Property pitfalls of renting in Paris

Flat hunting in picturesque Paris is a bureaucratic nightmare, and that's only if a landlord likes the look of you, a British ex-pat discovers…

In December 2002 I bought a one-way ticket on the Eurostar and moved from London to Paris.
My one-bedroom rented apartment in Paris’ trendy 11th arrondissement has a small balcony overlooking a quiet square.

It has floor to ceiling windows, and most important of all, it’s just a short walk from the local boulangerie and the smell of freshly baked croissants.

Renting in France is widespread, but anyone hoping to find a good flat for rent in Paris should board the Eurostar with plenty of money, determination and a sense of humour.

Competition is so fierce that rents for one-bedroom unfurnished flats in Paris have shot up by eight per cent over the last year and by 42 per cent over the last 10 years, according to Philippe Prevel, spokesman for the FNAIM real estate association.

The average monthly rent including service charge for a 40 m2 one-bedroom unfurnished flat in the 11th arrondissement was 820 euros (£560) in March, up from 770 euros (£530) a year earlier, he said.

My 36 m2 flat costs 770 euros including service charge.

Prevel says the areas attracting the highest rents are the 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th arrondissements.

And it’s not just high demand and escalating rents that make Paris flat-hunting tough.

I was frustrated by the sometimes less than helpful attitude of estate agents, not to mention the mountain of paperwork before you can pick up the keys.

Claire Childs is a recruitment consultant and rented four flats in the UK before coming to Paris, where she rents a one-bedroom flat in the 15th arrondissement.

“It’s 50 million times easier in the UK to rent a flat,” she said. “The worst thing is having to queue with 50 other people. Here you’re judged on who’s got the highest salary and the best dossier. It’s a long and complicated process.”

Indeed, flat hunters in Paris are easily recognisable from the thick dossier of papers they carry under one arm.

Estate agency Le Home de France requires pay slips for the previous three months, showing a monthly income of three times the rent and proof of current employment status.

Your passport or residence permit, bank account details, last tax statement and a rent receipt for your current flat is also required.

You also have to come up with a deposit of two months rent to cover damage, and of course pay the first month up front.

Above all, many owners demand a financial guarantor.

An agent at Le Home de France says the guarantor must earn four to five times your monthly rent … and I found it helps if he or she is French!

I missed out on one gorgeous flat, even though my parents agreed to act as my guarantors, because the owner was “worried how he will trace your father if you default on the rent,” the agent explained.

And competition is such that they can afford to be choosy.

So if you’ve just set foot in Paris and are without generous French relations, the situation is pretty grim unless you can provide a bank guarantee, which involves blocking a year’s worth of rent.

One way around this is to apply for a guarantee from property agency Solendi – that’s if you can face the paperwork.

Carole Mohnblatt, who represents Easy Life in Paris, which offers services to newcomers from flat-hunting to hairdressing says France is a country where administration is heavy and can be very complicated.

“It’s a country of papers, not just for signing a rental contract but also for installing a telephone, internet…” says Mohnblatt.

France’s love of bureaucracy in property matters is partly understandable given the generous protection enjoyed by the tenant under the law.

Alain Beugnier of estate agency France Lodge Locations says French law is very repressive against owners.

“Owners don’t have the right to evict tenants in the winter,” says Beugnier “They have become very suspicious, they are not protected.”

Restrictions in an owner’s right to evict have been blamed for the nationwide decline in rentals.

This decline has led to the imbalance between supply and demand seen since 1998.

But Prevel at FNAIM says that French law is not to blame for the shortage of flats.

“It’s true that French law has more constraints than in England … but it’s not significant. People renting out in France know the problems, and that’s not why they would leave a flat empty,” he says.

Instead, he puts the undersupply of flats down to a deficit of new construction in Paris.

“Lending rates in France are at historical lows so some people prefer to buy, but even people buying to let has not eased demand,” adds Prevel.

Alienor van Litsenborgh, an accountant for a photo agency in Paris, says she too has noticed that demand for flats far outweighs supply and considers word of mouth by far the best way to find a flat to rent.

I realised the level of competition when I arranged to view a one-bedroom flat in the 3rd arrondissement directly with the owner, advertised in the popular weekly magazine Particulier à Particulier (or ‘individual to individual’).

To my horror I found at least 50 people already queuing with dossiers.

Nevertheless, dealing with the owner has the benefit of skipping agency fees, generally one month’s rent, and can mean greater flexibility over documents.

Estate agencies are found on almost every corner alongside the boulangerie and the pharmacie, but service varies.

Many agents are happy to sit back and wait for the market to come to them. I quickly learned never to count on estate agents to call me back.

So how did I go about finding my dream flat?

When I first arrived in Paris I booked into a hotel for two weeks to get my bearings.

I then rented for three months near to the Latin Quarter via France Lodge Locations, which specialises in short-term rentals and requires minimal paperwork, before finding my second flat near to Montmartre through Particulier à Particulier.

Thankfully I happened upon an owner who was less obsessed with documents than the average French flat owner.

The viewing was early one Saturday morning when my fellow flat hunters were probably fast asleep, weary from a week of trudging the streets.

I found my third and current flat by dealing directly with the owner through renting website, www.explorimmo.com.

Looking forward, Prevel at FNAIM says prospects for the rental market are improving slightly.

“The supply of apartments for rent is beginning to build up again, which may ease the pressure on prices, if the trend continues,” he says.

In fact, he expects prices to increase by around five per cent in the coming year to March 2006, slowing down from the eight per cent increase seen in the past year.

“Prices are still increasing, but in a more reasonable manner. We’ve seen some very significant increases in previous years,” Prevel said.