one sounds similar to a few things I’ve had in a flat in Barcelona as well, but I chalked it up to the sketchy neighborhood I was living in. It really is hit or miss, it seems!

    • Avoid the agencies! And I’d suggest knowing a little bit more about the laws regarding housing or figuring out who can help you with them. I was completely clueless, never having rented a flat or room before in my life.

      • I’ve plenty of experience with that… but never had a major problem so far. Fingers crossed. And I shall avoid the agencies. Though I might use them to show me what’s on offer in Barcelona.

  7. I’ve been here for almost 4 years, and moved 4 or 5 times. Moving it’s one of the worst experiences that you can have… the agency fees are ridiculous (some of them just open the door and the flat and don’t even show you the apartment or explain you anything) and then there are the landlords who ask you for 6 years fix contracts, salaries over 2000 euros, bla, bla, bla. Of course, when they hear you speaking the first question is “where are you from?”. If you tell them the truth everything goes downhill from there… “are you planning to stay here for a while?”, “do you have a job?”, “do you have a legal status?” etc.

    From my experience, the best thing to do is using the social networks and spreading the word. Try to mention at one point of any conversation “hey, I’m looking for a flat to move!”. This is worked for me… right now I’m in an great house (yes, a house… with a patio a a terrace) thanks to a friend of a friend that listened that her mother in law was renting this place. It turned to be a lovely lady who didn’t ask many question, only charged us month for the deposit, no fees and she’s always asking us if everything is ok.

    So, this said… if I know about someone renting a nice flat or room I’ll let you know. Good luck and hope everything gets better soon!

  8. It’s true that a lot of spanish people are jerks, and it’s a tendency here trying to take advantage of “guiris”, which is really a shame. But not everyone is like them.

    I know this because I’m native and always I lived here. At anyway, when you see something like this it’s when you need to be stronger and don’t let them to intimidate, so if you see something wrong just put a demand, they will easy run away and will start to apologize like a child.

    That’s because there are a lot of “listillos” in Spain and that’s the way to deal with people like them and get a fast resolution. These “listillos” will try to take advantage of almost each situation, that’s known as: “picardía española”, they do the same with native people too, a lot.

    Oh, and I’m catalan! Catalans in overall aren’t closed like spanish people as you think, even if you don’t know their language (it really doesn’t matter, excluding pro-catalans which are people you should avoid), but catalans tends to be more open than spanish people, true fact! :D

    Good luck with your new home and if you need something from a local or improve your catalan don’t hesitate to send me an e-mail. :)

    (Excuse me my spanglish :D)

    Jordi.

    • Hola Jordi!

      Yes, of course, not all Spaniards or Catalans are like that – but because I’m foreign, I’m an easy person to take advantage of for “listillos”. I’m sure this happens all over the world, and it’s a reflection of individuals, not entire cultures. Thanks for teaching me a new word – ‘picardía’.

      Thanks for your lovely comment!

      -Jess

  9. Good luck in your new apartment! Sounds like you had a rough time. I lucked out in Spain…I didn’t have any problems other than a finicky circuit breaker. I have been in your position though, when I lived in England and took a room on a whim, because it was pretty. The pipes were shoddy, and leaked under the floors, and the landlords were greedy and sneaky. (One opened my door and walked into my bedroom while I was taking a nap…that was uncomfortable) Living in a place like that is the worst!

    Here is to hoping you will feel like home in your new place!

    • Thanks! I’m already feeling way more at home in my new flat than I ever did in my old one, which I guess is a good sign.

      I’m so surprised reading in the comments how many people have had landlords who just let themselves in whenever they felt like it. And especially while you were sleeping – creepy! It’s SO uncomfortable to live like that.

  10. Yeah, as I can see I’m not the only unlucky guy with the landlords. Here in Lithuania is sort of the same. They just let themselves into the house without telling you anything (ilegal thing, btw) and change the contract’s policy whenever they feel like doing that.

    Also we have a really sneaky thing: the contracts are both in english and lithuanian. But there’s a point where there’s written that if there’s an incongruence the lithuanian language is the one that rules. And they fu**ed up many of my friends like that…

    Phew… good luck!

  11. OMG how horrible. Luckily I lived in a small town my first two years, and we had no problems with our landlords. But I’ve heard so many horror stories from other friends. Good thing you didn’t pay them. It might’ve been stressful, but the letting company definitely didn’t deserve the money for extra bullshit gastos.

  12. the security deposit is mainly used to repair any damage you have done in the house, so when you are about to leave, usually the owner of the house will have a look to see anything damaged or broken, and the deposit will be used to repair them. If everything is fine then the owner must give the deposit back to you.

    in Spain you find lots of idiots trying to take advantage of foreigners, so you better get a Spaniard to deal with them to just put them in their right place. Also it is very important to know exactly the date you get in the house so if they try to charge you a water or electricity bill when you are about to leave, you make sure the bills show a date with you in the house.

  13. Jessica, this post has been very helpful and eye opening. I’m sorry you had such an awful experience. My husband and i are starting to look for places in Barcelona..I’m definitely keeping this in mind and bookmarking this post.

    • Hi Valerie! Of course, not all landlords are like this, but sometimes being a foreigner unfortunately makes you an easy target. I’d say just steer clear of organizations like this, and if someone gives you hassle, get a local friend who knows the laws involved to help you out. Good luck finding a place!

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