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Nine things to expect when renting an apartment in France

While sprawling stone houses - or even the odd chateau - are the norm in the French countryside, in the cities it's all about apartments. But the French rental system may be very different to what you're used to.

Nine things to expect when renting an apartment in France

Of course all countries have their own system when it comes to property, but the French market has its own idiosyncrasies which can catch out foreign tenants. So here are some of the things you need to be aware of when renting an apartment in France.

1. Dossier

Before you even start looking at adverts you will need to prepare a dossier that includes proof of identity, financial situation, bank details, work situation and proof of your current address. Whereas in the UK it’s more common for landlords or agencies to accept your offer first, then start doing financial checks, in France it’s the other way round. Many agencies won’t even let you view an apartment unless you have provided a dossier proving that you are an upstanding citizen of sound financial prospects.

This is particularly the case in Paris where the property market is generally insane – more people than available apartments means that prices are high and landlords can afford to be very picky.

The dossier can be a particular problem to foreigners moving to France for the first time who might not have either a French bank account or a permanent work contract. You may well have to provide a financial guarantor and they must also be prepared to create a dossier of documents.

READ ALSO 10 things to know about apartment hunting in Paris

However the process has become slightly simpler with an new online platform, dossier facile (easy folder), which tenants can upload their dossiers for landlords to check. Read about it works HERE.

2. Your rights

But one of the reasons that landlords are very particular about checking you out before you move in is because once you have a tenancy, you have a lot of rights guaranteed. Your landlord can’t hike your rent or ask your to leave before your contract is up – although you have the right to leave any time through your contract provided you give notice.

And even if you just stop paying the rent, your landlord can only evict you in summer, thanks to the trève hivernale law.

READ ALSO Renting in France: Know your rights as a tenant

3. Bills

Utility bills are generally not included in the rent.

You set these accounts up yourself, which is actually quite handy because many bureaucratic tasks in France require proof of address and a recent utility bill is one of the few officially accepted forms of this.

If you live in an apartment block you are likely to also pay the charge – this is for the upkeep of any communal areas and also contributes to the salary of the building’s guardienne/concierge if it has one.

4. Decorating

Once you are installed the apartment is your place and you are entitled to make it homely. Unlike some anglophone countries where even hanging a picture on the wall is outlawed, in France you can redecorate to your taste.

Many French families rent apartments for years and never purchase, so it’s much more normal to treat the place as your own.

There are some restrictions on this – anything structural, for example knocking through a wall, requires the permission of your landlord and it is generally expected that you will hand it back in a similar condition. So painting all the walls black and putting mirrors on every ceiling is fine, as long as you reverse your DIY efforts and repaint it before you leave, otherwise you will probably face losing your deposit.

5. Smoking

While many UK and US landlords include clauses in the contract forbidding smoking or pets in the apartment, these are much less common in France, so unless it’s specifically mentioned in your contact feel free to buy a Poodle and chain-smoke Gaulouises.

6. Repairs

The flip side of treating your home as your own is that you’re responsible for a lot more repairs. While in other countries it is normal to ring the landlord or rental agency every time something breaks, in France you will be expected to deal with a lot of that yourself.

The law says that your landlord must keep your apartment in a habitable condition – so if something major breaks like the heating, that is their responsibility. But more minor repairs, plumbing leaks or anything that doesn’t stem from neglect from the landlord is your responsibility to sort out. 

Being able to catch a glimpse of Paris’ most famous monument from your window adds several hundred euro to the rent. Photo: AFP

7. Plumbing

Speaking of leaks, be prepared for plumbing emergencies.

Many of France’s beautiful historic buildings that visitors swoon over also have historic plumbing, so the sight of water pouring through your ceiling (or angry shouts from your downstairs neighbour as water pours through their ceiling) are not unusual.

Not usually such a problem in modern buildings, which is something to bear in mind when you are apartment hunting – do you want romance, history and atmosphere or a toilet you can flush without causing a flood?

8. Elevator/air conditioning

Historic buildings tend not to have lifts either and, particularly in Paris, blocks four or five stories high with no elevator are common. Many of the elevators that do exist are tiny – squeezed in to a historic stairwell at a later date – and generally more used for goods than people. On the plus side, you’ll acquire good thigh muscles if you get a place on the fifth floor with no elevator.

Americans are also often shocked at the lack of air conditioning. The vast majority of residential buildings in France do not have air con.

What they do have are shutters to keep out the heat and – particularly in the south – thick walls and narrow streets to keep things cool and shady.

Don’t waste time searching for the air con controls, just buy a fan. Photo: AFP

9. Heating turned on

And it’s not just summer that causes problems – in some apartment buildings the heating is communal and it’s up to the tenants’ committee to decide when it’s turned on. So if you feel the cold you may just need to buy some extra sweaters.

French vocab

Dossier – the collection of paperwork you need to show landlords

Pièce – room. This is not the same as a bedroom (une chambre) so an apartment of une pièce is a one-room studio apartment, not a one-bedroom apartment

Cuisine separée/cuisine ouverte – kitchen in a separate room or an open plan living/kitchen area (in some cheaper apartments this basically means a sink and hotplate stuck in the corner of the living room)

Mètres carrés – metres squared. Since we’re metric all apartments are measured in square metres and in Paris in particular it’s not unusual for someone to ask you combien de mètres carrés? if you mentioned your apartment. They’re basically asking you how big it is.

