Renting Your Mexican Home
Last Update: 30 June 2008

Before we start, if you haven't read the first page of the series with the definitions, please do that now.

In this chapter we'll talk about:

Finding a place

The lease and rental laws

Things to watch out for

Personal experiences

Finding a place:

Rolly's note:  The following words of wisdom were written by Carol Schmidt based on her experiences in San Miguel Allende.  This is an edited excerpt from a book that she and her partner, Norma Hair, and I have published.

You can start your search for an apartment or rental house on the internet, on, vacation rentals by owner, which its name indicates is geared to short-term rentals but occasionally a long-term opportunity is posted. is another national source that breaks down its rentals by smaller sections of Mexico.   Try a Google -- the real estate agencies you see advertised on the websites of the city or town you are interested in may handle rentals as well.  But you won't find a cheap apartment on the internet or through a realtor. There is not enough money to be made off of a commission on an inexpensive rental to make it worthwhile. You will have to work hard at finding an inexpensive rental so you may want to find the cheapest hotel or hostel you can find for the duration of your search.

If you are starting to feel desperate, and an inexpensive apartment comes up that you hate, but you can get it with no lease or time agreement, you may want to move in there to start with. Your first apartment probably won't be for long. You will be honing your preferences in locations as your lifestyle emerges, and you will probably find problems with that first apartment. Don't count on finding the perfect place right away. It could happen, but the odds are against it.

If there is a bilingual or English language local newspaper in the area in which you are interested, check the classifieds first. Then see if perhaps there is a Spanish language newspaper that may not be as known to newcomers and get a copy of that one, too--probably by going by pharmacies, restaurants, hardware stores, ice cream shops, tortillerias, or any other neighborhood businesses in the area in which you are interested. Ask if there is a weekly paper with classifieds, and see what day it comes out.  Go directly to that newspaper office if you can find an old copy that lists its offices.

Tell everyone, absolutely everyone, that you are looking for an apartment, specifying your financial range. Don't pass up a tip from a taxi driver or a waiter or somebody on the bus.  Norma and I stumbled into a wonderful rental through asking people on a tour bus if anyone knew of any vacancies.

Walk the streets in the areas you like. Look at window signs, hand painted signs on fences, flyers on utility poles, and notices on bulletin boards at churches, grocery stores, internet cafes, and any other place you pass. Go into the real estate offices anyway--just maybe something that they think is marginal in terms of a commission has come in, and they'd just as soon give you the name and get a little fee than to get nothing at all. 

You can post flyers and run ads yourself, but usually a landlord with an inexpensive property doesn't have to look for a renter, the unit will be rented by word of mouth.

Renting from a Mexican landlord will usually be cheaper, but he or she may have unrealistic expectations of what a gringo can afford. If the rent is suddenly raised for you when you try to verify a lower figure from an ad or flyer, insist on the lower rate. 

And always ask if the landlord raises rents the 10% per year allowable by law. If the expression to the question is shock and denial, more likely the rent will stay the same for awhile. If the expression or words say, "Of course," calculate what that rent will be in a few years if it goes up 10% a year.

Check for graffiti and youths hanging around. Are barking roof dogs everywhere? Do the apartment windows and doors have security grillwork and good locks? Could a thief gain entrance by a skylight or from a neighbor's roof into an inner courtyard? Don't be put off by security bars--the very nicest Mexican homes usually have them, too. We hated the idea of getting them after repeated burglaries and robberies of their home in LA, but they felt so much freer when the bars were installed, and then they could keep their windows open all night in the summer, too.

Do not be turned off by first impressions of a Mexican apartment, either. We were able to look past the bare hanging light bulbs and the chartreuse walls and hard furniture to what the place could look like with a little effort. Make sure you can paint and replace light fixtures and bring in more furniture and appliances. Ask how often the water comes on. Is there a sufficiently large tinaco on the roof and/or cistern to make sure you have access to water all the time? Flush the toilet and run the tap water--is there any pressure at all?

Be clear in the initial interviews with the landlord what is included, both in terms of furniture and utilities. Mexican unfurnished apartments generally have absolutely nothing in them, not even a towel rack or toilet paper holder. The previous renter bought all that himself and took it with him when he left.

Ask specifically where the nearest bus line is, or parking arrangements, or any other details important to you. But it is important to do all of this questioning in the Mexican way of doing business, which is not abrupt and rushed.

