Renting in France: Everything you need to know

TransferWise content team
21.09.17
12 minute read

There are plenty of reasons to move to France as an expat. Maybe you’re planning on pursing your next career step in one of the bigger cities. Or studying in one of the 27 universities in France that are among the top rated in the world. Perhaps, it’s the allure of the sea or a more peaceful rural life that attracts you. Maybe France is your ideal retirement destination. You won't be alone. Because there are so many different reasons to come to live in France, you'll find expat communities in all of the large cities - but also often in smaller towns and rural areas.

Whatever you’re heading to France for, you need to find a place to live. Costs vary enormously in France, from predictably high prices in Paris, to much more reasonable costs in a rural abode, off the beaten track. If you’re looking at a home in one of the cities, then it’s a good idea to consider the suburbs and surrounding towns, if you’re looking for more for your money. Many cities have outlying towns with quite distinct personalities, where a short commute on public transportation will deliver you to the city easily enough. These are a great choice for families who want some more space, or anyone looking for a less frenetic pace.

Apartments in Paris, in particular, are usually very small. Costs in Paris, however, are anything but tiny. A one bedroom apartment in Paris city centre will set you back around €1068 on average a month, excluding utilities. The same place, but outside of the centre, will cost a more reasonable €798. Naturally, the exact price will depend on how desirable and well connected the neighbourhood is.

Elsewhere, in other French cities, you can more or less half your rental bill compared to living in the capital. Renting a one bed city centre apartment will set you back just over €600 a month in Bordeaux or Lyon, falling to an even more reasonable price of just over €500 a month in Nantes, for example. Of course it's not just about the costs. The 21 regions of France are all very distinct, and if you have a complete free choice then you have a lot to consider when it comes to where to live in France. Your options are quite different in lavender scented Provence, compared to the mountains of the Pyrenees or the glitz and glamour of Cannes!

Because of the wide variety of property types and prices on offer throughout France, it’s especially important to do your research in advance. The market won’t be quite the same as at home, and as with anywhere, there are some quirks it pays to be aware of. If you’re thinking of moving to France for work or study, then check out this guide to renting in France.

How does the rental process work?

If you’re looking for a place to rent, you can look for rental properties yourself in newspapers, online or by looking around in your chosen neighbourhood for places with signs that say ‘for rent’ (à louer)

How easy it will be to find a home varies wildly across France. It’s notoriously tricky to find a good place at a good price in Paris. Here the market moves at lightning speed, and you have to be very quick to grab the place you want. In smaller towns and rural areas you might find a more relaxed pace. The bigger issue you’re likely to face outside of the cities is a lack of housing stock. If you want somewhere very rural you'll probably need to use an agent and just accept that there will be a fee involved. This is because most people outside of the cities tend to own their own homes, leaving a smaller amount of properties available for rental.

Are flats generally furnished or unfurnished?

Furnished or unfurnished is an important question in France, because under French law, you have greater legal protection if you take an unfurnished place and it’s your main home. Contracts for unfurnished properties tend to be three years long, while the minimum for a furnished place is only one year. In an unfurnished place, you can’t usually be evicted during the tenancy, although a tenant can still give notice and leave fairly easily.

Watch out if you’re offered a furnished place - the definition of ‘furnished’ in France is legally defined and pretty much means it must be move in ready including crockery, bedding and so on. It’s not unusual for landlords to claim to be offering a furnished property, to benefit from the shorter minimum contracts, but without fitting the place up to the required standard.

Of course, what suits you depends on your personal circumstances. If you’re only expecting to be in France for a relatively short time, there are fully furnished short term rentals available. However, aimed at the vacation market, these are often very luxurious, and tend to cost a lot more.

What do I need to know about renting in France?

The rental market in France might not be quite the same as in your home country. Avoid any nasty surprises by doing a little research before you make your move.

Tenant laws and rights

As a tenant in France you have rights which are legally protected.

Your rights are stronger if you have an unfurnished place, and you’re using it as your main residence. You’ll usually have a three year contract in this case, and a landlord can’t easily evict a tenant during that time. Once you’ve moved in, your landlord can’t enter the property other than to make repairs, unless there's a clause to the contrary in your lease.

