Rome's local authority may be losing more than 100 million euros as prime apartments are rented for under 20 euros a month. Fewer than 20 percent of 574 council flats in the Italian capital's center are legally occupied.
Rome's caretaker administrator appeared on television on Wednesday with a promise to fix the situation in which many city-center apartments are being rented out for just a few euros a month. Prefect Francesco Paolo Tronca said he was "astonished" to find out that the municipality had no overall record of its real estate holdings.
Tronca's office had announced on Tuesday findings of an audit it carried out on city-owned apartments. They included a flat overlooking the Roman Forum being rented for less than 24 euros (26 dollars) a month and another near the Vatican for 10.29 euros. One on the street near the Coliseum rent was just 25.64 euros.
Media reports suggested the absence of controls cost the city 100 million euros in lost income, but Tronca admitted, "Once we conclude our review of the municipality's holdings, we might get to a far higher estimate."
Tronca took over management of the Italian capital after former-Mayor Ignazio Marino resigned last November in the face of public anger over his expenses, failing public transport, rubbish on the streets, holes in the roads and allegations of mafia infiltration of the municipal authority - the so-called "Mafia Capitale" scandal. Tronca is managing the city until new elections are held in June.
His office carried out a study of city-owned property in the center of Rome and found that 574 apartments had been rented far below market prices. Media reports suggested the mainly middle-class tenants, who were not eligible for social housing, paid the low rents because they had never been raised by the city authorities.
"It's an ethical question because this time we have to get to the bottom of it," Tronca said on state RAI television on Wednesday. "We owe it to the Roman people and city workers."
As part of the new measures outlined by Tronca's office, rents are to be brought in line with market rates. Leases are to be canceled if it is found that the legal tenant has covertly sublet the apartment. Tronca's office has said it will "promptly" evict non-paying tenants and punish council employees guilty of oversight or corruption. It will also assist any criminal proceedings that come as a result of the findings.
A police investigation in 2014 led to dozens of arrests in Rome and the region of Lazio for alleged misappropriation of city funds by crime syndicates. The "Mafia Capitale" scandal centered on a network of alleged corrupt relationships among politicians and criminals in the Italian capital.
jm/sms (Reuters, EFE, dpa)