You will get much better results if you stop your rushing when you actually come in contact with a prospective landlord and take some time to make a personal impression. Ask about his or her family, are the kids in schools nearby, how long has the family owned the property, what does the breadwinner do, etc. And give out that same information about yourself. It may seem far too personal and slow for US and Canadian tastes, but Mexicans prefer to establish a personal relationship first before moving into a long-lasting business arrangement. And temper your abrupt-sounding questions with "por favor." Polite social niceties are very important in Mexico.

Do not believe the realtors who will tell you that there are no inexpensive rentals at all in the town, so you might as well accept their nice condos at double what you want to pay. The cheaper places exist. They will not be right on the main Jardin. Always find out exactly where the bus lines are, and don't turn up your nose at the idea of riding Mexican buses. It's part of experiencing your new country, and the Mexican bus system overall is far superior to that of the US.  You may have to kiss a lot of toads to find a prince of an apartment, but you will.

The lease and rental laws:

Leasing and rental laws are largely left up to the states, so there will be some variations from state to state, but these general guidelines will apply in most places.  Before entering into a long-term or expensive lease, you should seek the advice of a lawyer.  One important point to remember:  If a lease, or other contract, contains illegal clauses, the illegal clauses are not valid nor enforcable.  More about that in the next section.

Leases are available in two forms:

A lease of unspecified length which is basically a month-to-month written agreement which may be terminated by either party on 15 days notice.

A conventional lease has a minimum duration of one year and a maximum of 10 years.  This lease can be terminated early only by mutual agreement.

A simple short-term rental for a place to live while you search for your final place, can be a simple handshake without a lease or a lawyer.  A more cautious approach would be to get a standard lease form from a papelería (stationary store), again without a lawyer.  For a long-term lease, a lawyer and a custom lease may be wise.  More about that in the Personal Experiences section below.

Rent is payable in pesos.  A lease clause requiring payment in some other currency is invalid.  It is not uncommon for landlords to want payment in dollars, especially in tourist areas.  Sometimes this is a tax avoidance scam which, in theory, could come back to haunt the renter for participating by paying in dollars.

It is customary to pay a security deposit, usually equal to one month's rent.  Leases usually contain a clause saying this deposit cannot be applied to the last month's rent.  Common experience says it is unlikely you will ever recover this deposit, or if you do get it back, it may be up to a year later.  Unlike common practice in the USA, Mexican leases usually do not require a last's month rent deposit.  Rent is payable in advance each month.

The law limits rent increases to 10% per year on long-term leases.  For a one year lease, the lease should stipulate limits on a rent increase at renewal time.  The rent cannot be increased during the year.

Your lawyer should know if there are restrictions on the amount of rent that can be charged, and if there are any other local or state requirements which you should be aware of.

Rental laws are generally very pro-tenant making it very difficult for a landlord to evict a tenant, even for cause.  Many landlords are happy to rent to foreigners in the hope that they will not know the law and that be more easily manipulated.  In the horror story on the previous page, the landlord raised the rent by 25% after 6 months although the law allows only a 10% increase each year.  He also evicted the tenants. If they had wanted to fight it, they could have stayed for a long time while he went to court to get them out -- perhaps as long as a year.

Things to watch out for:

Payments: We've already warned about landlords who want to be paid in dollars.  Only pesos are legal for rent.

Repairs: The landlord is responsible of any repairs (except damages caused by the tenant).  It is not legal to require the tenant to pay part of these expense.  Some landlords try to insert a clause into the lease requiring the tenant to pay the first xx pesos of a repair.  This is not legal, thus not enforceable.

Utilities:  Often the water, power, telephone and cable TV services will be in the name of the landlord. Occasionally these are included in the rent, but more commonly the tenant is expected to pay the bills or reimburse the landlord for these expenses.  This is legal. You should pay the bills yourself rather than reimbursing the landlord.  That way you know the bill has been paid, and you know you are paying only for your utilities.  If the services were in the name of the last tenant who left an unpaid balance, you may have a big chore avoiding paying the past due amounts.  For a short-term rental, it is better to have these services in the landlord's name.  For a long-term commitment, it may be better to have these in your name.  As a rule, these service providers do not make it easy to change an account to your name.

Inspect the property carefully.  Under the law, the owner or real estate agent has no obligation to tell you about defects.  Check all of the water faucets to be sure they work.  Flush the toilet, twice.  Shake the toilet to be sure it is properly bolted to the floor.  How many power circuits are there?  Only one or two is common.  Will that be enough to power all your electronics?  If there is a water heater, does it work?  If there is no heater, are there connections for one? Is there a hookup for a washing machine?  If there are appliances (stove, fridge, air conditioning), do they work?

Personal experiences

Rolly's note:  This is an e-mail interview I conducted with one of  my cyber friends:

How did you find your rental?  

