Renting Flats, Apartments, Houses and Other Property
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GRL. You want to RENT property but you don't fulfil the strict criteria of providing a permanent employment contract and spending no more than a third of your income on rent, for example because you are self-employed or earn your living from seasonal or fixed term contracts. This government sponsored scheme can help providing a guarantee for the landlord so you will be accepted as a tenant. You would need to be settled in France already.
Action Logement (formerly Locapass / 1% Logement) .You want to RENT property. This government scheme can pay the 1-month deposit requested by the landlord. You repay it interest free over 3 years. There are other schemes for property assistance via this site, particularly when moving because of work.
CIL (Comité Interprofessionnel de Logement). Schemes associated with Action Logement to help renting or buying property, particularly when moving because of work. The CILs are regionally organised. This link has a directory of the CILs.
Aidologement: Information about schemes to help with renting.
Different laws apply to furnished and unfurnished lettings.
The law stipulates that you can terminate an unfurnished tenancy (bail) at any time with three months notice (one month in case of loss or change of job). Don't worry if the initial tenancy is three years or more - you can always terminate it. The landlord (bailleur) cannot terminate the tenancy during the contract period. The tenancy is automatically renewed, unless one of the parties terminate it with appropriate notice. The landlord can only refuse the automatic renewal under very specific conditions. However, if the landlord wants to get rid of you without a valid raison, he will simply give notice with the excuse that he or his closest family want to move into the house. This notice must be given 6 months before the end of the term, but it is extremely difficult to challenge in court. If you later observe that those supposed to have moved in did not, it is up to you to sue the landlord for compensation.
Be sure that the standard contract being used is for an unfurnished letting, because your legal protection for a furnished tenancy is lower than for an unfurnished tenancy. For an unfurnished letting for primary residence, you should find the following title on the tenancy agreement: Contrat de location, locaux non meublés - loi no 89-462 du 6.7.89 modifiée par la loi no 94-624 du 21.7.94, habitation principale.
In principle, the law protects the tenants of unfurnished tenancies to a great extent. Clauses added by the landlord cannot put the tenant in a position that is less favourable than that of the law. Such clauses can be challenged in court. The law obliges landlords to maintain their properties, except for certain minor maintenance, and to deliver certain minimum standards, but they often neglect this. Sometimes landlords try to fool tenants by adding for example a clause saying that the landlord will not maintain white goods. Such clauses are null and void, at least for unfurnished tenancies. Watch out for clauses in case of a furnished tenancy.
In reality, however, in case of real problems, courts, solicitors and so-called judicial experts may drag legal proceedings out for years, meaning that the landlord can terminate the tenancy before you can force him to maintain his property or respect other obligations. In many cases, French laws are not worth the paper they are written on because the courts hesitate to enforce them and even tolerate lax behaviour or downright violation of obligations to a great extent, particularly if the lax one is a local. Expect the preferential treatment of locals to be most visible in regions with a strong identity, such as for example Provence. The attitude of the locals - even solicitors - will in many cases be that if you're not happy with how things are, why don't you just move to another property or back to your own country?
Therefore, I cannot stress enough that you should check everything thoroughly before signing a tenancy agreement. If equipment looks old, it is most likely because it is old, not well maintained and likely to break down any moment. Some landlords buy old white goods worth almost nothing and fit them in the property so they can get more rent for an apparently well-equipped property. In cases where the landlord has lived in the house himself and used his white goods for many years, he leaves them in the house for the same reason. When it breaks down, you may have all the trouble in the world getting it fixed, the landlord pretending he told you that he wasn't going to maintain the white goods and that you probably didn't understand it because you don't speak very well French (once I took a landlord to court, she had the nerve to say in front of the judge (about me): "He pretended not to speak French very well when he rented the flat"). If something does not suit you or needs repair, ask for it to be fixed before your sign. Don't sign if there is any trouble getting this done. You risk being in for trouble every time something needs repair.
