Living in France
The first step is invariably the most difficult, and the most common question is simply "where do I begin?" There are plenty of resources in Paris, but many can be somewhat daunting, especially if you are not entirely comfortable speaking French. The American Church is an excellent starting point, with new listings of apartment rentals every day. Another place to look is the magazine FUSAC, with classified ads devoted to Anglophones, which comes out every two weeks. Also, be sure to check out our accommodation adverts on parisfranceguide.com. Dont be afraid to call French ads and ask: Parlez-vous anglais? You will find that many people in Paris do speak a little English, and while they may feel uncomfortable, it might be enough to arrange a rental contract. Typically, your landlord (propriétaire) will ask that you show a passport or national identity card (carte didentité), proof of income that must be at least three-four times the rent each month (for students a signed letter from your parents or institution will suffice), first and last months rent in advance, and a security deposit that is usually equal to one months rent (although can sometimes be as high as six). It is also expected that you will have a bank account in France.
While this is certainly not the cheapest way to go, it could save you lots of time and worry. There are tons of agencies in Paris, and they often advertise in the classifieds with other listings (if the phone number in the ad is accompanied by the word agence, you know it is an agency listing). Typically an agency will charge at least the equivalent of a months rent for their services, and sometimes there is even a monthly agency fee included in your rent! Recently, an American girl studying in Paris was asked to leave a 10,000 FF deposit with an agency for the duration of her rental contract. Whats more, she did not realize what they wanted until after she had signed, making it difficult to negotiate the amount. Always make sure that you understand something before signing, even if it means asking a friend to help you out.
This is someone that you definitely want to be on good terms with, even though it might be difficult from time to time. Whether or not the reputation holds true in each individual case, Parisian landlords have been known to be as uninvolved as possible regarding repairs and upkeep. Sometimes they are never home to answer your questions, and other times they are constantly wanting to come over and do something to the apartment (or just see how you are treating it). This is something that you have to put up with, even though it can be a pain.
There are all kinds of laws that precisely define the responsibilities of both renter and landlord, but they are applied only when there are major disagreement between both parties. Hopefully, of course, your relationship with your landlord will run smoothly and you will be able to work out disagreements on your own. But if you cant seem to reach an understanding, you can go to the marie of your arrondissement (town hall for your district), find out about the specifics of the laws, and even take action against your landlord. On the whole, renters rights in France are quite good, and if your complaint is reasonable, the law is usually on your side. If you have questions, go to your marie and ask -- they will inform you of the laws that pertain exactly to your situation.
Your landlord cannot legally raise your rent for the duration of your rental contract. He does have the right to raise it in the renewal of your contract, but he is also required to tell you six months in advance! Barring this rare move, your rent will not be raised while you live in your apartment. And in order raise your rent at all, he must prove that your rent is under-evaluated, which puts the renter in a better position. If there is a real problem with your apartment, dont simply stop paying the rent in order to take a stand. Most contracts have a stipulation where, according to the law, you can be evicted after more than two months without rent.
Furnished vs. Unfurnished
Lots of apartments in Paris are furnished (meublé). This raises the rent slightly, but can save you a lot of time and money if you are not staying in Paris for long, or you dont want to deal with the hassle of moving a lot of things at once. Usually, furnished apartments come equipped with the bare necessities, to which you will probably wish to add a few odds and ends, and of course, the more you pay, the nicer the furniture. A warning: if you plan on staying a while, be aware that renting a furnished apartment means that you will be stuck with the furniture as long as you are in the apartment. Also, the more furniture there is, the more that can break, and you may end up losing a bit of your deposit. There are not as many laws to protect renters from money-grubbing landlords, as the rental contract is invariably more complex with furniture involved. But sometimes you just dont want to buy that fridge, stove, bed, or table when you have just arrived, and a furnished apartment can be the solution to your problems.
When you move in, your landlord will walk you through all of the items, which should be individually recorded on a list. Both you and your landlord will sign this list, and when you move out the contents of the apartment will be compared with the list. If something breaks (on its own) or you notice a flaw in a piece of furniture, inform your landlord immediately so that your observation can be added to the list. Dont expect him to be forgiving of a broken coffee cup, some landlords want to be reimbursed for everything.
Electricity, Gas, and Phone
The Electric and Gas company is called EDF-GDF, and they are quite reasonable in their prices and very pleasant to deal with. At least once a year they will need to come into your apartment to read the metres, but other than that they should be of no bother. France Telecom, the national phone company, is not quite as efficient. Actually, they are not even close. The bills that they send are complex and confusing, and they lack basic organizational skills. An American student living in Paris accidentally sent his bill to the wrong France Telecom office, and they cashed the check, but held the money and did not credit his account. It took him almost six months and ten trips to their office to clear up the matter and get his money back! Many people in Paris have given up on fixed phones and just use cellular, especially if they dont spend a lot of time at home.
Roommates, Noise, and Parties
While some people just put the name of one renter on the contract, it is a better idea to inform your landlord of all the people who are permanently living in the apartment. In the case of separation, it is the roommates responsibility to find another and divide the deposit. For married couples, it is expected that the landlord be informed of the marriage, even if it takes place after the couple moves in. But dont feel like you are not entitled to your privacy either. Even if you live in a single room where only one person is allowed to reside legally, you can still let people stay over without being obliged to tell the landlord anything -- the only stipulation is that they are not allowed to give you money for rent.