We were looking up and down Pátzcuaro Centro, but not finding anything satisfactory in our price range. There was one decent, semi-furnished duplex apartment at Departementos Vicky, also better known as Gringo Hill. It was $350 USD a month, and slated to rise the following year.

Meanwhile, a longer established old expat, "M", said to me, "Why don't you come out and have a look where I live?. My landlords (good people) have a couple of houses available to rent."

So we did, driving the 10 miles out from Pátzcuaro to this beautiful valley and mountain vistas.

The first house was a little ranch style, 1 bedroom house. We didn't like it because none of the rooms connected inside. For example, if you had to get up in the night to pee, you had to go out on the porch, do it into the garden, or walk a few yards to the baño. It was also very close to a mucky cow corral. Rent: $1500 pesos a month.

The other house is situated on a large lot, at the end of the paved street, above and more distant from the cow lot. It wasn't very attractive from the outside; a drab, white, flat-roofed concrete structure. But inside, it was beautiful. Two bedrooms, full bath; enclosed garage with a tiled floor, with services for a laundry; big living room/dinning room, GREAT KITCHEN!!!!  Rent: $3000 pesos a month

The rent has stayed the same at last year's renewal, and we expect it to stay the same when we renew this year. I was very pleased last year that when we started to develop a few roof leaks, the owners contracted an albañil to build a new, traditional tile roof over the old concrete slab, painted the exterior of the house, and never charged us a centavo for it. We think we are extremely fortunate to have such good landlords.

How long were you looking?  

About two months.

Where did you live while you were looking?  

We were house sitting a large, old house for an old acquaintance from back home, down on the highway, 150 feet from the RR tracks. (Whoooooo. Whooooooo Whoooooooo!!!!)

We were there from April, 2006 to August 2006. Rent was "free", but maintenance was costly as was electricity, as an adjoining neighbor was allegedly stealing power. Other problems, as well. Ceiling leaks, possums in the ceiling crawlspace, etc.

The first place we lived in was a 2 bedroom wooden cabin, furnished, owned by an American couple. It was a nice, upland woodsy setting, but there was lots of dust due to the unpaved road right behind our bedroom window, security was next to nil (nothing ever went missing, I'll say that.) Worst of all, it was nearly impossible to stay warm. It was $350 USD a month, utilities included and was convenient for a fast move-in soon after we arrived in the area. I read about it on the MoreliaConnect Yahoo Group. We acted on it immediately, went to see it, talked with the owners, and rented it within 3 or 4 days.

Was moving a hassle? 

Moving from NOB was a major, stressful hassle. We pulled a 12x6 ft cargo trailer with a Ford Windstar. Forget it! That's an epic tale in itself. Moving from the icy cabin to the house-sitting gig was fairly easy. Moving from the house-sitting gig to our present home was very easy. Of course, we had to shop for appliances, stove, fridge, etc and a bed, as we hadn't brought any. We did have numerous household furnishings, especially cookware, lamps, bedding, etc.

Do you have a formal lease?

Yes. The actual owners of the house are a couple living in San José, California. She's a younger daughter of our neighbor landlords. She and her husband are both from here. The daughter wanted a formal contract, with Notario supervision, as they apparently had had a less than satisfactory tenant previously. We and Señora C  (the Mamá) went to a Notario and had reams of turgid legalese and paperwork to wade through. It cost her around $500 pesos. After, she said that next time, we'd just get a standard form from a papelería.

 We have a very good relationship with our landlords. We visited the daughter and her husband in San Jose when we were there last summer. The brother-in-law and family, here for a visit, are coming over here a ratito for café, chocolate y postre. Nice folks.

Was negotiating with the owner a good experience?

Yes. The only negotiating necessary was giving her the rent for July even though we couldn't move in until early August. That was to "hold" the place for us, as some other expats were getting interested. She told us we could start moving our things in immediately (that was late June) but I preferred to wait until July 1st, for which we'd actually paid.

Later, other Americans came and rented the other two casitas at least part time. They are good friends. We are also very friendly with the people of the ranchería, although not on as intimate terms as our American nomadic friends.

Anything else that might be helpful to a newbie?

In our case, we needed to go the La Presidencia of our Municipio in  order to get a declaration from el Presidente indicating where we lived. That was needed for INM as our landlady paid the power bills and we pay her, so our names are not on the comprobantes. This declaration was also useful in setting up a Banamex account, although to this day, our statements of account come very sporadically if at all. Probably few, if any other expats would encounter a similar situation, but the point is to be flexible, creative, and patient in working out any snags. Don't get frustrated.


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