Your rights in a furnished property are slightly less protected in law, because these properties are often used as second or holiday homes. Minimum rental periods for furnished places are only 12 months. In busy cities, landlords might try to offer you a furnished place, even if this isn’t what you want. Be wary, as this might indicate that they’ll ask you to leave at the end of the 12 months, to be able to find a new tenants and cash in on rising rents.

If you think your landlord isn’t treating you fairly, you should contact the Department of Conciliation, where specialists can help you negotiate with your landlord and resolve any issues.

General rental property rules and regulations

Before you choose a new home in France, you should make sure you know exactly what state the property will be in when you move in (and in what condition it must be returned).

You should also check the wording in the tenancy agreement as some unscrupulous landlords might ask for the property to be handed back in ‘perfect’ condition rather than simply stating it should be given back as you found it.

There are also some contractual quirks in French rentals. Although they might try to build it into tenancy agreements, landlords in France can not insist that you have no pets at the property, for example. If you have any questions about the clauses in your contract and how legal they are, check with the local council or Department of Conciliation.

Contracts and deposits

Before you start to house hunt in earnest, you should try to find someone that can act as your guarantor (*Garant)* on the tenancy. This is a common request from landlords, who want the name of a French resident who can pay the rent if you can not. Obviously this isn’t easy if you’re new to the country - but your employer might be able to fulfil this role, or your bank in the case of young professionals.

Although not every landlord will want a guarantor, it's a common question - so if you absolutely can not find one, then get an agent who will help you find landlords who don’t require this form of surety. Otherwise, you might be able to find some support from a company which exists to offer guarantees against tenancy agreements, which work with both young professionals and students.

Even if you’re offering a guarantor, you'll still have to pay a deposit before you're able to move into your new place.The highest amount a landlord can take as a deposit against damage or default in an unfurnished property is two months rent. There’s no legal cap in furnished properties, however.

It’s also important to note that you should never hand over cash as a deposit - use a bank transfer. If you’re making an international money transfer that includes currency conversion, it’s worth finding the best possible deal with a company like TransferWise so you don’t get slapped with poor exchange rates. More to come about paying from abroad in a later section.

If you employ an agent, you're also responsible for any realtor fees agreed. Under French law, these fees might be related to the size of apartment you end up taking, rather than the amount of rent you pay.

Always ask for a written contract, and make sure you have the time to read it properly. If the place you’re renting is your main home, then your landlord is legally obliged to give you a contract for your tenancy, although you don't have to have the document notarised. In particular, check what you’re agreeing to before you sign, including details like terminating your agreement and notice periods. Checkout this sample of a unfurnished property tenancy agreement, so you’re familiar with what to expect.

Utilities and bills the renter is responsible for

Before you finalise a rental agreement, you should make sure you’re clear on the terms.

It’s legally required that your contract details the amount of rent and charges due every month. Charges are paid in addition to the rent, for services like cleaning of common areas, waste disposal, and sometimes heating and water. Check the contract to see exactly which utilities it covers.

However, you also need to understand that the amount in the contract is an advance payment against expected costs for these services. Annually, the landlord must account for the expenses and balance the books. He will refund any excess you’ve paid - or collect anything you owe, if the costs actually came to more than the advance agreed. Of course, to protect yourself, you must review the numbers carefully, and make sure that they all add up. If you have any problems with agreeing or settling these bills you should seek arbitration from the local council.

Can I negotiate the rent with the landlord?

It’s okay to negotiate on the rental cost. Before you do so, it’s worth asking what fees (*charges*, described above) are added to the rental amount you agree. That way, you should get a better view of the cost of the property overall, to help you in your negotiation and planning.

Naturally, in cities where there are more prospective tenants than there are places to live, you might find that landlords are unwilling to negotiate. Get a feel of the market in your chosen area first. If the market is really pressured, you might be better off looking for a place slightly further out of the town centre rather than trying to negotiate down the rent at a central property. Of course, if you can offer great references, a good credit history and are ready to move in immediately, you're more likely to be successful in your negotiations.

Can I get an apartment without a job?

There’s no legal reason why you can’t get a flat without a job. However, landlords will certainly want to check that you’re able to pay the rent for the duration of the lease. It’s typical to provide some payslips to prove that you have the income to cover the rental payments. As such, if you don’t have a job yet, you might need to offer additional proof in order to rent.

One option is to find a guarantor, who will vouch for your ability to pay (and pick up the tab if you default), or to show that you have sufficient savings to cover your costs.

