Expat Essentials

Liina Edun in Portugal: 10 crucial tips when you’re signing that apartment lease in Lisbon

Given that finding accommodation in Lisbon is a challenge, many amongst us focus mostly on finding a reasonable rental fee in a somewhat decent place. Factors such as having an officially signed rental lease tend to be disregarded as a mere formality.

However, having a rental agreement is one of the most important documents you should ask for, and it is crucial that it contains all the relevant points. On top of that, there are other things to be aware of when renting in Portugal.

Here are tips and advice to save you from future headaches and stress:

Avoid those scams:

An obvious rule of thumb is: Do not send money for an apartment or room to anyone without seeing the place first, unless of course you are using a trusted website such as Airbnb. And always go with your gut instinct – if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

The general scam in Lisbon is that the landlord is out of town, but if you’re willing to pay a few month’s rent ahead of time, they will find a way to give you the keys. And then you never hear from them again.

Make use of real estate agents:

In Portugal, the landlord is the one responsible for the real estate agent’s fees, not the tenant, so feel free to use one. It will come at no cost to you.

Ask for a rental agreement and sign it in person (not electronically):

The contract should contain the following basic information:

• your name and ID number as well as your landlord’s

• move in date; the address of the apartment

• the rental amount

• how it will be paid (e.g. bank transfer); length of the lease; if the lease will be renewed automatically

• the notice period if you want to move out

• how long you have to stay before being able to move out without a penalty (e.g. usually you have to stay for at least one-third of the lease, and only after that period of time can you give notice)

Aside from the basics, ensure the lease mentions who is responsible for which damages. For instance, you might be responsible for cleaning the bit of mold in the bathroom, which will very likely happen in Lisbon as it can get quite humid, and most houses are not properly insulated. However, if the mold has already infiltrated the walls, that’s up to the landlord to fix.

The mold infiltration issue is a health hazard by the way, and unfortunately, many landlords simply paint over the mold, rather than take measures to have it removed.

Always keep a record of all communication between you and your landlord

Emails and text/WhatsApp messages can be used as supporting evidence but are not ideal. Voice notes, voice calls or any verbal agreements will most likely not be considered valid in a court of law, so everything that you agree to needs to be official. Many times you might hear, “We don’t need to write this in the contract; we can just agree between us.” Do NOT agree to this, even if it seems like it’s being done in good faith.

Make sure the landlord registers the lease at the tax authorities (Financas)

What this means is that the landlord is paying their taxes and that you are renting legally. This also allows you to get a tax refund from your rent contributions. You will receive an email once it’s registered. Afterwards, every time you pay the rent, the landlord will inform Financas about the rent payment, and you will receive an email about that as well. Bear in mind that sometimes landlords don’t inform Financas every month, but prefer to do it every few months, but this you can discuss.

If you break your lease

If you decide to break the contract before the end of your lease, your landlord might agree to it but usually only if you help them find someone else to take over the lease.

That’s fair enough. However, every time that a landlord gets a new tenant, they have to redo the registration at Financas, and there’s a fee that they have to pay. You might be asked to pay this fee as a courtesy to the landlord, but bear in mind that it is legally the landlord’s responsibility.

Caução

Prior to moving in, you might be asked to pay a few months deposit (caução), or a last month’s rent, or both. These tend to be interchangeable in Lisbon, so make sure you know exactly what your caução is for, and how and when it will be returned back to you. In general, when a deposit is paid via a bank transfer, it should also be returned via a bank transfer.

Additionally, there is no set scheme for managing deposits in Portugal, and landlords are the ones who will be keeping the money. Therefore, there will be no interest earned on your deposit, and oftentimes landlords use whatever excuse in the book for not giving it back.

Damage

If there are any visible damages to the walls or furniture, take photos and send them to the landlord, and keep a detailed record of everything. Also, it’s important to do an inventory of what’s already in the flat. If your landlord does not do it, take it upon yourself to do so.

Anger management

Finally, always be courteous to your landlord, even if it’s not reciprocated. There is no point in losing your temper, because, first, it can be used against you and you will be seen as an insubordinate, rude tenant, and second, it will only make you feel even more frustrated. The best way to deal is to have a record of everything, make sure every detail of your rental agreement is officially written down and signed.

And find the humour in the situation even when you don’t feel like laughing.

About the author:

A graduate of Claremont Graduate University in Claremont, Calif., Liina Edun has a background in psychology and a career in writing and content management.

Having lived most of her life as an expat, she is currently located in Lisbon. 

See more on Dispatches here about Portugal.

See our Lisbon archive here.

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