Ascenseur – elevator/lift. Is this isn’t mentioned in the advert, assume the building doesn’t have one

Climatisation – air conditioning (dream on)

Charge – the building charge. This can vary from €50 a year to several hundred, so you will need to factor it in to your financial calculations

A louer – to rent. If it’s for sale the sign will say à vendre

Meublé/non meublé – furnished/unfurnished. Unfurnished apartments are the most common, particularly non studios. 

Propriétaire – landlord or owner

Locataire – tenant. If you are in a shared apartments your flatmates/roomates are your colocataires or colocs.

Member comments

  1. You forgot about the part on the dossier where the financial guarantor needs to be a french person, not a foreigner. Normally if you’re moving over here to work for a company the company will agree to be the guarantor the first time, but after that you may be screwed. And while you normally need to be able to prove that you make 3x the rent every month in salary (or at least have that much in the bank), the guarantor has to be able to prove that they make 5x the rent every month.

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For members


So you want to Airbnb your French property during the Olympics?

The 2023 Rugby World Cup in France and the 2024 Paris Olympics have got many people wondering about whether they could earn some extra cash renting out their homes to sports-mad tourists - but it's important not to fall foul or local rules on registration and taxes.

So you want to Airbnb your French property during the Olympics?

There’s no doubt that both big sporting events have the potential to be a holiday-let money-spinner – especially the Olympics when 10 million people are expected to come to Paris during the Games.

If you own property in France – either a main home or second home – you are entitled to rent it out on a short let – whether that is arranged directly or via a rental platform such as Airbnb. But there are things you should know – such as whether you need to register with local authorities, and pay tax on your earnings.

Register your home with local authorities

Most towns and cities in France now have a registration procedure for any person who wants to rent out an entire property as furnished accommodation for tourists (as opposed to renting your spare room while you remain in the property).

Under French law, homeowners can sub-let their main residence as a short-term let for a maximum of 120 days a year and must seek permission from the local authority to do so. 

So anyone wishing to list their French property on Airbnb will likely need to first register it with the authorities and include it on your Airbnb listing before you start hosting – check with your mairie for the exact requirements in your area.

This procedure is free and only takes a few minutes to complete

NB: If you’re a tenant, you will need written permission from your landlord if you plan to sublet your rented property, otherwise, you’ll get into legal bother and could face a big fine, as well as being made to hand over any earnings to your landlord.

If you’re renting your property in Paris, you can’t legally sublet at all – this doesn’t mean that people don’t do it, of course, but be aware that if you’re renting something as a sublet you have very few rights since it’s likely an unofficial sublet. 

Likewise, if you live in social housing, furnished tourist rental is strictly forbidden: as well as financial penalties, you can have your rental contract terminated. So, don’t do it.

Second homes

A second home for Airbnb-registration purposes is classed a place where you live for less than four months a year. You can rent it all year long provided you’ve declared your rental activity to the city. Some cities and neighbourhoods require permission to use your secondary home as a tourist rental. You can get permission for change of use from your local city hall.

Some areas with a housing shortage have stricter local rules – for example it is illegal to offer a second home in Paris for rent on the popular site. Do so, and you risk a fine of €50,000 per room.

Renting a room

If you intend to rent out a room in your property while you remain on site, this is not considered “furnished tourist accommodation”.

You can therefore rent a room in your main residence without any time limit. But you should still register it with local authorities.

Local regulations

In fact, it is important to be aware of local rules, which may add additional layers of bureaucracy – Paris is particularly strict (Airbnb said it automatically limits rentals on its site to 120 days in central Paris and the government has announced plans to fine the site for publishing listings not properly registered with the local authorities). 

READ ALSO Paris ‘rent police’ crack down on illegal holiday lets in city

The Airbnb website has a handy breakdown of the rules for numerous French towns and cities, with links to local regulations here.


Taxable earnings

Income from renting property on Airbnb may be declarable and taxable as micro-BIC income – which means you’ll need to properly register your Airbnb ‘business’ and get a Siret number. Handily, Airbnb offers a guide to what taxes you need to consider if renting out a property in France. It’s here (pdf).

As a general rule, income from holiday letting your property should be declared for tax, but income from occasionally renting out part of your main residence is exempt from tax and does not have to be declared as long as the amount earned is less than €760 per year.

Don’t think, however, you can get away with not declaring your income. Airbnb sends rental details directly to the taxman, which will be cross-checked against your declarations. 

If you’re a second-home owner and live in another country you will likely not make the annual income tax declaration in France – however, if you start to earn money by Airbnb renting your property this means that you now have income in France, and may therefore have to begin making annual tax declarations in France.

READ ALSO Who has to fill in the annual French income tax declaration

Taxe de séjour

Income tax is not the end of it. Numerous French cities have an agreement with Airbnb to collect the tourist tax – taxe de séjour – which means that Airbnb properties in the capital are now classed under the rental category of furnished lets or meublés touristiques non-classés

That, in turn, means that Airbnb adds up to €4.40 per person per night to the cost of a stay. Taxe de séjour levels for towns and cities across France are available here, but this tax is dealt with entirely by Airbnb.

Added tax on second homes

Many areas popular with tourists are suffering from a housing shortage for locals. In a bid to combat this, a number of communes have taken advantage of a law that allows them to impose a surtaxe de la taxe d’habitation which can amount to an extra 60 percent on part of the tax.

READ ALSO Local authorities in France get power to crack down on Airbnb rentals