What are the documents or requirements for renting?

Before you're able to rent a place, you'll have to prepare a* dossier* of paperwork which proves why you’re a good tenant. It’s a good idea to have all of this prepared in advance, if at all possible, so you can take it along to viewings. You can then hand over all copies to the landlord directly. Your dossier should usually include:

  • A copy of your passport and visa
  • Recent payslips or a job contract stating your salary
  • Details of a guarantor along with their payslip

The guarantor (see more above), is sometimes requested by landlords, and would usually need to be a French resident who can pay your rent if you don't. In many cases, for expats, a landlord will accept it if your boss is willing to act in this role. Otherwise, some banks will offer their guarantee if you have an account with them already - talk to your chosen French bank if you’re unsure about their policy.

It’s good to know that it’s not legal for a landlord to ask for prospective tenants to provide some documents, including demanding a bank statement. The full list of documents a landlord can request is set out in law.

What types of rental agreements are there?

Rental agreements will be offered for furnished properties with a minimum 12 month rental period, and for unfurnished typically with a three year minimum. In an unfurnished place, you're likely to be liable for costs if you leave within the year. This might mean that you have to pay the full 12 month rent even if you leave early, although the paperwork and requirement for a guarantor might be less arduous for a short term place. Usually contracts renew automatically at the end of the initial period.

Monthly rentals can be arranged through specialist short term agencies, but come at a premium.

Can I pay my bills from abroad?

Many expats tend to travel back home frequently, and there will be times when you need to pay your rent or bills, but might be out of the country. You might even find that you have to pay a deposit or fees to secure your rental before you’ve opened a local bank account or moved to France. If you’re making an international money transfer to cover your costs, then it’s worth remembering that your home bank might not offer you the best deal.

Banks tend to include almost carefully hidden administration fees and hide their cut in a poor exchange rate when transferring your money across borders. A specialist provider like TransferWise moves your money using the real exchange rate - the same one you can find on Google. Not to mention, fees are clearly laid out and quite transparent. Leaving you with a fairer, cheaper and likely faster option.

What are the best sites to find a place to live?

The best way to get a head start on finding a place to rent in France is to look online. Great websites to find a house or apartment to rent include:

  • A Vendre A Louer (which literally translates as ‘for sale and rent’) - unsurprisingly - lists places for sale and rent, throughout the country.
  • Pap is one of the most popular websites in France, when it comes to finding a rental property. Often these are direct from the landlord. Things move quick though - you have been warned.
  • At Le Bon Coin you can find classified ads for everything - including rental and house shares.

To find a shared home, you might be best asking around your office or group of friends for recommendations. Otherwise, the best websites to find a flatshare, room rental or roommate, include:

  • Appartager Is a popular site which connects would be house mates and is searchable by geographic area.
  • Foyers are student halls of residence in most cases, but here you can also find other group living spaces aimed at younger people.
  • Craigslist for the area of your choice is a good start - but exercise caution.
  • Facebook has a huge number of rooms advertised across dozens of different groups based on location. Search for the area you want to move and find yourself a new roommate.

Finally, how can I make sure I'm not being scammed?

Like anywhere else in the world, you might encounter issues when renting a place in France. However, because the law is quite favourable to tenants in France, you should be able to get any problems sorted out fairly easily. If you have a problem regarding your tenancy, you can report it to your local council for arbitration.

Here you can resolve common issues - like if you leave and don’t get your deposit back from your landlord.

One way you can protect yourself against this situation is to make sure the état des lieux (inventory) is properly compiled when you move in. This should document everything in the property, however, make sure you’re satisfied with what it says. Check that appliances listed actually work, for example, and that the hot and cold water is functional. If you don’t argue at this stage then it’s more difficult to get problems fixed later.

Don’t forget that it’s your responsibility to maintain the property while you live there. You should keep a record of any work you have to do or pay for during your tenancy. If your landlord wishes to withhold some or all of your deposit when you leave, you can use this record of time and cash invested in the property to make your case for getting your deposit returned. Finally, you can lodge a complaint at your local council if you think you have been unfairly treated, and receive some expert support to sort the problem.

There are also rules being currently rolled out across France which are aimed at limiting uncontrolled rises in rental costs. If you think your rent is too high you might be able to apply to have your property assessed to check.

Good luck, and enjoy your new life in France!

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