Congratulations! You’re ready to start apartment hunting in Paris. It may seem obvious, but before you start looking, you need to figure out what exactly it is you’re looking for.
Location, location, location. Most people usually have a general idea about where they want to live, choosing, for example, the chic quality of the 5th or the 6th arrondissement, the bohemian 20th, the up-and-coming 10th or the low budget 18th and 19th? It is a good idea to visit your target quartier at different times of the day, in order to get a feel for the neighborhood and whether or not you think you’d feel comfortable and safe living there.
Apartment essentials. Make a list of what you are looking for in an apartment. With competition for apartments high, the chances that you will find THE perfect apartment are slim. So make sure you know which items on your list are absolute must-haves and which you might be willing to give up Would you take a 6th floor walk-up if it had everything else on your list? Or would you be willing to consider a smaller apartment if it was exactly where you wanted to live? Items to consider include overall size, number of bedrooms, storage space, access to sunlight, modernity of bathrooms, and the amount of work needed to get the apartment up to your standards.
Pay attention to the calendar. August is generally the most difficult time to look for an apartment because many agencies shut down for the month and the owners are typically on vacation. That said, September and October are often the most competitive because of all the students looking for housing. May and June are usually good months because the school year is almost over and a lot of people are moving out.
Assemble your dossier. While there is no standard list of items to include in a dossier, plan on pulling together these items:
- a copy of your ID card or your passport;
- a copy of your work contract specifying type and length as well as date of hire;
- a letter from your employer stating you are currently employed there;
- your last three pay slips (as a general rule, they like you to earn at least three times your rent);
- your last two tax returns;
- your last electricity bill which provides proof of address;
- proof you’ve paid your rent for the last three months; and
- relevé d’identité bancaire (RIB) which provides your banking details.
Finally, French law requires that you show proof of housing insurance. Common events covered by this insurance includes: a percentage of capital and valuables; legal costs incurred when personally liable or when claiming against a third party; civil liability; fire; explosion and related risks; weather-related risks (water damage); attacks on the building and acts of God; theft and vandalism to set amounts; broken windows.
If you’re just moving to France and you have a package of benefits provided by your employer that includes housing, a letter of attestation from your employer that your salary and benefits are sufficient to cover the rent may take the place of some of these documents.
Why so many documents? French law makes it extremely difficult for owners to remove tenants thus the owner is almost always going to pick the safest bet. As a foreigner, you are probably not considered the safest bet. Thus you will want to do everything in your power to show that they will not be taking a risk by renting to you. This could include writing a letter as to why you think you are the perfect locataire for this apartment. Or if you have already rented in France, you could ask your previous landlord if they would write a letter vouching for you.
And what’s this garant I keep hearing about? Because it’s so hard to kick someone out of an apartment, many landlords will ask you for a garant, or a co-signor, that is, someone in France who will agree to pay your rent in the case you don’t. This can also be called a caution solidaire. If you have a salary at least three times the monthly rent, a garant may not be required. Given astronomically high rents in Paris, this can be tough. In that case, there are a few options to secure a garant even if you know next to no one. One is to ask your bank to be your garant. This usually involves you putting at least one year’s rent into an account. (Yikes, I know). Second, if you are employed by a French company, check with your comité d’entreprise. Many have lending schemes to help their employees with this exact problem. Finally, you may want to consider using something called Garantie Loca-Pass, in which this particular company will act as your garant. Be warned though that not all agencies or owners accept this method.
Starting the search. There are several ways to go about finding an apartment. You can go through a rental agency, find something online, or try the word-of-mouth method.
Rental agencies (see below) have the advantage of having someone else do the hunting for you. Don’t get me wrong, you’ll still have to go from agency to agency (and maybe on several occasions), but at least a lot of the legwork will have been done for you. While the charges are high (usually the equivalent of one month’s rent), you may find it to be worth it if your phone French isn’t that great or you don’t have a ton of time to find a place. Keep in mind that a rental agent who has taken a liking to you can also put in a good word for you with the owner.
Given the high cost of going through a rental agency, the market for online rentals (see list below) is quite competitive. You may have heard horror stories of people calling 10 minutes after an ad was posted only to find out it had already been rented. Or showing up to visit an apartment only to find out there are 40 other people there, all with dossiers a million times better than yours.
So what can you do? My best advice is to look early and look often. Most Web sites offer an alerte email service that allows you to enter your criteria and receive an e-mail whenever a corresponding ad is posted. Take note that some of these sites send out e-mails once per day or once per week, which means the good apartments will be long gone by the time you come across them.
The word-of-mouth method is probably the cheapest method, but also the hardest, especially for new arrivals who don’t have a network in France. There are a few ways to go about it though – you could consider posting ads on the various expat forums, contacting some of the more well-known expat groups (such as Message), or stopping by the American Church in Paris on a regular basis. It may not be the easiest place to get to, but the ACP has a bilingual bulletin board that is updated daily around 2pm with new housing offers. Along the same vein, you can also try the American Cathedral in Paris.
Another tip is to take a look in the local bakery or supermarket when you’re buying that fresh baguette. The people who work in these places are often aware of available apartments in the area, or will at least allow owners to put up an ad near the door.
