I think most expatriates to the French capital will agree with me when I say that renting in Paris is one of the most difficult, headache-inducing, seemingly-impossible things they’ve had to do. Even worse than setting up a bank account, or obtaining a social security number!
It certainly hasn’t been a walk in the park for me. I’ve lived in three different apartments in Paris since I moved here 1 1/2 years ago, and while the first two were horrendous experiences, by the third I’d finally amassed enough knowledge and know-how (and key documents for my dossier) that allowed me to rent a charming studio apartment in Montmartre, no deep feeling of hopelessness or sketchy agency required.
How to Find an Apartment in Paris
Flat hunting in Paris can quickly become a full-time job. As such, many choose to go the agency route. There are hundreds all over the city, so you’re not short on choice. But if you’re looking for a place to start, Orpi, Foncia, Century 21 and Nexity are bigger names with multiple locations around the city.
Agencies in Paris are a bit unique in that listings tend to only be at that agency and nowhere else. As such, I’d recommend you visit a few agencies in the area you would like to live in, so that you have greater choice and can hear about as many apartments that your description as possible.
There are just as many if not more websites dedicated to flat hunting in Paris, as there are actual agencies! Unfortunately, the majority of results that pop up when writing in an English search term are so-called “expatriate agencies” that are total scams (but I’ll get into that more later).
As such, I recommend using French websites. The ones I’ve found to be the most popular and reliable are:
- Seloger – The holy grail of French rental sites, Seloger advertises all the different listings of the different agencies in France.
- PAP – If you’d like to skip agency fees and rent direct from the landlord (a bit riskier but quite common), PAP – or Particulier à Particulier – is the way to go.
- Appartager – If it’s a colocation you’re after, all my French friends recommend using Appartager.
There are also some honest English websites, though be forewarned – they are usually more expensive than the average French listing, with much higher agency fees and usually very strict leases:
- Spotahome – While not solely dedicated to France, this site has quite a few French listings, as well as reasonable fees (usually less than a month’s rent) and prices. The main caveat is that they don’t let you visit the apartment before you request to book.
- Lodgis – Many of my foreigner friends rented their first apartment on Lodgis, due to it being relaxed about dossiers. However, I find the fees and rent prices quite high, and usually you can only rent a place for a year or less.
- FUSAC – An old expatriate favourite, FUSAC is a great resource for housing. Sometimes prices are above-average, but they’re mostly market value, and almost all directly from owner, so no agency fees! Landlords tend to be long term Paris expats themselves who are understanding about the crazy dossier requirements, and open to renting to foreigners.
Facebook has a huge number of groups dedicated to apartment hunting in Paris. There are too many to name, but a simple search of key words like “Paris coloc”, “Paris location”, “Paris souslocation”, or “Paris rental” will yield a huge number of results. Most groups are incredibly active, with a number of apartment and want ads posted every day!
In my personal opinion, I think that the Facebook route is best for students or those looking for flatshares, as that what the majority of announcements are for. Every now and again a studio or apartment comes up, but these are quite rare and tend to go incredibly fast.
Community Board Listings
This sounds quite old school, but it’s still pretty common in Paris! You can find community boards advertising various services and apartments in shops, brasseries, and even your local Franprix! The two I’ve had suggested to me the most, though, for finding an apartment listing, are that of the Shakespeare & Co. bookstore, and the American Church of Paris.
What documents do you need for a dossier?
I’ve eluded to the infamous dossier a few times already in this guide, so now it’s time to explain what it is – and what it should consist of. A dossier is the name of the file containing all the documents you need to be a successful housing applicant in Paris. While this varies (some ask for more papers, some for less), the documents listed below are the ones most commonly asked for me landlords and agencies:
- Copy of your passport or ID.
- A copy of your visa or residence permit. This applies only to non-EU residents, as they want to see that you have the right to live in France.
- Last three pay slips. The general rule is that you should make 3x the rent.
- Job contract. Many people ask to see your job contract to ensure that you are in the most desirable employment position: CDI hors period d’essai (permanent work contract outside of trial period).
- Last three quittances de loyer. Proof that you successfully paid your rent before – there are a lot of issues in France with people not paying rent and being protected by the state, so many landlords demand to see this. A letter of recommendation from your previous landlord doesn’t hurt either.
- A copy of your RIB. All the coordinates of your French bank account. Almost all landlords will reject a foreign bank account, so be sure to open a French one up as soon as possible.
- Your last tax return. While some landlords can be picky and only accept a French one, most agencies are fine with foreign tax returns (great news if you’ve just freshly arrived in France).
What if I’m a student?
If you are a student and have no income, it will be your garant who will need to provide all the aforementioned documents (though you will still need to submit everything that applies to you, as well as proof of enrollment).
A garant is the person who will pay for you, in the case you can’t pay your rent. They will sign the contract along with you. They must make 3x to 4x the rent and be a resident of France (I’ve heard the odd story of people getting away with their parents overseas being garants, but that’s very uncommon). For French students, this is usually their parents. For non-French students, it’s usually French family friends, parents of friends, parents of their French significant other, or what have you.
What if I don’t make 3x the rent?
While there are some landlords that are okay with you not making 3x the rent, the ugly truth is that the vast majority of apartment owners in Paris have insurance that requires their tenant to make 3x the rent.
