"The evolving Francophile..."

My husband Jack has always wanted to live in Paris and learn French. I thought it would be good for him to achieve his life time dream. Hence, we moved to Paris in 2008. My first year was difficult. I started "missives" to relieve some stress and chronicle my life so friends back in the US could read what I am experiencing. I currently write about my food and travel experiences, which is my passion.

It is definitely a challenge to live here, but each year it gets easier, and quite enjoyable, in large part because I value friendships over locale. I have a love/hate relationship with Paris as do most Parisians, mais La vie est belle (but life is good)!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Finding a long term rental apartment in Paris...

Ile St. Louis, a prime real estate location

OK, so you've decided to take that giant leap and live in Paris, let's say for a year perhaps longer. Prior to that you've either stayed at hotels or rented from short-term rental agencies where they provide you fully furnished apartments, in fact, down to the sheets, utensils and even soaps.

Finding a long term apartment in Paris can be extremely challenging. First of all, like many large cities in the world, there's only so much inventory. There is a great desire for most French and foreigners to live in Paris, meaning in one of the 20-arrondissements.

You can search on your own by going through various sites like De Particulier a Particulier, or Fusac with the latter being a magazine catering to English speaking ex-pats with lots of information about available apartments, etc.  You can also peruse Craigslist, but be forewarned, there have been some rental scams from Craigslist, so always double-check, and "if it's too good to be true" it probably is. In some instances you can rent directly from from the proprietor avoiding costly agency fees. Or, if you don't want to do the searching, you can go through an agency; however, there will be an agency fee, usually a percentage of the rent.

Typical rental sign

Before you get started, here's a few basic rental "lingo" you should know:
  • 45.00m² environ -- means the apartment is 45 square meters
  • Immeuble en pierre de taille -- Free stone building
  • 2e étage avec/sans ascenseur -- 2nd floor=French, American=3rd floor with/without elevator
  • Louer or Location -- Rent
  • Mueblé -- Furnished
  • Ascenseur -- Elevator (sans- without)
  • Pièces -- Rooms (e.g., 2-pièces means 1 bedroom)
  • Entrée -- Entry
  • Séjour -- Living room
  • Proche Metro -- Close to a metro
  • Chambre -- Bedroom
  • Rez-de-chaussée -- Ground floor
  • Loyer mensuel charges comprises -- Charges are included (e.g., condo fees)
  • Cuisine US or Cuisine Americain -- Open kitchen
  • Separée -- Used for toilet or kitchen, meaning it's separate
  • Avec parquet -- With hardwood floors
  • Salle à manger -- Dining room
  • Cuisine équipée -- Kitchen is equipped
  • Calme et très lumineux -- Calm and lots of light
  • Colocation -- Roomate
  • DIGICODE -- Security door entrance with code required to enter
  • Gardienne -- Care takers
  • Placards -- Closet

    Keep in mind on your search that Parisian apartments tend to be quite small. For example, a typical kitchen oftentimes has only 2-burners a tiny fridge and small sink. And, the washer/dryer combo is often located in the kitchen as well. It's sort of ironic considering that the French are so into food; however, most entertain outside the home, and the home is reserved for family and close friends, since it's their sanctuary.

    Here's a couple of things you should note:

    • Central Locations:  Typically, in the center of Paris (e.g., single digit arrondissements) the rents tend to be higher and for smaller apartments. Average studio apartment is around 20 to 35 square meters, a little over 210 square feet to 360 square feet. It's not uncommon to pay 1,200 to 1,500 euros for a studio. And, believe it or not some of these small apartments are cordoned off so that they are teeny tiny one bedrooms.  If you have a larger budget you can certainly find beautiful apartments, or what I call "American" apartments. They may be smaller than an average American apartment, but tend to be large by Parisian standards. On average they are between 45 to 80 square meters. There is an advantage to living in the center of Paris, you can walk to most places, because it's the hub of the city. The disadvantage, it is the heart of Paris and can be very noisy, congested and filled with tourists.
    • Within Paris city border:  If you venture out further, but still in Paris, for example in the double digit arrondissements, rents tend to be lower, and you get more bang for your Euro. We lived in the 18eme, and now the 15eme, and I can tell you we are very happy in the 15eme, purely because we want to live like local Parisians devoid of tourists and noise. And, we're just a metro or bus ride away from the center of the city.
    • Arrondissements:  I've mentioned this in previous blogs, each arrondissement has a unique feel or personality. For example, the hip, trendy, gay area is in the 3eme and 4eme arrondissements, whereas the more upscale area is in the 16eme arrondissements, otherwise known as the Beverly Hills of Paris.  There are also neighborhoods that are up and coming like the Rue Gambetta area in the 20eme arrondissements or the 19eme close to Butte Chamount. The arrondissements are purely a personal decision of where you want to live. If you are interested in searching in a particular arrondissement, then go to an agency that specializes in that area.


