Finding and Securing Your Rental Property in France
Volume XIX, Issue 31
It’s mid-August and while many of you are simply enjoying vacation, there are many people who are busy planning their move to France in time for “La Rentrée” and “Back to School.” With the French visa office and the borders having recently opened after more than a year of Covid-19 issues and confinement, we’ve seen an extraordinary number of people who have been able to get appointments and secure their visas to enter France in the very near future. Plus, it’s perfectly normal for this time of year to see a surge and just as one might predict, most want a September 1st move-in date if they can get it.
We provide a Custom Search for Rental service so you don’t have to do the search yourself. It’s particularly difficult for you, too, because the landlords are very particular to whom they rent and having an advocate on your side gives you tons of clout. The fact that you’ve hired us to find the property for you already speaks very loudly.
Normally, because of the vacation period, we try to search for long-term rental apartments in June for a September move-in to get a jump on what’s available. That differs from the norm the rest of the year, because most furnished rental apartment leases are one year with a 30-day cancellation. Unfurnished leases are for three years and carry a 90-day cancellation except in Paris where it’s 30 days.* This normally provides a brief window of opportunity when the previous tenant has given notice and the landlord wants to find another tenant. For this reason, it makes no sense to start the search much earlier than six weeks in advance…except in the case of battling summer vacation when landlords and agencies aren’t available and an overabundance of people looking for accommodations that begin in September.
* A Mobility Lease is an exception to the one-year lease requirement. “Created by the Elan law, the mobility lease is a short-term lease agreement for a furnished property. It gives more the landlord flexibility and eases access to housing, particularly for students or people who move around for work. The landlord cannot demand any security deposit from the tenant. They can, however, demand a guarantee, facilitated by the VISALE rental guarantee mechanism (VISA for housing and employment). In the event of cohabitation, the landlord cannot impose joint liability between the co-tenants or their deposits.” (Source)
This year, things are quite different than in the past because of the late acquisition of the visas and uncertainty of the Covid-19 restrictions. This means we have to move quickly to find and secure the properties in time for the kids to start school in early September.
Renting a property in France long term can be more complicated than even buying one! First, one must find the property (furnished or unfurnished), then the tenant must get approved by the landlord, then plan the move-in. That sounds simple enough, but let me take you through the process so you understand why what should be “du gâteau” (piece of cake) could be one of your biggest challenges in life.
The laws surrounding renting favor the tenant. You might think that’s good for you as the tenant, but ultimately it hurts because the landlords have found ways of protecting themselves, which could easily make a tenant’s life miserable. The landlords have fear of squatters because eviction of deadbeat tenants is near to impossible, takes a long time and incurs lots of legal fees. The landlord could get stuck for the life of the lease with no rent and a lot of damage. For this reason, a landlord will often minimally furnish a property so that it can carry a one-year furnished lease, rather than the three years associated with unfurnished.
This can be a big advantage to someone who wants to move much of their own belongings in so they can feel at home from the outset, but wants the property to be fully functioning with all the necessary appliances, etc. rather than having t0 foot the bill for these expenses themselves.
More importantly, the landlord will likely require a very high level of security to ensure that you can and will pay the rent. If you don’t have a French work contract that guarantees you can’t lose your job without compensation, then you will have to prove you aren’t a risky tenant. The landlords have the right to ask for proof of income. The general rule is that one must have an income of three times the rent (plus the expenses) to qualify.
You can assume that the landlord will ask for certain guarantees:
1. An escrow account* held in a bank with one year’s value of rent, not to be touched, nor interest paid on it, until the end of the lease;
* To create an escrow account, the tenant must have a bank account in France. It is also necessary to have the bank account for the operations of the apartment. “Thanks” to FATCA (Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act), fewer and fewer banks in France are willing to open accounts for Americans. Fortunately, we offer a service to facilitate opening a bank account, but you can’t sign the lease until this account exists.
2. A guarantor or insurance policy, to which the tenant subscribes that protects the landlord, should that same tenant not pay the rent! (Crazy, but true.) We recommend Garantme.fr and Unkle.fr for starters. You’ll pay a little more every month to add this insurance premium, but at least you’re not tying up a lot of your cash in an account you can’t touch.
Expect to pay in advance two months rent as a security deposit, unless the lease is a Mobility Lease, then no deposit is required. If you’re renting a secondary residence, rather than a primary, than the amount of deposit is negotiable.
Rental properties can be found directly with owners or via agencies. Agencies tend to represent the better properties, but you can expect a fee imposed by the agency. The good news is that there is a cap on the fees, governed by the ALUR laws, from 8€/m² in areas with no housing shortages to 12€/m² in areas where there is a housing shortage such as Paris and the 68 neighboring towns.
There are lots of complaints from tenants that they had difficulty getting their deposits returned at the end of the lease. Sad, but true. If the property is represented by an agency, then the tenant has a better chance of the deposit being returned. And I’ll say it now and say it again if I have to: the quality of the landlord is more important than the quality of the apartment!
We recommend having a temporary place to land before moving into your rental apartment in order to settle in and get out all the kinks. You’ll have to get your utility contracts set up, if the landlord is leaving that up to you. In some cases, the landlord is happy to keep the utilities in his name with you to reimburse him, but that’s more likely with Mobility Leases than with the others. Utilities could easily include electricity, gas and Internet/TV/Phone service. You will need your new French bank account to contract for these services. We offer a hook-up service to manage this for you, but remember, it takes a few days to get the contracts in place and for the services to be fully functional. In addition, you will be required to contract for renter’s insurance, all this in advance of taking possession. These are all good reasons to allow yourself a week or more in temporary housing before you actually move in.
Rents vary across the country, with Paris as an exception. Since July 1, 2019, rent control was established in the Capital. The truth is that compared to the price of property in Paris, rents are very inexpensive. I’ve written often about why rent control doesn’t work, but the Paris administration wasn’t paying attention!
“Reality: Rent control is not the way to increase the amount of affordable housing, nor is it a solution to poverty, inequality, or segregation. Instead, it acts to restrict the supply of housing, transferring wealth to current tenants at the expense of future and market-rate tenants. Insiders—those living in rent-protected units—generally win at the expense of outsiders. In an effort to resist gentrification, rent control leads to the decay of the buildings, as owners have less revenue to spend on maintenance and improvements. Regulating rents, in short, does more harm than good overall.” (Michael Hendrix, January 8, 2020, Urban Policy Housing)
To learn more about Paris rent control, visit this site.
For more information about renting in France, visit here.
And to learn more about our services to find you a rental property in Paris, Nice or elsewhere in France, visit our website!
The Adrian Leeds Group®
P.S. We’re looking to add members to our consultation and search team…must be either North American or Anglophone who has cultural experience from living in North America. You must be living in France—primarily Paris or Nice and environs. You must be self-motivated and independent, enjoy working closely with clients and familiar with the sales and management of French property. Your level of French must be at least “survival” so you can navigate without too much difficulty. You must love working with people, and above all, you must be willing to learn and grow. Contact us for more information and to apply.