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THE RIGHT PLACE AT THE RIGHT PRICE


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Welcome to the exciting, complex, and often exhausting world of renting in Paris. If you heard that rents are high you'd be right, but they are still no where near the levels of London and New York - demand easily outstrips supply, but, with a little patience and knowledge of the basic procedure, your rental experience can be very rewarding.

The most common question is simply "where do I begin?" Paris is undoubtedly a city of renters and there are plenty of resources, but many can be somewhat daunting if you aren't entirely comfortable speaking French. The American Church in Paris is an excellent starting point, with new apartment listings every day. Another place where the listings change daily is the classified ads on this web site and the advantage of using this site is that you can even start your search before setting foot on French soil. Another place to look is in the magazine FUSAC, which has classified ads devoted to Anglophones; it comes out every two weeks.

If you're staying longer than a few months and you fancy the challenge of furnishing an apartment, why not do it the French way. Take a look at the classified ads in a French newspapers such as De Particulier A Particulier, (a magazine where individuals, rather than agencies place ads). Le Figaro one of France's leading daily's is also a good source, though on some days there are more ads than on others.

Don't be afraid to call up the people who advertise in French newspapers and ask: "parlez-vous Anglais?" You will find that many people in Paris do speak a little English, and while they may feel uncomfortable, it might be enough to arrange a rental contract. Owners will usually have a pre-determined idea of whether they want a foreigner as their tenant, or not. Some landlords actually prefer it. The law regarding rentals generally favours the tenant. This means that the landlord can get taken advantage of by someone who knows the law back to front, and who stops paying his rent but refuses to move out. As a foreigner you are less likely to represent this risk. On the other hand some landlords refuse to rent to foreigners because they often can't provide the necessary financial guarantees.

One thing to bear in mind is that the market is nothing like as well developed as in the USA or the UK, which means that there are some exciting deals out there, but finding out about them and getting the lease signed up, can be quite complicated. Word of mouth is the name of the game - some of the best apartments never even reach the open market. One expatriate remarks "there are thousands of sources of rental offers, which vary from an ad in the local bakery (La boulangerie), to an ad in a national newspaper, and there are thousands of tiny agencies scattered throughout Paris. The striking thing is that agencies never cooperate with each other on a commission sharing basis as they do, in London for example, which means that you have to go to every agency separately. Even within an agency there is rarely any co-operation. One person deals with a certain apartment, and if they're not there, when you call, the chances are their colleagues won't even be aware of your existence, let alone be willing to organise a visit for you to see an apartment. Be prepared for an extraordinary lack of professionalism in agencies. Unfortunately, it is rare for them to call you back, even if they have just advertised an apartment in the paper and you assume they want to rent it. Also be warned, many of them don't show up for appointments, and don't expect either a warning before, or an apology afterwards. To avoid wasting your time, take the number of the agent's mobile phone, so that you can call him just before the appointment to remind him, and to confirm that he will be on time.

The French still prefer to do business between friends and this is something that anglophones will find either simply surprising or downright irritating. It puts most of us at a natural disadvantage as it means many apartments are never within your reach by the time the landlord has given first preference to his friends, and the guy at the agency has done the same.

It's also worth noting that often, when an ad appears in the newspaper, there is no telephone number, it will simply feature the address of the property and the time at which you can visit it - usually that very same day. When you arrive, there is invariably a crowd of people wandering around, as well as at least a dozen people who are filling in a dossier (i.e. presenting all the material necessary for a formal application to rent). These visits are often carried out successively for five-week days. One New Yorker says, "I asked the agent once, why the landlord didn't increase the rent for the place, if there were so many people who wanted to rent it. The guy looked totally surprised. He didn't have an answer."

Once all the visits have been made, the dossiers will be sifted through (there are sometimes hundreds of them) and a short list will be presented to the landlord. Friends (or friends of friends) will get preference, of course, and then the most risk-free applications will be considered next. Unfortunately as a foreigner, your case will probably end up close to the bottom of the heap, but having said that, you never know. You might just come across one of those landlords who prefers to let to a foreigner.

Typically, for your dossier, you will need a copy of your passport or national identity card (carte d'identité), proof that you have an income of at least three times the rent, usually in the form of a pay slip (fiche de paie), two months rent in advance, and a security deposit that is usually equal to one months rent. You are also expected to have a bank account in France.