When you take over the property, it is very important to be there and check everything for damages. A document called état des lieux must be prepared and signed on that day, stating the condition of the property and listing all items left in the property. You can be liable for paying for any existing damage not mentioned in that document when you move out. Check everything: Hot and cold water, dripping taps (faucets), toilets, heating, electric outlets, lights, oven, cooker, fridge, dish washer, washing machine, doors, windows, scratches, cracked tiles, broken glass, miscolourings... It is a detailed exercise that easily takes between one and two hours. It may sound ridiculous to a Briton or an American, but this is how it's done in France. It is a common pastime for French landlords to claim damages for something that was broken before the property was rented. That way, they get parts of the property maintained free of charge.
Too many landlords don't refund the security deposit (dépôt de garantie), which cannot be higher than 1 months' rent (it was 2 months' rent before 2008), at the end of the tenancy. The law says they must do it no later than 2 months after handing back the keys, which means that if you move out before the end of the tenancy, the 2 months count from the day you move out, not the end of the tenancy. They can deduct the cost of damages made by you, but not the cost of maintenance that they are themselves supposed to do. Neither can they deduct normal wear and tear, such as a wall becoming yellowish or brownish above an electric radiator installed by the landlord, normal wear or furniture markings on a carpet, or damages that appear by themselves, such as cracks in walls or tiles. Some landlords try to abuse the fact that many foreigners leave France and can't easily sue the landlord. To protect themselves against the risk of such abuse, many tenants don't pay the last rent corresponding to the deposit. That is illegal, but it is impossible to throw a tenant out with just one months' notice - that can take 1-2 years. In principle, tenancy agreements commonly contain a penalty clause of 10% of rent paid late, but in order to recover the 10%, the landlord would have to take you to court, unless the tenancy agreement was drawn up by a huissier. It is therefore almost risk free not to pay the last bit of rent. I repeat that it is illegal, but people who have already been burnt could be tempted to cover themselves first, to avoid the hassle of taking the landlord to court to recover the money, wait 1-2 years and spend more in solicitors' fees than the challenged amount. Finally, it is unfortunately the harsh truth in France that many Frenchmen act as if the law only applied to others. If you want to survive in France, you may need to add a dash of French cynicism to your behaviour, or you may find that you are always taken for a ride if you behave honestly all the time. Never forget that for them, you are an easy and legitimate target as a foreigner.
It is common to let property without a fitted kitchen. If you don't want to provide your own kitchen, then check the ads for cuisine aménagée, which means that there is a fitted kitchen, but no white goods, and cuisine équipée, which means that there is a fitted kitchen with white goods.
The tax on lettings known as droit de bail has been abolished from January 2001 and should no longer be collected by the landlord.
Demand a receipt for the rent every month, no matter how you pay. You may need it later. The landlord is obliged by law to provide receipts free of charge.
Taxe d'habitation is a tax on the dwellings you occupy on the 1 January. The tax does not depend on how long time you live in the property. If you move out on the 2 January, you must still pay the full tax. The tax is payable in the November or December that follows the 1 January. The tax depends on the value of the property and your personal situation. A typical tax would be between 300 € and 1500 € a year.
The tenant and the landlord are free to negotiate the rent. There are no limits imposed by the law, except that the annual increase cannot exceed the rental index published by the INSEE.
Some properties are let out directly by a private person, others via estate agents (realtors) or notaries. If you let real estate through an estate agent, the landlord and the tenant must each pay half of the agent's fee for editing the tenancy agreement (lease). This will typically amount to about 4% to 8% of one year's rent for the tenant's part. The fee is only due once a tenancy agreement has been signed. According to what an estate agent has told me, some agents illegally make the tenant pay the entire fee instead of just half. It is worth checking this. Agents are obliged to publish their fees. Furthermore, the consumer association UFC pointed out in 2011 that the tenant only has to pay half the fee for editing the tenancy agreement, not half the fees for searching for a tenant. In nearly all cases, estate agents bill half of their entire fee to the tenant, breaking the law. The trouble is that the property rental market is the landlords' market, since there are not enough properties to fulfil demand. Hence, if a tenant starts being 'difficult' before the tenancy agreement is signed, the landlord will just rent to someone else. In principle, the tenant can start litigation after the tenancy agreement is signed, but he will then have to face sour relations with the landlord throughout the tenancy, possibly leading to refusal to maintain the property, again leading to further litigation. Before the judge has ruled, the landlord will have given notice. French law sometimes isn't worth the paper it's written on.