    • Searching: Keep in mind when you start seeing apartments with your agent/proprieter or through open houses don't be alarmed if the apartment is not as "orderly or clean" as you would like it to be, or there are no cabinets, and/or appliances (e.g., stove) included, this is the norm rather than the exception. The philosophy is that the new renters will "fix" it up as they wish, plus it boils down to the proprietor not wanting to add more money. So, demanding certain things to be done before moving, e.g., painting the apartment, is really up to the proprietor, and oftentimes it will be denied. Bottom line, if you don't rent it as is, someone else will, since there is no shortage of potential renters. Also, renting an unfurnished apartment in Paris is almost like owning it. Whatever you put in e.g., cabinets, stoves, refrigerators, etc., you can take with you when you move out. We know some American ex-pats that poured 40,000 euros into their kitchen, even though the apartment is a rental. I asked them why, and they said they couldn't live there unless they made it their "own". 
    • Rental laws: There are also very strict laws regarding evictions and "rent-control"; that's why the screening process is quite strict. Typically, if you are working, you need to earn gross 3 times the monthly rent. For example, if you rent an apartment for 1,000 euros you must earn a minimum 3,000 euros per month. Most young people don't make this kind of money, so they typically have their parents "guarantee" the rent; hence, if they default the "guarantor" pays for the rent. In case of ex-pats, they usually want a "cautionary" which means you not only have to pay a deposit, but you also have to pay e.g., 1-year rent in advance as good faith. Typically, after that cautionary period you can negotiate to pay monthly. Also, the laws prevent tenants from being evicted from the months of October through March, simply because it's winter. After all, they don't want you to be on the streets in the brutal cold.
    • Furnished vs. unfurnished: Since you'll just be starting off you have to make a decision whether or not you want to rent a furnished apartment or unfurnished. There are 2 rules governing renting apartments, furnished and un-furnished rental agreements e.g.,fixing things, which I'll explain later.  See the site for a comparative table, French property guide for more detail. Bottom-line, un-furnished rental agreements are usually renewed every 3-years and can only go up depending on specific calculations and the economy. In fact, many people's rent went down this year, because of the economy. And, furnished apartment agreements are renewable either every 6-months or a year, if you wish to have it for a year. Paris is definitely renter friendly, and there is no stigma being a renter versus an owner.
    • You're ready to move in: You've found the apartment, signed the agreement and are on your way. Something breaks down, what do you do? Maintenance is typically the responsibility of the renter in a long-term unfurnished apartment. For example, if your water heater is broken, it's your responsibility to have it fixed; if it's unfix-able, it's the responsibility of the proprietor to replace it. However, if you are in a furnished apartment, the proprietor is responsible for fixing things, even down to the appliances.  Read your "rental agreement" for specifics. Some apartments have collective heating and hot water which is free. None will have air conditioning, unless you rented a high-end apartment. Also keep in mind, electricity is extremely expensive in Paris, so if you have electrical heating boards, lower them at night or when you're not there, otherwise you'll be in for a very, very expensive surprise.
    • Move in day:  You got an unfurnished apartment, now it's time to move the furniture. If you hire a local moving company "déménagements"  no worries. They are used to moving furniture with small elevators or no elevators and in tight narrow staircases. In some instances, you may need to hire a company specializing in moving furniture by using a portable escalator through the windows. 
    Portable furniture escalator
    • Shipping from overseas:  If you ship your furniture from e.g., US, I'm told these companies work quite well and are extremely efficient. In fact, if you live on a narrow street, they'll cordon off the street to facilitate the moving process. 
    • Taxe d'habitation: By law you are required to pay taxes for that year if you were a resident in that apartment on January 1st of that same year. Hence, if you moved into the apartment in February, you are not required to pay taxes for that year. The taxes are based on a formula and varies. You must make it very clear with the proprietor that either they pay for it or you pay for it. If it is not paid, it can become a major problem with your residency status, not to mention the financial burden. Like any Tax department, they will assess penalties and late charges if it is not promptly paid.