It is legal to make a reasonable amount of noise between 10 and 22h on weekdays and 12h to 24h on weekends, but that does not mean that your neighbours will not get upset. What you can get away with depends on your neighborhood--the places that are young and trendy are also more tolerant regarding noise at strange hours, but they can also be loud all the time. On the flipside, quiet neighbourhoods whose inhabitants are more professional are silent after 21h. Having the police called because of noise is very rare; the more common reaction of your neighbours will be to dislike you until the end of time, which is not a whole lot of fun either. But usually any bad feelings can be easily avoided by telling your neighbours in advance when you plan to have a party by dropping notes in their mailboxes.
Rental insurance is required by law, but it is not very expensive. Believe it or not, this insurance could be one of the most useful things that you buy in Paris, because many buildings are quite old and in need of upkeep. Your landlord will have his/her own insurance, but may be reluctant to use it if you can use yours. The renters insurance covers fire, water damage, and problems that would arise from the renter. The landlords insurance should cover damages caused by things outside your control. Your insurance might also cover break-ins and theft. While most Parisian buildings have at least door code and veritable iron bolts that serve as locks, some people still get robbed. One guy who has lived in Paris for three years has been robbed once a year. Perhaps he just has bad luck, but it is still a huge bother, and it took him two thefts to finally get insurance that covers break-ins. Fortunately, the third times a charm, and he easily got reimbursed for the stuff that the thieves took.
It is required by law that the renter give three months notice before moving out. In some rare cases such as sudden unemployment, injury, or relocation, the renter is allowed to leave with one months advance notice. However, if you are on good terms with your landlord, it is not likely that he/she will take you to court if you dont give exactly three months. If you are nearing the end of your contract and you dont plan on returning, then there should be no problems. But if you want to leave before the end, you will probably be expected to find someone to take over your contract, or else be expected to keep paying. One girl with a centrally located apartment was able to find a replacement in two days, but if you dont have a place in a desirable neighbourhood, you can probably expect more of a wait. Also, in this situation you have no say in the amount of rent that is charged -- you are basically doing your landlords job for him.
When you leave, you must return the apartment to the condition that it was in when you moved in, or as close as you can get. You must inform the Electric/Gas company (EDF-GDF) and France Telecom at least on month before you move.
This is something that is not necessarily possible, it tends to be case-sensitive. If you can do it, it is not legal to charge anything higher than the rent that you pay--if you want to rent just one room, the you must charge according to the ratio of square metres in that room to the whole apartment. It is advisable to have a contract with whoever is sub-letting from you, although it is not required by law. With a contract, however, your tenant cannot legally leave without paying rent. If you move, the sub-let must end with your stay in the apartment. Of course you are allowed to let friends and family stay with you without declaring them as sub-letters.
All major repairs are the responsibility of the landlord, as French law states that the propriétaire must fix all justifiable problems while the contract it is in effect. The terms are loose, but if you think that your apartment has a large flaw that you are not responsible for, usually you are within your rights in demanding that it be fixed. Even some smaller damages can fall under this category, but if you break a window, dont expect your landlord to help you out. If something happens to your apartment and it must be fixed, the first thing to do is to talk to your landlord and figure out whose responsibility it is. Then you have to call someone to make the repairs, and sometimes this can take up a whole day. Of course if it is a serious problem that requires immediate attention (like a flooded kitchen or a plumbing problem), call a repair company immediately and worry about the responsibility later. Unfortunately, if the problem is serious, it is usually your fault.
The renter is responsible for most damages that involve normal wear and tear such as plumbing and electricity. If the carpets are really worn when you leave, you may be asked to either replace them, or pay for their replacement. If you have heating that functions independently of the rest of the building, and this it is the trend in building renovation, then you can be responsible if it does not work, depending on the problem. Many Parisian buildings, especially older ones, still have centrally controlled heating, which means that all of the radiators are activated or deactivated for the entire building. Clearly, if you rent your apartment in the summer, the condition of the heat it is something that you will not be able to check upon moving in. If fall rolls around and your heat it is not functioning properly, your landlord it is solely responsible for this work, under French law. Some single rooms (chambres de bonne) have heat that is connected to a larger apartment, usually downstairs. If you run into a situation like this, be aware that when your landlords heat is not on, neither is yours. One girl has said that when her landlord goes to sleep at 9:00 pm, her heat is turned off for the night. This can make for very cold winters!
Usually, you may paint the walls, change the wallpaper, put up pictures, etc., but your landlord will probably ask you to return the apartment to its original state before moving out. Before changing something, give consideration to the effort and cost that will be necessary to change it back at the end. In any case, you should always consult your landlord before changing the condition of the apartment, as some contracts do actually forbid it.
Unfortunately for you, the landlord it is not obligated to make improvements on the apartment, unless it is to bring it up to the minimal standard, which hopefully you wont need. But if you believe that your apartment it is in dire need of some basic addition that the rest of the world considers a standard, let your landlord know. It never hurts to ask, even though Parisian landlords will always seem to have something better to do with their time than listen to your complaint.
Voilà! Now you know some of the technicalities of renting in Paris, and there are many joys that come with it as well. Be careful--dont rush in and take the first place you look at. There are always more apartments out there, and if you dont find the place you want, look some more. Keep your cool and you will come out ahead.
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