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Renting a French property

Renting is widespread in France, nearly always involves unfurnished property and the market is primarily offered by estate agent offices, called agences immobilières. The common fee demanded by the agencies from both the new tenant and the property owner is roughly half the sum of one month's rent each, and is taken on completion of the rental deal.

The property market in France is generally buoyant, and some estate agents, agents immobiliers may be too busy to phone you back. Therefore, it is advisable to be pro-active and keep calling the French estate agent in order to chase up that French rental deal of your dreams.

Most local newspapers carry property rental small ads. Of the national papers, Le Figaro is a traditional source of property ads, called annonces immobilières and is the only daily newspaper to provide several pages of them, mostly concerned with Paris. The neighbourhood free-papers that are stacked outside small shops are sometimes worth a look, along with the French rentals section to the Properties In Europe web site.

If something good is on the market, you'll either find it with an estate agent, local or national press, or a weekly national magazine called De Particulier à Particulier, which literally means from "individual to individual". The "Particulier", as it is commonly known, is full of private property ads. Its attraction is that it offers transactions which by-pass estate agents' fees. Most of the contents concern sales but there are also hundreds of rentals each week. The magazine covers the whole of France, with a special section on Paris. A similar magazine, but not specialist in property alone, is the Centrale des Particuliers.

If you're renting out direct from the owner, remember that you won't have the legal guarantees that any federated estate agent would offer and which give some protection from the cavalier behaviour of some landlords who, good and bad, are called propriétaires.

It's a good idea to personally visit (as opposed to telephone) estate agents because this can get a better feel of the quality of service. There are few national "chains" of estate agents in France. Century 21, or its competitors ORPI, both a chain organisation of nationwide franchises, are an exception. Agents operating under the Century 21 and ORPI banners tend to be more dynamic than most others. It is quite common for estate agents in country regions to operate under an umbrella association, which will be clearly indicated, and this saves a great deal of time for the client.

Average size

The French describe apartments or houses by the number of rooms, called pièces, excluding the kitchen and bathroom. A one bedroomed flat with sitting room is thus a deux-pièces. The average rented city apartment is between two and four rooms. Of course, this means little unless it is qualified by a description of the surface area in square meters, called mètres carrés. As a rough guide, what would be considered in France to be a comfortable three-roomed apartment for a couple with children (i.e. two bedrooms and a sitting-cum-dining room) would amount to about 80 square meters.

Length of rental agreement

French law offers quite generous protection to the tenant, who is called a locataire. This includes the prohibition of evictions during the wide band of 'winter' months and a complicated evictions procedure in general including rights of appeal. These restrictions in an owner's right to evict have been blamed for the overall reduction nationwide in the offer of rentals, a trend which began in 2002, which has particularly affected Paris.

French "proprietères" are therefore very, very cautious before concluding a deal, and a battery of paperwork is required in order to obtain the assurance that the "locataire" can and will pay the rent. Basically, and not without exception, the rental agreement will cover an owner's pledge of three years - a committment that means the tenant will not be asked to leave during that period, except if he or she renages on the terms of the agreement laid out. The tenant is free to leave whenever, subject to terms of two or, more commonly, three months' notice. The owner's three-year pledge means, for example, that the tenant cannot be ousted for a sale of the property, or an owner's intention to re-occupy, within that time. The rental agreement for a set period is called a bail. All agreements are renewable at term of contract. Thus, the common three-year agreement is called un bail de trois ans. If you are offered a "bail" of only one year, beware. It is indicative of an owner's indecision to rent for a longer period and suggests you are likely to be asked to leave after 1 year.

What you will be asked for

The terms of renting French poperty have become so severe that they can even be prohibitive.You will be asked to provide pay slips - generally for the previous three months - and your monthly income must be at least three times the monthly rent- and often as much as four times the sum. You can expect to be asked for proof that you are not currently employed for a trial or limited short period, nor close to retirement. Agencies will often refuse people who work in contract fields like entertainment unless they can provide third-party financial guarantees. If you are self-employed and cannot provide pay slips, you will be asked to provide your previous year's tax payments as an indication of what you earn. You will also be asked to provide a letter, from one or even two people to act as a guarantor if you fail to pay your rent. The guarantor will also need to offer pay-slip proof that they earn three times the sum of rent.

Proof of identity will be asked in the form of a residence permit (occasionally a passport), and normally you'd be expected to provide a telephone or electricity bill as further proof of your current address. This can proove challanging if you've just arrived, have no French pay slips nor French tax return statements.

Chèque de caution

You will also have to bound over a cheque for the sum of two or three times the rent, which is handed over to the owner, and returned to you at the end of the rental period subject to it being partially or totally used to rectify any damage you are held responsible for. This is called un chèque de caution.

You will not receive interest on the sum which is repayable to exactly the same amount - even if six years later. It is also only refunded after you've left - as a guarantee of no hidden damage. In practice, the "chèque de caution" is often used by owners to urge you to put fresh paint on the walls to avoid litigation. There are many instances of abuse. You are strongly advised to be particularly observant during the written evaluation of the property's condition, which is done in mutual agreement with the owner or agency before moving in and after a rental agreement has been reached. This is called an état des lieux which both parties sign to. Whether there are scratches on the parquet floor or cracks in the ceiling, make sure that every detail is clearly marked - otherwise you can be held responsible. Good advice is to take photos of the property during the "état des lieux" as proof. You will be required to take out a home insurance policy and subsequently show the owner proof that you have done.

Ongoing charges associated with renting a French property

Generally, there are two different charges that you are responsible to pay for when you rent a French property; the communal charges (known as charges communes) and the habitation tax (know as taxe d'habitation).

Charges communes

If you are renting an apartment, it will involve paying charges for the regular upkeep of the building, called the charges communes. These are sometimes included in the rent advertised, in which case the rental sum will be described as charges comprises. If not, it will be charges non comprises. The charges, worked out as an monthly average based on the previous year, cover things like the cost of the concierge or cleaners or gardeners, common water supplies and so on. If the charges are not included, make sure you know what was paid the previous year, or whether any unusual costs can be expected in the coming year. If they are included, and during your first year the real common spending was less than the previous twelve months, you'll be refunded accordingly. If you are renting a house, then there will be no liability of charges commune.

Taxe d'habitation

Your residence (house or apartment) will be subject to a yearly local tax, called la taxe d'habitation, which varies greatly from place to place and is broadly calculated on the size of the property you are renting. You should ask about these before entering into an agreement, and the agency or owner should be able to give you an accurate account of what you are likely to have to pay. Densely populated areas tend to pay less for obvious reasons. But if your area of residence is attractive because the bins are emptied every day, the roads well-kept and the swimming pools numerous - start saving for the autumn payment date.


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