For sellers

What can owners do when the key holder rents your apartment without your permission?

05 December 13

It is unfortunately common for owners of properties in Bulgaria to discover that their apartment has been rented without their permission and without receiving any financial return. Probably experienced by 10% of owners during their ownership, but still a hot topic of discussion throughout the entire foreign owner community. Most owners rarely visit their properties, perhaps at best once per year and in many cases the strict investor never visits at all. As a result, someone somewhere needs to be trusted with the keys and thus direct access will always be unhindered.

Mostly an issue in the tourist areas such as Sunny Beach, we frequently come across property that we are told is empty by the owner and upon entry discover inhabitants. This is embarrassing for the agent, confusing for the holidaymaker and absolutely off putting for the potential buyers viewing the property.  A situation created by immoral individuals who perhaps work at the building’s reception or alike, but in the worst cases it results from the deliberate and systematic action of the maintenance / management companies who specifically seek to list and exploit empty apartments which they know to be unused and infrequently visited by the overseas owners.

The issue can be divided into two clear types with two different solutions; those in residential areas such as Sofia, those in tourist areas such as Sunny Beach. See below:


Case Studies:


In 2012 we encountered a property in Sofia that had been rented for 4 years without the owner knowing and thousands of Euros of heating bills clocked up in their name. In this particular example, a Dublin based agency had been paid to advertise and marketing the property for sale in 2008, without any directly employed staff or their own offices in Sofia they passed the keys to a local agency with whom they have only a commission sharing agreement. Seeing the asking price was wildly above the achievable market price the local agent proceeded to rent the property to a paying tenant, pocketing just over 18,000 Euros in the process. After renewal fees were requested by the Dublin based agency for a third time to continue their illusion of marketing, the owner lost all faith and contacted NewEstate. We discovered the tenant and the 2,500 Euros of unpaid bills in the owner’s name, along with 5,000 euros worth of damage to the property. The tenant was ejected, repairs were made at no cost to the owner and a buyer was found within 3 months for the maximum market price.


In touristic areas such as Sunny Beach we have encountered every conceivable scenario from walking into apparently empty properties to find shocked people in bed, through to finding invoices in apartments from the previous entire season of rental, when the owner was told it was empty all year.  When challenged, many maintenance companies use the defence that if the apartments have been rented it has been to cover overdue maintenance bills. In reality the a typical season of rental income will far exceed this amount and regardless it is illegal for any party to enter the property without the express permission of the owner, debts owed or not, annual maintenance is separate private agreement with no legal connection to the use of the property.


So how can you avoid having your Bulgarian property rented illegitimately without being in Bulgaria?


Residential areas – Sofia:


If you own an urban property that has the potential to be rented to domestic residential demand throughout the year in an area such as Sofia or Varna, then really there is absolutely no reason for it to be empty and vacant for more than 2-4 weeks at the very most. All apartments in habitable condition in these urban areas can be rented at the market price, furnished or unfurnished the demand is absolutely there. As such, if you have any inclination that your agent is not being straight with you, the first sign will be that it takes them too long to find you a tenant, anything beyond 2 months is inexplicable and certainly should ring alarm bells.  If this is the case, appoint another Varna or Sofia rental agency as either they are incapable of doing the job or have intentions to rent it without your knowledge, either way change is required. If you suspect that your property has previously been rented, ask the newly appointed agency to check the amenities bills and the consumption, these records cannot be hidden and are always the best confirmation of what has gone on. Get the locks changed, for the cost of 50-100 Euros it is a great peace of mind, be sure only trusted and proven parties hold keys, always be sure to retain a set yourself. The golden rule in these areas is to remember that there is no viable reason to justify no sale or no tenancy when offered at the market price.


Tourist areas – Sunny Beach:


Unlike residential areas, the immoral key holder in tourist areas takes much less risk accessing your property night by night, they also do much less work to achieve it. As holidaymakers are simply walking in the front door and asking for an available bed, without any cost, effort or marketing, they only need to hand over the keys and collect the cash in a 30 second transaction, it is altogether much easier to achieve, easier to get away with, a lot more tempting and thus much more common. If you have any reason at all to suspect or doubt the onsite staff or your maintenance company, then have your locks changed and appoint a third party management or rental agency to hold the keys off site. Provide each with the necessary contact details for access in the event of an emergency such as a water leak, then feel sufficiently secure that no matter of the good or bad intentions of whoever works on reception, your property cannot be easily access by them. If the management agencies tries to rent your property without your consent then you will always have the maintenance company to ask for confirmation, plus the amenities bills will clock up and be billed to you as a tell-tale sign, ultimately it will be much harder and less lucrative for an offsite third party to achieve rental income without your knowledge.


It is difficult to be sure who to trust in any overseas situation where the culture can be so different, however if you are not getting rental income then there is always a reason. If you are sure your property is well positioned and pitched at the market price, look for other reasons and start with the honesty of those holding the keys.