So even if you are cool with spending €1200 of your €1800 paycheque on rent, it is likely to be virtually impossible for you to do so. As such, I’d recommend either looking for places that fit in your budget, renting a room, or moving in with your significant other or friend(s) (they take all your salaries into account, so if together you make 3x the rent there is no problem).
Unfortunately, the aforementioned insurance also forbids any salarié (worker) who you rent to, to have a garant. They must make 3x the rent on their own. So you can’t have a garant who will sign for you, in the case you want a more expensive flat.
Tips for Renting in Paris
So, you know where to look, and know what needs to be in your dossier. Still, even after spending hours scouring the web and visiting agencies, you’ve yet to sign a lease – you’ve barely even had any showings!
Here are some tips from myself and others who’ve had to endure the Parisian housing market:
- Dedicated as much time as possible to finding an apartment. I wasn’t kidding when I said that flat hunting in Paris can become a full-time job. Things move incredibly fast here so you should be looking every day (morning, lunch break, evening) and arranging as many showings as possible.
- Set up an alert. While you can set up individual alerts on different websites, I would recommend doing so via LouerAgile. Once you put in your criteria, it sweeps all the rental sites out there and sends you alerts in real-time.
- Be flexible about areas you want to live in. I know everyone wants a place that’s two minutes from the metro, located right next to their work, and is in their favourite arrondissement. Unfortunately, if you’re standards are that rigid, you’ll never find a place. I recommend being open to different areas in the city – you never know, you might discover a great neighbourhood you’d never even considered before!
- Come prepared with all your papers. Print out a copy of your dossier and bring it with you to every showing. Think to print an extra to give to the potential landlord for consideration.
- Dress as if you were going for a job interview. Make an effort to look professional and presentable. You want to give the impression to your potential landlord that you are clean, responsible, and will not wreak havoc in their apartment.
- Try to make a connection with the potential landlord. Seems a bit strange, but think of your odds: you are one of dozens of people interested in this apartment, many of whom will have dossiers that are just as good or even better than yours. How do you increase your chances of being picked? I personally find striking a friendly rapport with the landlord helped me immensely. When I started taking the time to chat with landlords, tell them more about myself, and try to make a personal connection, I suddenly saw the number of apartments I was offered skyrocket from zero to just about every one I visited. It really does make a difference!
Signing the Contract
You finally found a place to live – congratulations! Now all you need to do is sign the contract and move in your things.
While the rest of the process is fairly straightforward, here are two additional tips:
- If you cannot read French, have a French-speaking friend accompany you to read through the contract before you sign. You should know exactly what is stated in your contract before signing.
- Don’t sign any contract that is not French. French is the only legal language recognized in France, and a contract you sign in any other language won’t be valid. Even if they have two copies: one in French and one in the other language, you can’t be certain they’ll be exactly the same. I’ve had friends be swindled by landlords who stated different terms in different languages, so be careful!
Pets and French Apartments
Have a dog or cat, and are worried about that hindering your chances of finding your perfect pied-à-terre in Paris? Don’t worry: Paris is a very pet-friendly city.
Rental rules are very much in favour of pet owners. In short, landlords cannot explicitly ban their tenant from having an animal companion, unless it is a dog that is considered dangerous. This law applies to flats that are furnished, unfurnished, short term, long term, and even seasonal rentals.
As such, even if your landlord writes in your rental contract that pets are not allowed, by law they cannot enforce it, and cannot penalize you if they discover you have a pet.
This is not to say that landlords don’t prefer renting to people without pets. Some will explicitly state in their ads that they don’t want any animals, or will write clauses in the contract saying pets are not allowed (though as explained above, this clause cannot actually be enforced). So what to do in this case? It isn’t the most terribly honest thing to do, but all my French friends told me to just not say I had a pet. Landlords cannot ask you if you have one (that would be considered a discriminatory question, as pet ownership is part of your vie privée), so it’s a case of don’t ask, don’t tell.
To finish things off (even if it goes without saying): even if you have every liberty to bring a pet into your rented flat, you are still responsible for any damage they cause and any disturbances they cause your neighbours.
For more information on the rights of the owner of a pet in Paris, please visit this page (note: website is in French).
Scams to Avoid
Finding housing in Paris is incredibly difficult – as such, there are a number of scams out there designed to take advantage of people desperate to find an apartment. Below are a number of tips to help you avoid being scammed:
- Don’t send your dossier before seeing the apartment. It is incredibly dangerous to send your dossier – which contains your ID card, bank details, job details, and other personal information just ripe for identity theft – without meeting the landlord first and seeing the apartment. By preference I don’t send anything electronically at all – I bring a copy of my papers to the showing and have them look over everything then and there.
- Ask for proof they own the apartment. Sounds odd, but it’s a common scam here to rent an AirBNB, pass it off as your own, and scam people out of deposit money. Asking to see a justificatif domicile (for example, an EDF contract in the landlord’s name) can put your mind at ease.
- Don’t send any money before you sign the lease. Some scammers will ask you to send a deposit before you even visit to “secure” your rental, or prove your interest.
- Don’t send any money through questionable methods. All rental payments should be paid to a French bank account. If the owner is asking you to pay by PayPal, wire transfer, cash, or some other non-banking method, demand to pay through bank transfer or refuse to sign at all.