Real Estate

Christina Hudson: An expat primer on apartment life in Athens, Pt. 2

(Editor’s note: This is Pt. 2 of a two-part post on apartment life and housing in Greece. You can jump to Pt. 1 here.)

So, you are moving to Greece and you have settled on an apartment as a new tenant or owner, or you are just about to .…

Word to the wise: Be prepared! Ask questions!

Practical details and tips

As far as the practical details go, meetings of co-owners and/or tenants are far too frequent and not too infrequently dissolve into chaos when decisions on shared expenses and shared areas have to be
made. That is largely due to the fact that Greek laws are often hard to decipher and each lawyer you ask is likely to give you a slightly – or completely – different answer as to legal rights and obligations.

For this reason, detailed building agreements are often put into place.

These agreements may not supersede the law in any way but lay things out in simple terms and cover more complex items especially in buildings where you might sometimes have a mix of private households, medical or legal offices and even a storefront or two on the street level.

The goal of such an agreement is to save time and to avoid conflict but enforcing the rules and regulations is a whole other matter.

Cases in point No. 1:

In my building, we made an agreement to have a gardener a couple times a month and we share the expense equally among the households since we are all entitled to enjoy the modest but pleasant green space around our building.

Easy peasy.

However, it turns out some of us want to use six tons of pesticides a month and some of us don’t. Some of us like flowers and others hate them. (Odd, right?)

Some of us even assume it’s okay to completely hack off a dozen healthy branches from a beautiful tree if said branches block the remote control’s signal from your balcony to the electronic parking gate. Some of us would vehemently disagree with that assumption.


The worst part is that there is often a Wild West attitude of, “I got to the gardener first and gave him that instruction so I win.”

Similar problems can be seen all over when it comes to one family hogging the common storage areas, infringements on allotted parking spaces, disagreements on how many night lights should be left on in the entranceway at night and so on.

Due to the aforementioned lack of legal clarity and means of enforcement, some building residents have ongoing conflicts for years on end. Some are more serious than others. The underlying problem seems to be the fact that many key practical matters, such as hot water and heating systems, are more complicated than they need to be and compromise can be seen as weakness. So there is a lot of digging in of the heels when many viewpoints are involved.

Also, “This is the way we’ve been doing it for years” is not an uncommon stance and you can’t always blame folks because finding good technicians and professionals to fix old systems can be hard here so sometimes no one wants to tackle problems even if that would be to their benefit.

Case in point No. 2:

My building has only four units but three different heating systems and there is no system in place to allow each household to heat home and water and get billed individually. While as units we can control temperature and time for heating and hot water boiler use, the system doesn’t allow us to see individual household use.

The previous owner and several of her family members (who now all live upstairs) rely on a very old, convoluted and seriously questionable “heating study” done by an engineer a million years ago to estimate the costs for each household based on size of unit, size and type of windows and timer indications.

In our case, the building uses natural gas and in order to have bills which are fully accurate for each unit, we need to install an individual heat calorie counter in addition to the existing time counter.

Though we have been told this by both a civil and mechanical engineer, two of the four units deny that this is true and simply refuse to comply. That means we are left to pay inaccurately-calculated bills or try to figure out how to get them to become legally compliant without ruining neighbor relations … no mean feat!

Senior seniority

I don’t know what it’s like elsewhere but, here in Greece, apartment seniority seems to be a real thing and it is used to try to get new tenants or owners to blindly accept even the most archaic or inefficient ways of doing things. However, you should fully expect to receive six emails about paying 2.80 euros per household to cover the cost of a new welcome mat for the common entrance.

Also fully expect for that same neighbor to spill over her one allotted parking spot with her current car, a rusted old jalopy that she has supposedly been trying to sell for 9 months now plus some dusty old furniture that she will definitely get to “next weekend” ….

(Is it obvious that I am speaking from personal experience?!)

Top tip: Take advantage of Greece’s endless sunshine and find a place with solar panels for hot water! We had one in our previous apartment and turned on the electric back-up water boiler maybe 5 times a year.

We would like to install a solar panel in our new place in order to save money AND be more environmentally friendly but, apparently, because the residents of the top floor have some sort of loft structure on the roof, we cannot do so.

We are having trouble determining whether or not this is true as we have been lied to several times since
moving in.

It’s one of the things we should have confirmed before signing on the dotted line.

Having possibly scared you now, I will say that, especially if you have a decent budget, you will probably be spoiled for choice in many parts of Greece when it comes to housing.

You can usually find a decent mix of older buildings with character, chic new minimalist styles and everything in between.


Read more about Athens here in Dispatches’ archives.

See more from Christina here.

 | Website

A Pittsburgher by birth, Christina T. Hudson is also half Greek and has – so far – spent most of her life in Athens, the chaotic but captivating capital city of Greece.

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