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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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MAP: Where in France can you buy property for less than €100k?

While French cities such as Paris are notoriously expensive, there are many areas outside the cities where it is still possible to buy spacious homes for less than €100,000 - particularly if you don't mind a bit of renovation.

MAP: Where in France can you buy property for less than €100k?

We decided to look at where in France you could afford a property on a budget of €100,000, and it turns out there are some bargains to be had.

There are a lot of caveats while searching for property, and many local variables in place, but our search does show some of the areas to concentrate on if you have a limited budget.

We used the Notaires de France immobilier website in August 2022, and we specified that the property should have at least five rooms (including kitchen and bathroom) and a floor space of at least 100 square metres.

We also discounted any property that was for sale under the viager system – a complicated purchase method which allows the resident to release equity on their property gradually, as the buyer puts down a lump sum in advance and then pays what is effectively a rent for the rest of the seller’s lifetime, while allowing them to remain in the property.

READ ALSO Viager: The French property system that can lead to a bargain

For a five-room, 100 square metre property at under €100,000, you won’t find anywhere in the Île-de-France region, where the proximity of Paris pushes up property prices. The city itself is famously expensive, but much of the greater Paris region is within commuting distance, which means pricier property. 

Equally the island of Corsica – where prices are pushed up by its popularity as a tourist destination – showed no properties for sale while the region of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur – which includes the French Riviera – showed only 1 property under €100,000.

The very presence of Bordeaux, meanwhile, takes the entire département of Gironde out of this equation – but that doesn’t mean that the southwest is completely out of the running. A total of 25 properties came up in the Nouvelle Aquitaine region. One property was on the market for a mere €20,000 – but it was, as the Notaires’ brochure noted, in need of “complete renovation”.

Neighbouring Occitanie, meanwhile, showed 12 further properties in the bracket.

By far the most properties on the day of our search – 67 – were to be found in the Grand Est region of eastern France. The eastern part of France overall comes out best for property bargains, with the north-east region of Hauts-de-France showing 38 properties and and Bourgogne-Franche-Comté displaying 25.

Further south, however, the presence of the Alps – another popular tourist destination – pushed up prices in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region which showed just three results.

The below map shows our search results, with darker colours indicating more cheap properties.

Property buying tips 

In order to make a comparison, we focused our search on properties advertised online, but if you have a specific area in mind it's well worth making friends with a few local real estate agents and perhaps also the mayor, since it's common for properties not to be advertised online.

Most of the truly 'bargain' properties are described as being "in need of renovation" - which is real estate speak for a complete wreck.

If you don't mind doing a bit of work you can often pick up property for low prices, but you need to do a clear-eyed assessment of exactly how much work you are willing and able to do, and what the cost is likely to be - there's no point getting a "cheap" house and then spending three times the purchase price on renovations.

READ ALSO 'Double your budget and make friends with the mayor' - tips for French property renovation

That said, there were plenty of properties at or near the €100,000 mark that were perfectly liveable or needed only relatively minor renovations.

You also need to pay attention to the location, as the sub-€100,000 properties are often in remote areas or very small villages with limited access to amenities. While this lifestyle suits many people, bear in mind that owning a car is a requirement and you may end up paying extra for certain services.

Finally remember that government help, in the form of loans and grants, is available for environmentally friendly improvements, such as insulation or glazing.