France may have the best tenancy protection laws in the world but renters still need to exercise caution before renting a home in France.
Renting a property in France is very simple in principle: You find a place you like, you sign a lease and you move in. When you are ready to move to another apartment or buy a house in France, you just move out. But the reality is slightly more complex, and renters in France can find themselves frustrated with the French rental process. It is important to know your tenant rights in France before you sign your French rental contract. Here are some common problems that many renters face in France.
Problem 1: Slow real estate agents
You need a house in less than a month but the agency you are working with is very slow to respond to email or even telephone requests for viewings and information. This is simply because they do not have to try very hard as rental demand far exceeds what is on offer.
In these circumstances, using a reputable property finder is invaluable and will you save lots of time and frustration as they will do the hard work for you at no extra cost to yourself.
You can trawl the internet but may find that the properties on display are no longer available and are only left online to attract new customers.
Generally, you have more protection renting a property through agents immobiliers (estate agents) than with propriétaires (private landlords), but check what fee the agent will charge you before agreeing terms, as many estate agents will have the same properties on their books but at varying fees. It is worth shopping around.
Problem 2: It really is an unfurnished apartment
Whether you choose to rent furnished or unfurnished is really up to you, but beware: the same law does not apply to both. Some landlords in the past tried to make tenants accept ‘furnished’ tenancy agreements for what were really unfurnished properties because it was more favourable for them. But since the government introduced a legal definition of what a ‘furnished’ apartment must include, this will likely not thappen (read about renting in France).
An ‘unfurnished’ contract must last for at least three years and is automatically renewable. If it is your primary residence, a ‘furnished’ property is for one year minimum and automatically renewable. You should also keep in mind that furnished properties for long-term lets are very difficult to find outside of the major cities like Paris and you might pay significantly more.
It should also be noted that unfurnished property means just that. This can mean no oven, no refrigerator, no kitchen cabinets or counters or shelves, no light fixtures etc. This is changing thankfully and usually houses will have some sort of kitchen already.
Problem 3: Long list of French paperwork requirements
Before signing your rental contract, you will have to provide several documents, which can include:
- Pay slips for at least the previous three months
- Your most recent income tax return
- Proof of identity
- Proof of home ownership abroad or your three last rent receipts from your last rental home
- Work contract (in French) or an attestation de l’employeur can sometimes replace the work contract.
Before you plan to view any properties you might consider opening a French bank account. Although this sounds quite simple, in France you can encounter a catch-22 situation in its full glory. In order to have a bank account you must prove you have a residence and in order to obtain a residence you must have a bank account – feeling frustrated?
Most people overcome this by getting a temporary address or an ‘attestation‘ from an immobilier saying you are planning to sign a lease on a property before making an appointment to open their new account.
Other areas that frequently pose problems are in producing a French tax return. Since you have presumably just moved to France and are starting a new contract, these can be impossible to obtain, although in the government’s 2015 housing reforms they imply that it can be acceptable to show a tax return from your last country of residence. However, most of these issues can be overcome by dealing with landlords, agents and property finders that are used to renting to expats and will somewhat bend the rules to accommodate a potential tenant.
Problem 4: My landlord is asking for a higher deposit
If you do choose to deal directly with a landlord to obtain a rental, it is wise to know French law pertaining to rental properties and your tenant rights. This is constantly changing and what was valid one year may no longer be the case. In 2015, however, the security deposit for an unfurnished property was the equivalent of one month’s rent (excluding charges) or three month’s rent, depending on the rental popularity of the zone you live (read more about tenant rights in France). Unscrupulous landlords may ask for more months of rent but this is illegal. Try not to pash cash either – it’s acceptable to set up a joint escrow account that requires both signatures to withdraw any funds.
Problem 5: My landlord says I have dented his front door and refuses to return my deposit
To ensure this doesn’t happen, you must take every precaution at the beginning of the rental period when you sign the état des lieux (inventory), ensure that you understand exactly what is listed, and check that everything is in working order (open cupboards, try the shutters etc). If it isn’t already, make sure it is noted in the inventory. Only then should you sign it.
Sometimes the état des lieux is conducted by a huissier (bailiff) and you may want to hire one privately to avoid any future disputes. Without strong evidence to the contrary, the landlord’s word is incontestable in a court hearing.
However, if all goes well, the depot de garantie (deposit or bond) must be returned to you within two months of leaving the property, provided that the property is in the same condition as when your rental agreement began.
It may sound like renting in France is a minefield of potential problems but with the right assistance, this need not be the case at all. It would be wise to remember that France has some of the best tenancy protection laws in the world and it is for this reason that landlords need to get it right from the very beginning. Happy house hunting!
Susan Toursel is an accredited property finder and advisor who moved to France more than 20 years ago from Ireland. Together with her French husband, they enjoy welcoming newcomers to the lovely Chantilly and Senlis region, just outside of Paris. Updated by Expatica 2016.
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