Some businesses that may call themselves agencies charge you a fee up front of for example 150 €. They show you that they have long lists of properties ready to let out. What you pay for is to get access to that list. There is no guarantee of anything. You have to contact the private landlords yourself and arrange everything. My advice is to walk away immediately. It is a well known scam in France. These businesses are often dishonest. They have been known to scan the press for private people's letting ads and to copy these ads into their own lists. The lists will frequently not be kept up to date. The properties may be of a quality that no one wants. The result is more often than not that once you start calling the numbers on the list, you will find that the properties have been let out long time ago and are no longer available. If you are still tempted, then ask yourself how - in a tight letting market where good properties are snapped up in a few days - these businesses could possibly be able to offer such a large choice that you will find nowhere else. A few real estate portals contain adverts where you have to pay exorbitant telephone rates just to get contact information. While I don't know if these sites are honest or not, there is no need to use them at all, given the vast number of property sites. See my list in the link section.
October is the time of the year when landlords and their representatives send their tenants the annual bill for refuse (garbage) collection if you don't pay a provisional amount each month in charges. The rubbish bill appears on the owner's bill for taxe foncière (property tax) as ordures ménagères. It covers the refuse collection for the calendar year. If you've rented the property only a part of the year, then you only have to refund this rubbish tax to the owner on a pro-rata basis. The tax office adds an extra percentage - typically 8% - to cover their cost of collecting the tax (yes, it's true, the owner not only has to pay a tax - he also has to pay a tax to cover the cost of collecting the tax). It has been a tradition for landlords to also charge the 8% to the tenant, but the Cour de Cassation (high court) decided in 2002 that this practice was illegal. Tenants do not have to pay the additional 8% on top of the garbage tax.
If you do pay regular, provisional amounts in charges, the landlord has to present an annual account of the charges paid in advance and the actual expenses paid on your account. The law regulates which expenses can be charged to you and which cannot. You should first of all be sure to understand which charges you are supposed to pay before signing the tenancy agreement. Then you should verify annually that you receive the account, that the numbers are correct, and that you either pay the different to the landlord (if you have paid too little), or that the landlord refunds what is due to you if you have paid too much. Don't let it accumulate through the years, as you can only claim money back for the last five years. Some landlords 'forget' to send the accounts to foreign tenants and to refund what is due. In an example I have seen, the landlord owed about 1000 euros to the tenant after five years and it took a legal insurance just to obtain the accounts for four out of five years. These landlords try to drag it out and make it difficult to obtain the facts so their cheating is not reversed.
Furnished lettings are regulated mostly by the Code Civil, the French common law. It was tightened up in 2005 to stipulate that if the letting is your main residence, it must be for a minimum of one year and automatically renewable, leaving the landlord the option to get rid of you only under specific conditions. You can give notice any time with a notice of one month.
Also see my page with a list of sites with ads for property in France.
Note for residents of Denmark buying or owning property outside Denmark:
Further reading about building standards on my property page.
If you rent property, you may be entitled to housing benefit. It is paid by the CAF - Caisse d'Allocations Familiales. You must act quickly, as it is impossible to obtain back payment of housing benefit. Explanation of the timing:
Example: You rent a property in May and your situation (income, children ...) entitles you to housing benefit: you are entitled to housing benefit from the 1st of June (the 1st of the month following the month where the entitlement occurs). It will be paid on the 5th of July. You must file the demand latest the 30th of June. If you file it on the 1st of July, you lose the benefit for June.
Note that the tradition of renting property from the 1st of a month means that you lose the first month's housing benefit. If you are about to rent property from the beginning of a month, ask to have the tenancy agreement state that the tenancy begins at the end of the preceding month.
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