    Generally speaking, when seeking out an un-furnished apartment you have to use your imagination, look at it as a standpoint of "having potential."  Also, if you find an apartment you like, grab it. If you don't, you'll miss an opportunity. Renting a furnished apartment for most foreigners is much easier, because of the shorter lease period and also the "cautionary" requirements. You can either pay 6 months to a year in advance, or have a bank guarantee you. Typically, the bank will demand that you have a year's worth of rent in one of their accounts as sort of security. On the bright side, it does earn interest.

    Recently, there's been a crack-down on short term rentals (vacation rentals) because of the lack of housing in Paris. It is suppose to be illegal for a resident to rent their apartment on a "short-term" basis, e.g., 1 week. A lot of Parisians and foreigners who own apartments do this, because short term rentals are extremely profitable. However, the laws states that the property must be zoned "commercial" which entails quite a bit of paperwork. Some proprietors are actually getting nervous and taking their apartments off the web listing for fear of being prosecuted. There is a great article about this problem in the New York Times.

    Congratulations! you're now a Parisian resident. Here are a few more things you should know about your new apartment:

    • The water is extremely calcified. Hence, you will need de-calcification products to use for your dishwashers, coffee makers, washing machines etc. based on manufacturers suggestions.
    •  Disposals do not exist. So, take caution emptying the strainer, and do not pour oil or small food particles through the pipes. Plumbers are extremely expensive, charging at minimum of 100 euros just for stepping through your door.
    • Washing machines can take up to 2 and half hours for a normal wash. In many cases, if you have a washer/dryer combo, the dryer portion is not as "robust" as we have in the US and you will need to line dry your clothes. In general, the Parisian do not believe in using dryers, because of the electric cost associated with it's usage. So you will need to purchase a portable clothes "line" dryer. However, you can buy efficient dryers similar to what we have in the US; however, since there is no venting to the outside, it has a water receptacle that needs to be emptied out after each use.
    • Parisians do not normally believe in air conditioners; however, you can buy a portable one. They're quite efficient, but tend to be noisy, since the compressor is built into the unit. 
    • Many showers have the hand-held type of showers which many Americans are not used to. You can request your landlord to have a wall mounter to place your shower head or, simply buy one, they're inexpensive.
    • By law, entry doors must be metallic, for security purposes as well as for fire. These doors can be extremely noisy, since they reverberate the noise from the hallway. Many French people cover the door with thick drapery for noise abatement, as well as for aesthetics.
    • If you have a gardienne, it's typical to give a "holiday" gift card anytime in January with some euros enclosed, usually around 50 euros, more if they've been especially helpful e.g., water your plants if you've been away.
    • Dual wattage (110/220) electrical appliances, media hardware etc. work well in France, all you need is a plug adapter. However, 110 appliances, especially with rotary engines (e.g., blender) tend to burn out even when using a transformer.
    • Since most buildings are quite old, electrical outlets are not as plentiful as they are in the US. Be careful not to overload a circuit, or you will blow a fuse.
    • Some rentals have "caves" a basement storage area. They're usually targets for thieves, so make sure they're secure. In addition, they can be quite damp or even wet after a rain storm, so be careful what you store there. Some apartment buildings also have problems with rodents, which is very common in Paris, so I do not suggest storing food in the cave.
    • Like any big cities, regardless whether you have a secured entry or a gardienne, always, always lock your doors and windows when you are gone, as well as window shutters. Burglaries are not uncommon.
    • Most refrigerators are not frost free. So a throwback to the 50's-60's, you will need to defrost your freezer regularly in order for your machine to run efficiently. Also, many apartments that supply refrigerators will tend to be very small refrigerators.
    • Some apartments will have gas stove tops and some will have the electric induction stove top, the latter is becoming more popular, and more common as gas stove tops are being phased out to mitigate fires.  Be forewarned, the induction stove tops will only work with metallic pans. To test the right pans, simply use a magnet. If the magnet sticks to the pan, then it will work on induction stove tops.
    • Paris does recycle their garbage. Green is for trash, and yellow is for recyclables (glasses, aluminum etc.)
    Although I did not go into the technical detail of renting a long term apartment, since I'm not a lawyer nor a Notaire, there are so many web sites that can provide you this information, e.g. French property.com. I simply wanted to give you a general overview of what I know.