If you don't have a pay slip and you have no other proof of your income (such as a letter from an employer, old tax return, or bank statements showing regular payments on your account), you can ask someone to guarantee your rent for you. The landlord will more than likely insist that the person lives on French territory and may require that he have French nationality. Bear in mind that there are no hard and fast rules, so don't despair if you can't match the requirements of one landlord, just grit your teeth and move on to the next.


Agencies

While this is certainly not the cheapest way to do it, it could save you lots of time and worry. Agencies are everywhere in Paris, and they often advertise in the classifieds with other listings (if the phone number in the ad is accompanied by the word agence, you know it is an agency listing). De Circourt Associates who have been in the business 15 years have an excellent website at http://www.homes-paris.com/, They specialise in furnished property mainly for business people who will be typically staying for 3 months or more. A glance at their site show that you can find anything from studios in central Paris to houses in the suburbs. At the bottom end you can rent for €700 a month but if you've got money to burn you can lash out on a house in the Marais for €23,000 a month. Madame de Circourt did the same business in the the US, which is reassuring for English speakers or anyone who has doubts about the level of service in France. And if you're looking for something special, in the past they've had anything from a peniche to a former atelier de couture for rent. De Circourt charge you (the renter) a month's rent for their services if you are renting for 12 months or less or 12% of the rent if you rent for less than 12 months. You'll also have to put down two month's rent as a deposit and pay one month's rent in advance, which is standard practice if you go to an agency, but could come as a surprise to you. Always obtain the agency charges in writing, before you even begin looking at apartments.

For a complete list of Agencies, see The Yellow Pages


Your Landlord

This is someone that you definitely want to be on good terms with and your relationship will almost certainly be a love- hate one! Whether or not the reputation holds true in each individual case, Parisian landlords have been known to be as uninvolved as possible regarding repairs and upkeep. Too often, it seems, they aren't at home to answer your questions, and at other times they seem to be constantly wanting to come over and do something to the apartment (or just see how you are treating it). This is something that you have to put up with, even though it can be a nuisance. You can at least make it more complicated for them by asking (politely) to make a request in writing, a week or two in advance, if they want to visit the apartment.

There are all kinds of laws that define precisely the responsibilities of both tenant and landlord, but they are applied only when there are major disagreements between the two parties. Hopefully, of course, your relationship with your landlord will run smoothly and you will be able to work out disagreements on your own. But if it seems that you can't reach an understanding, you can go to the town hall (marie) of your arrondissement (click on Yellow Pages at www.parisfranceguide.com), to find out more about the law and even to take action against your landlord. On the whole, tenants rights in France are well protected and if your complaint is reasonable, the law is usually on your side.

Your landlord cannot legally raise your rent for the duration of your rental contract. He does have the right to raise it should you renew your contract, but he is required to tell you six months in advance, by registered letter (lettre recommandée) Barring this rare move, your rent will not be raised while you live in your apartment. And in order to raise your rent at all, your landlord must prove that your rent is below the market rates. If you have a problem with your apartment, don't stop paying the rent in order to take a stand. Most contracts have a stipulation whereby, according to the law, you can be evicted once your rent falls more than two months in arrears. Once again, if you have any complaints, start by putting them in writing in a registered letter addressed to your land-lord.


Furnished vs. Unfurnished

Many apartments in Paris are furnished (meublé). This pushes the rent up slightly, but can save you a lot of time and money if you are not staying in Paris for long, or if you don't want to deal with the hassle of moving a lot of things at once. Usually, furnished apartments come equipped with the bare essentials, to which you will probably wish to add a few odds and ends. Of course, by and large, the more you pay, the better the furniture.

On the other hand, be warned: if you plan to stay a while, be aware that renting a furnished apartment means that you will be stuck with the furniture as long as you are in the apartment. Also, the more furniture there is, the greater the potential damage, and you may end up losing part of your deposit. As many apartments in France are rented furnished, you are relatively unprotected when it comes to getting your deposit back should the landlord insist that there is more than a reasonable wear and tear on the furniture. But as apartments are typically rented with no more than a bath, a basin, and a kitchen sink, the alternative is to go out and spend a small fortune on the essentials, which will be worth a fraction of their price when you move out a year later

Before you move in, your landlord or agency should go over all the items which belong to the apartment, and which should be individually recorded on a list. Both you and your landlord sign this list, and when you move out the contents and their state will be compared to this list. When you go through the list, be sure to make a note of everything that isn't in absolutely perfect repair. Don't stop at the furniture, note also cracks in the walls and ceilings, any damage to the parquet, and check that all appliances are in working order.

