Roman landlords are responding to the double-dip recession and the unaffordable price of real estate in the capital by flooding the market with "micro-apartments".
Tiny flats with just 10, 7 or even 4 square metres of floor space are now appearing, though it's not clear whether the four square metre option gives tenants the choice of sleeping horizontally.
The city's chronic traffic problems and dismal public transport mean that many people who don't want to risk life and limb on a scooter are prepared to buy or rent the minuscule properties to obtain a reasonably central address in the sprawling city.
One recent advertisement for a "Bachelor pad, near Pantheon, €50,000" illustrated the growing phenomenon, offering prospective buyers a sink, a toilet and a shower along the left-hand wall and on the right, three steps leading up to a narrow bed between two walls, spread over 5 "well-distributed" square metres.
Descriptions for the micro-apartments range from the euphemistic such as "functional" and "practical" to the bleakly factual: "There are no windows. Only two air intakes".
The Corriere della Sera newspaper yesterday said the economic crisis and problems in the housing market were behind the emergence of the "Lilliput properties".
The need for affordable housing was underscored by a new Bank of Italy survey suggesting that salaries here are among the lowest in Europe. The report said the average Italian salary of €23,406 was less than the Greek, Spaniard or Cypriot equivalent, and far behind the French or German averages of €33,574 and €41,000 respectively.
As a result, most ordinary apartments are beyond the reach of first-time buyers without wealthy parents, or even young professionals looking for one-bedroom properties to rent. Rome's importance as the country's capital and a tourist destination – along with a major influx of rich foreign buyers into gentrified areas such as Il Trastevere – have pushed real estate prices even higher.
The average 2010 price for property in Rome stood at €7,800 per square metre, second only to Venice among Italian cities.