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Renting an Apartment

This article is focused on Santo Domingo, but can be used as a guideline for renting property throughout the entire Dominican Republic.

Living in the city of Santo Domingo as a foreigner and looking for an apartment can be an adventure due to the diversity of options and the different conceptions many Dominicans have about foreigners. Finding an apartment requires time, patience, as well as a bit of shrewdness to obtain desirable results.

As in the States, renting an apartment can a frustrating experience because you may not find what you are searching for in the exact moment you need it. The following are important basic steps to consider before going about your apartment search:

1. The size of the apartment: What are your space needs?

2. How secure/safe/ well protected is the apartment?

3. How is the structure of building ( to withstand possible hurricane etc.)

4. Check out the apt. for potential flooding (water)

5. Transportation: Parking or the nearness to the public transportation route.

6. Nearness to your job.

7. Closeness to suppliers of basic services: hospitals, clinics, supermarkets, and places where you will pay your bills (energy, telephone, water, garbage.)

8. Neighborhood environment: Is noise an issue? Is it dangerous during night?

9. Services: Would you prefer a gated community? Security guard? Amenities included? Furnished/ unfurnished?

10. Restrictions about the kind of pets that you can have in your apartment.

11. Pay in dollars/ pesos.


Costs:

Cost of living in the city can vary, depending on how close to downtown you are or if you require living in an exclusive area, the size of your home and the length of stay. Size of the apartment is important to consider because an apartment with 3 bedrooms will be more expensive than a studio. On the other hand, if you choose an apartment/ house outside of the city-center with 2 o 3 bedrooms, it could result in a cheaper price than a one bedroom downtown. Gated communities tend to have prices more comparable to the US because electrical, potable water, guards and common areas are included in costs.

Additionally, you must factor in the initial security deposits and the lawyer’s fee. To ensure financial stability of the renter in the Dominican Republic it is common for a landlord/lady to demand 2+1 or 3+1 of the equivalent of the monthly cost of rent. That is to say, two to three months rent plus an additional one month rent as a fee toward the lawyer. For example if you rent an apartment for 5,000 pesos you may be asked to pay 2+1= 3X 5,000= 15,000 pesos at the time of rental, of which 5,000 pesos will go toward the lawyer and 10,000 pesos will be deposited in the Banco Agricola until the lease’s end, when it will be returned to you. Lawyer’s fees in some cases are less than a full month’s rent.

Once you have established your priorities, as well as how they relate to the cost, you should consider the different types of housing arrangements available.

Housing as a boarder: If you are a single person staying for a short period of time (several months) you may prefer to rent a room with a family where you may arrange a fee for room and board. In many instances this can include meals and laundry. It is a good idea to have a personal reference as to the character of the host and the conditions of the living arrangement before entering into a contract with someone.

Apart Hotel/ Gated Community: If you desire amenities and furnishings, but without the cost to your personal privacy you may elect to live in a gated community or an apart hotel. Apart hotel dwellers do not have to worry about paying their electric/ water bill as the service is included in their rental fee. Additionally, most apart hotels come furnished. For those staying in the country for shorter periods of time, the apart hotel may be a more affordable alternative to staying in a hotel or buying furniture and renting an unfurnished apartment. For families or individuals living in the Dominican Republic long-term, gated communities offer the benefit of security and tranquility that more traditional and affordable rental agreements do not.

Renting a house/ apartment: Houses and apartments usually are unfurnished: without beds, tables, chairs, or even stoves, refrigerators, toilet seats and light bulbs. If you desire basic furnishings you must specifically state “amueblado” in your apartment/ house search. The following is a list of guidelines for traditional renting of houses/ apartments that do not offer the services or amenities of apart hotel or gated community living.

1. Ask about the water: Many landlords/ladies will say the water is “bueno.” Ask specific questions as to what makes it “bueno.” Is there a tinaco (tank on top of the house) with a bomba (pump to make water rise to the tank)? Is there a cisterna (well) to retrieve water in buckets if there is no “agua de la calle” or if the tinaco is empty? Will you have access to the cisterna? Who is responsible for turning on the bomba? Ask neighbors how often they receive “agua de la calle.”

2. Ask about the electricity: How often does the electricity come on in the neighborhood? Is there an inversor/ planta (generator)? This is also related to your water situation: if there is no “agua de la calle” and the tank is empty and the electricity is off you will in all likelihood NOT have running water.

3. Check for safety: Do you have bars on all your windows? Do you need bars (maybe not for higher buildings)? Does it look like the apartment has been broken into in the past (bent bars, smashed windows)? If you are concerned about the area you are planning to move, visit it at various times of the day: are people working during the day? If they are not, ask yourself how they survive if they are not working, and begin looking for a safer area.

4. Know your landlord/lady: Will you be sharing space with this person? Is this person overly pushy? Can you get along with/ trust this person?

5. Check for the garbage truck, how many times at week it’s passing in the neighborhood?

6. Get receipts of all paid bills (cable, electric, water, phone etc.)
Before moving in so you are sure not to get stuck with previous persons
Bills.

7. Be sure about maintenance fees.


The Search:

Traditional search for your apartment begins as it would in the States when you select an area where you would like to live: Zona Colonial, Gazcue, the Commercial District Downtown, Zona Universitaria, or specific residential areas/ barrios. Take a cell phone with you and walk around and search the signboards that say “SE ALQUILA.” For those without an excellent handle on Dominican Spanish/ Dominican culture, it might be a good idea to find a friend to come with you.

Many apartments in wealthier areas are listed in the classified section of newspapers like “Hoy” “Diario Libre” “El Caribe” “Nacional” and “Listin Diario.” However, the options are limited and the prices tend to be more inflated than if you were to use traditional word of mouth in the area you desire to live.

One can only learn about apartments through word of mouth by visiting Colmados, talking with clients/ workers, and inquiring if there is a “Corredor” in the area. Corredores are traditionally informal real estate agents who know a specific neighborhood, enter into contracts with landlords/ladies, and seek out prospective clients. Some corredores work in official or home real-estate/ lawyers offices with signs that may state “Bienes Raices.” In such offices, they may possess listings of different apartments/ houses available in the area. Less formal corredores may spend their days in the Colmado/ Banca and know the listings through friendships or acquaintances. At the time of the signing of the lease, the corredor should be compensated, by receiving his/ her cut of the lawyer’s fee, because they are representing the landlord/lady.

Rental Contract:

Generally leases last for one year. That duration can change in a foreigner’s case if he/she has planned a shorter stay. When the lease is up, usually after one year, and you are interested in moving, you should let your landlord/lady at least 15 days before, enough time to for him/her to recover your security deposit.

It is possible that the landlord/lady insert a special clause where says that landlord/lady can check the apartment once a month in order to know if there is any change in the physical conditions without their permission. The landlord/lady is obligated to fix any physical failures of the apartment not incurred by the tenant for example: leaky plumbing, broken tinaco (water tank) etc.

Don’t forget that while looking for an apartment it’s necessary to have time and patience, especially with the diversity of costs and locations. Although it is not recommended to find an apartment from the US using internet, you may be able to price out the market through online newspaper classifieds and research with friends living in the Dominican. Once in the Dominican, many people feel rushed to find an apartment right away because they do not want to pay for a hotel or because you want to get settled immediately. However, it is important to choose the right apartment/ house and not to hurry the decision with pushy offers. In the end, you may save yourself a lot of time and money by not having to resettle and start all over again.

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