village house bulgaria photo
Photo by Klearchos Kapoutsis

Since Bulgaria adopted a capitalist approach in the early 1990’s, Bulgarians have flocked from the villages to the cities. Job opportunities await people in cities, and without socialism, most village infrastructures slowly erode. Currently, 72.5% of Bulgarians live in urban settings. One-sixth of Bulgarians live in the capital, Sofia.

This leaves ghost-villages filled with empty houses. It’s unfortunate, because many of the older village homes are strong and charming. But without caretakers, they decay until they are unusable. This makes the idea of future migration back to the villages unlikely. One woman saw this waste and decided to do something about it.

Irena Nencheva is a puppet theater actress from Burgas. In 2014, she decided to move out of the city to a village. While looking for a property she saw how many empty homes there was and wondered if she could find someone who would let her live, rent free, in exchange for managing the property. Her search inspired her to create the facebook group Под наем Без наем (For rent, rent free), which later expanded to a full website: Irena and a small group of volunteers work to facilitate rent-free arrangements that are beneficial to both the property owners and the renters. In the past three years, the initiative supported 106 successful partnerships.

What For Rent, Rent Free is doing right:

They Saw a Need and Filled It

Almost every successful social campaign fulfills a concrete and simple need. For Rent, Rent Free actually fills two needs: the need for affordable housing and the need to take care of village properties. This makes the project relevant to modern Bulgaria and useful.

Both Sides Benefit

As I mentioned above, both parties who engage in For Rent, Rent Free benefit. The renter gets a free place to live and the person letting out the home gets someone to take care of their property. This usually includes renovations and caring for the garden. It also protects their village property from being looted. Clearly outlining how everyone involved benefits makes it more likely to draw interested parties from both sides of the equation.

For Rent, Rent Free Encourages Participants to Protect Themselves

Although the concept may seem a bit idealistic, the creators of For Rent, Rent Free take a practical approach to the actual negotiation of a rent free arrangement. They encourage both parties to know what they are looking for and to communicate thoroughly before entering an arrangement. They also encourage the use of legal rental agreements between the parties so neither side suffers losses.

I stumbled across For Rent, Rent Free when I was looking for possible village solutions for me and my family. While we still haven’t found a place that will suit us, I will be watching this interesting initiative closely over the next few years. I wish them the best of luck!

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