If something breaks (on its own) or you notice a flaw in a piece of furniture, even after you have signed the inventory (état de lieux) inform your landlord immediately, preferably by registered letter, so that your observation can be added to the list. You can't expect your landlord to be forgiving for even a broken coffee cup; some landlords want to be reimbursed for everything. If you can replace what is broken and damaged by something identical, do so; otherwise the landlord might replace it with something far more expensive. If you can't find precisely the same thing, find something similar, but get your landlord to agree to accept it as a replacement before you buy it.


Electricity, Gas, and Phone

The electric and gas company is called EDF-GDF. Their prices are reasonable and they are efficient and pleasant to deal with. At least once a year they will need to come into your apartment to read the meters, but otherwise, they won't bother you. France Telecom, the national phone operator, can be more problematic. Their bills are complex and confusing, and the service provided, though reasonably good is very costly. They can also be highly inefficient. An American student living in Paris accidentally sent his bill to the wrong France Telecom office. They cashed his check, but didn't credit his account. It took him almost six months and ten trips to their office to clear up the matter and get his money back. Many people in Paris have given up on fixed phones and use mobiles instead, which makes sense, especially if you don't spend much time at home.


Roommates, Noise, and Parties

While some people just put the name of one tenant on the contract, it is a better idea to inform your landlord of all the people who are permanently living in the apartment. If one of the sharers leaves, it is the responsibility of the person or people who have their name on the contract to find a replacement and divide the deposit. For married couples, the landlord should be informed of the marriage, even if it takes place after the couple moves in. Having said that, we're all entitled to our privacy. Even if you live in a single room where only one person is allowed to reside legally, you can still let people stay over without being obliged to tell the landlord anything. The only stipulation is that they are not allowed to give you money for rent.

It is legal to make a reasonable amount of noise between 10h and 22h on weekdays and 12h to 24h on weekends, but that doesn't mean that your neighbours won't get upset. What you can get away with depends on your neighbourhood. The places that are young and trendy will be more tolerant regarding noise at strange hours, but be prepared to have the tables turned when you're the one trying to get a good night's sleep. The opposite is true of quiet neighbourhoods, where you will be surrounded by professionals and their families, and which invariably become silent after 21h. Calling the police because of noise is very rare. More often your neighbours will simply dislike you for the rest of your stay, which is to be avoided! Get around potential disputes by telling your neighbours in advance if you plan to have a party, or even inviting them along (the chances are they won't come, but they'll be flattered and look kindly on you from then on!).


Insurance

Rental insurance is required by law, and is not very expensive. Believe it or not, this insurance could be one of the most useful things that you buy in Paris, because many buildings are quite old and in need of constant upkeep. Your landlord will have his/her own insurance, but may be reluctant to use it if you can use yours. The tenant's insurance covers fire, water damage, and any problems arising from your own actions. Most importantly, it covers damage to communal areas of the flat, which could save you a lot of money if someone damages the carpet in the hall for example, or if an overflowing bath damages the apartment below. The landlord's insurance will cover damages caused by anything beyond your control.

Your insurance will also cover break-ins and theft. Although most Parisian buildings have at least a door code and usually Fort Knox-style iron bolts as well, some people do still get burgled, so insurance covering household contents is worth considering. For more information on insurance, click on Insurance One word of caution: Cellars are common targets for break-ins, and having an expensive and highly secure door added to your cellar attracts more attention than it's worth. A frightening number of people have had priceless bottles of wine stolen from their cellars.


Moving out

By law you must give three months' notice before moving out. In some rare cases such as sudden unemployment, injury, or relocation, you can leave giving only one month's notice. Even if you don't have a legitimate excuse, your landlord may accept less than three months notice, but if he does, get his acceptance in writing otherwise you may find it deducted from your deposit. It may help if you offer to find a suitable tenant to replace you.

When you leave, you must return the apartment in the condition that it was in when you arrived, or as close as possible. You must inform the Electric/Gas company (EDF-GDF) and France Telecom at least one month before you move out.