Okay, my dossier is finally ready. Bring on the visits! Here are some questions to ask the agent or owner, either before or during the visit.
- How much is the deposit?
- How much is the rent?
- Are there any monthly building charges on top of the rent?
- What kind of heating does the apartment have?
- Do you have an idea of how much the last renter paid for electricity? Gas? Water?
- How much is the taxe d’habitation (an annual housing tax)?
- Will I be reimbursed for any improvements made? (paint, etc.)
- Do you accept pets?
- What floor is it on? Is there an elevator?
- Does it include any appliances?
- What kind of storage does it have?
- Is there are parking spot or a cave (a basement storage space, typically with a dirt floor)?
- Does the apartment appear to be clean and well-maintained?
- If there is a hot water heater, are you expected to pay for annual maintenance?
- What is the water pressure like? (Test this one yourself!)
- What kind of light does it get?
- How secure is the building? Is there a concierge?
- What are the nearby methods of transportation?
- Where is the closest grocery store/post office/pharmacy?
- If you have children, what are the neighborhood schools like?
Signing the lease: The first thing to do is to celebrate! (Actually, maybe you shouldn’t celebrate until you have the keys in your hand…). So go in and sign that contract but first check the fine print. The lease agreement must include the following:
- the owner’s name and address and that of their agent (if using an agency);
- a description of the property (number of rooms, garage, garden, cellar);
- the date on which the contract starts;
- the duration of the contract;
- amount of the deposit;
- rental amount and terms of revision/increase; and
- declaration of common areas.
The owners are also required to provide you with a copy of the DPE (diagnostic de performance énergétique), the building’s energy performance report. This report details the energy efficiency of the building, as well as the risk of exposure to lead poisoning.
Note that the average contract length for an unfurnished rental is three years. You don’t necessarily need to stay for the entire three years, but if you leave early, you must give at least three months’ notice by registered mail. The three month period is reduced to one month if you lose your job and can no longer afford the apartment, or if you have to move to another region or country for your job.
As for how to pay, most places will give you the choice between paying by check every month or paying by direct withdrawal. If you prefer the latter, make sure you have either already given them your RIB or that you come equipped with one to the meeting.
L’état des lieux: The next step is the état des lieux, literally meaning “the state of the place”. And what an important step this is. During the état des lieux, you will go over the apartment with a fine toothed comb. It is in your best interest to point out even the smallest defects because if they’re not noted when you move in, they might be when you move out and you will be held responsible. So go ahead and point out every single hole in the wall, cracks in the paint or scratches on the floor or windows. Prepared renters will come armed with a camera in order to have physical proof of the apartment’s condition when they moved in. You may also want to bring your phone charger so that you can test all of the outlets. And don’t forget to make sure the water faucets and the shower work, as well as the heaters if possible.
One thing to note is that the état des lieux can be amended after you move in if you happen to notice other things not initially noted. This must be sent by registered mail however, and the sooner the better!
Once that’s accomplished, you’re finally ready to move in. Stay tuned for Part II in which we provide tips on moving and all the additional steps involved in making your rental your home.
English Language Sources for Rental Ads
AngloInfo: Mostly short-term rentals, although you can sometimes find longer term rentals on this site
Craig’s List: A word of caution about Craig’s List. There are some legitimate deals to be had here, but also scams a plenty. Be wary of any ad offering to mail you the keys after you send them a wire transfer.
FUSAC: Not all of the ads are listed online, so pick-up a hard copy if you want access to all of the housing offers.
Other Sites with Real Estate Announcements
Appartager: For people looking for roommates
De Particulier a Particulier : Rentals by owner
For Students and Interns in Paris
Centre d’Information et de Documentation Jeunesse
Centre Régional des Oeuvres Universitaires et Scolaires de Paris (CROUS)
Centres Internationaux de Séjour de Paris
|F1, F2, T1, T2
||F stands for houses, T stands for apartments. The number equates to a living room PLUS the number of bedrooms (that is, the kitchen and bathrooms are not counted). For example, T3 would be a two bedroom apartment
||A Louer; Location offre
||For rent by owner
||Renter / lessee
||Depôt de garantie
||Includes building charges (and sometimes garbage removal fees or water)
||Luxury apartment or home
||Salle de bain
||Bathroom, usually with a tub
||Bathroom with shower only
||Small room with just a toilet, sometimes a sink
||Kitchen has cupboards and countertops
||Kitchen has some appliances, such as stove or refrigerator
||Kitchen opens out onto the living area
||Wine cellar area in basement, typically with dirt floor
||Chambre de bonne
||Maid’s room (typically on a separate floor)
||First floor (USA), Ground floor (UK)
||Second floor (USA), First floor (UK)
||Third floor (USA), Second floor (UK)
Ksam never really had any desire to live in France, but seven years on and she’s still here. If you catch her on a good day, she may even admit she likes it. (Moving from Brittany to Paris helped). She splits her time between traveling around France for her very-random-yet-enjoyable job and her apartment in the 15th. You can follow her adventures at Totally Frenched Out.