    Happy hunting, and bonne chance!


      1. Great article Randy.
        Because I have a vacation rental apartment in the 15th, and was concerned about the law in question, I've done a little research. Apparently to be 'legal' I need to get permission from my co-proprietée and then go to the prefecture dew police and get a permit.. I will also need to pay a one euro tax to the Govt per rental night. It doesn't seem so harsh compared to the 40,000 Euro fine if you get busted!

      2. This is a great guide and perfect for those who "dream" to live in France/Paris one day. I wish there was a guide like this when I moved to Italy. It would have saved me a lot of frustration!

        Thanks Randy!

      3. What a great post RD. I wish I needed all that info but SIGH, guess short term leasing is all I'll ever do. I'm saving it just in case you dig up a suitable suitor pour moi! You are still working on that, oui??

      4. This is so useful. I have been reading dozens of Paris blogs, and yours is by far the most useful and objective. I really appreciate it.

        I'm just wondering how you got your carte de sejour to stay in Paris for a long period of time?

        And are there ANY jobs for Americans over there? I'm a 22-year-old college graduate with a degree in Psychology. I speak Mandarin and English fluently; I am more or less conversationally fluent in French.

        Like Virginia up there, I would also love to meet a Frenchman lol. I'm from San Jose, CA and I notice you are from SF; any places to meet Frenchmen there? ;)

        If you wish to respond privately, my email is: letthatfeverplay@gmail.com

        Thanks. Keep up the great posts.

      5. so... if you don't have a work contract or a guarantor... how do you FIND an apartment in Paris....?

        1. Anyone can get a vacation "short-term" apartment without a guarantor or a working contract. In fact, this solution is the easiest. And, many of these so-called short-term "vacation" rentals can actually be rented on a year-to-year lease. However, you still have to pay the "cautionary" as I mentioned above, but this can be renegotiated after 6-months or a year. Only problem is they're furnished, which oftentimes are not great. I have friends who've actually made arrangements with the landlord to take out the furniture so they can furnished as they wish, but the contract will say furnished, primarily because of the French laws (see above).

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      9. I wish I had seen your blog before moving to Paris. Your advice is spot-on and very helpful!

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      22. Hi Randy, Thanks so much for your website- it's been a huge help for me moving to Paris. I have a question though- if my income (which is a good one) comes from abroad, and I do have a landlord reference from the past here in Paris and a French bank account, will they still generally want you to pay upfront for a whole year? I'm not a tax resident in France because I don't spend enough time here.

        1. Hi Joseph, thanks for your kind words. I wish I had a straight answer for you, but I don’t. As you probably figured out already, C’EST DEPEND is the only phrase I can think of. It depends who you deal with, and how convincing you are that you are a good risk. I have a good friend who is German, he is paid out of Germany, but lives in Paris because he travels 90% of the time and he just wanted to live here. He pays no taxes here either. He tried renting through an agency and found that they don’t bend rules, but sometimes they’ll let yo speak directly to the owner. And, in his case he schmoozed with the owner to convince him to only pay the security and one month rent in advance (he’s in sales), which he could use for final rental. And, he got the apartment.

          So, my advise to you is to try and talk directly to the owner, and there are actual sites online where you deal directly with the owner. I think this site is one of them http://www.pap.fr/ . I also have another friend that did it through word of mouth. Ask friends if they know someone; unfortunately, I don’t, but I do know people who have friends of friends etc., and you know how that goes.

          Good luck, let me know how it goes…

      23. Great blog You can search on your own by going through various sites like De Particulier a Particulier, or Fusac with the latter being a magazine catering to English speaking ex-pats with lots of information about available apartments, etc.Thanks for sharing.......

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