Sub-letting
Check in your lease if you have the right to sub-let? It is normally allowed, although subject to the agreement of your landlord, and it is against the law to charge more than you are paying yourself. If you want to rent just one room, then you must charge according to the ratio of square meters in that room to the whole apartment.

Although it is not required by law, it is advisable to have a contract with whoever you are sub-letting to. With a contract, your tenant cannot legally leave without paying rent. Clearly the sub-let must expire before or on the date that your own rental contract expires. Of course, you are allowed to let friends and family stay with you without declaring them as sub-letters.


Repairs and Adjustments

All major repairs are the responsibility of the landlord, as French law states that he must fix all justifiable problems while the contract is in effect. The terms are loose, but if you think that there is something in your apartment that doesn't work and that you are not to blame for, you are within your rights in demanding that it be fixed. Even some smaller damages can fall in this category, but if you break a window, don't expect your landlord to help you out. If something breaks in your apartment and has to be fixed, the first thing to do is to talk to your landlord and figure out whose responsibility it is. Don't get the repairs carried out until you have the written agreement of your landlord. You must also get his written agreement for who will carry out the repairs, what work has to be done, how much it will cost and when it will be carried out.

Try to get your landlord to take responsibility for contacting a company, to get an estimate and then to carry out the repairs. If you end up dealing with it yourself, be aware that foreigners are too often ripped off by plumbers and electricians and without knowing exactly how to proceed, you will end up with an outrageous bill, a poor job and no legal recourse. Moreover, the chances are that your landlord will refuse to reimburse you in these circumstances. One ex-pat says, "I got a plumber around to mend the shower, then gave the bill to my landlady. She said I'd been ripped off and that she was only going to reimburse me half. I called the D.D.R.F. and asked their advice, and then told the plumber they were investigating it, and that my landlord had said that I had been ripped off. To my astonishment the plumber refunded me half my money. But I realise how lucky I was, and next time I will take precautions."

The renter is responsible for most damages that involve normal wear and tear such as plumbing and electricity. If the carpets are really worn when you leave, you may be asked to either replace them, or pay for their replacement. If you have heating that functions independently of the rest of the building (and this is the trend in building renovation), then you may be responsible if it does not work, depending on the problem.

Many Parisian buildings, especially older ones, still have centrally controlled heating, meaning that all of the radiators are activated or deactivated for the entire building. Clearly, if you start renting your apartment in the summer, the condition of the heating is something that you will not be able to check upon moving in. If Fall rolls around and the heating doesn't work properly, your landlord is solely responsible for this work, under French law. Some single rooms (chambres de bonne) have heating which is connected to a larger apartment, usually downstairs. If you run into a situation like this, be aware that when your landlord's heat is not on, neither is yours. An au pair girl says "When my landlord goes to sleep at 9:00 pm, my heat goes off for the night". This can make for very cold winters!

You can usually paint the walls, change the wallpaper and put up pictures, but your landlord will probably ask you to return the apartment to its original state before moving out. Before changing something, give consideration to the effort and cost that will be necessary to change it back at the end. You should always consult your landlord before changing the condition of the apartment, as many contracts forbid it.

One final word of warning: carefully check up on the person from whom you are renting the property. Find out who the owner is, and if you are not renting from him, check whether the person from whom you are renting has the landlord's permission to sub let. Before you part with any money, make sure that the person to whom you are making your cheque is the bona fide landlord. People have often been shown around apartments, signed a lease and paid the equivalent of three months rent (or sometimes more) in advance, only to find that the apartment belongs to someone entirely different, who is quite unaware that an agreement has been signed to rent their apartment to you. Obviously foreigners are easy prey to this kind of scam, although French people have also been ripped off in the same way.

In order to avoid being taken for a ride, follow these precautions when renting:

Try to speak to the neighbours. Tell them you are thinking of renting the apartment, and ask them if they know the owners.

Have a contact address and a fixed phone number (and check the legitimacy of any so-called agency or landlord that you deal with).

Never part with cash-always make a cheque to the person that features on the rental agreement, and always insist on a receipt.

Voilà! Now you know some of the technicalities of renting in France…and there are many joys that come with it as well. Be careful-don't rush in and take the first place you look at. There are always more apartments out there, and if you don't find the place you want, keep looking. Keep your cool and you will come out ahead.

For a complete list of Agencies, see The Yellow Pages



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