Monday, May 17, 2010

Penetrating the System

So I've already written several posts about how stupid, stone-age, inefficient, unnecessarily complicated every piece of French paperwork is. Little did I know that I had only barely brushed Purgatory, and that I would soon be made to traverse all nine hellish circles of French bureaucracy in the Inferno that is the Parisian rental market.

I've spent the last few weeks balancing my normal life with the full-time job of hunting for apartments in Paris. The first step is the search, which is done mostly by Internet these days. I start with, the French real estate website of choice, then browse through,, FUSAC (Paris' anglophones magazine) and even When I can, I repeat this browsing do this cycle about five times a day, except for, which I leave open (set to my search terms: one bedroom apartments under 1000 euros/month in the 14th, 5th or 13th arrondissements) and refresh as often as possible.

Next comes the call. In a market as competitive as Paris, the tenant has absolutely no value. If you want a shot at an apartment you have to call as soon as an ad is posted (literally--no more than an hour later you're often already too late), prove you're serious (and have money--landlords often screen tenants by grilling them about their job and salary) and be persistent (follow up emails/calls/texts, whatever it takes).

Parisian apartments are small, expensive, and bare. If you're lucky (and willing to pay more) you can sometimes find them with furnishings, but that's more the exception than the rule. And when I say bare, I mean BARE. In France, appliances like fridges, washing machines, and even ovens and stoves are things that you lug around with you each time you move, meaning that an empty apartment literally comes with nothing but the kitchen sink.

Then there are the visits. Which, for whatever reason, are usually during the middle of a work day--thank God for my flexible student schedule. This is your chance to check the state of the apartment (mold? double-paned windows? collective or individual heating/water? carpeted or wood floors?) and the landlord's chance to judge evaluate you. This is also when you're expected, if you're interested, to hand over your "dossier"--a fat, expensive-to-have-printed folder, consisting of a lock of your baby hair, the rights to your first born child, etc. In other words, pretty much everything that has mattered, ever, in your entire life.

In all seriousness, a dossier should include: your ID (passport and carte de sejour, for foreigners), your last three pay stubs (from a French job), your contract (for the same French job), your birth certificate, a letter of recommendation from your current lodging, your bank account information, and even sometimes your previous two years' worth of tax summaries. Multiply that by two if you're a couple, and by three if you need a "garant"--a guarantor who declares their income in France, and who must provide pretty much the same paperwork (or, at a minimum, the pay stubs, ID and tax statements). Keep in mind that this is all going to a complete stranger, who is likely hosting about ten more apartment viewings that day and may not even consider you a potential tenant.

If you don't have the time (or sanity) to spare checking ads and calling and waiting on landlords, the alternative is to use one of Paris' many localized rental agencies. The convenience comes at a price, however--stricter paperwork standards, an upfront fee (usually around 200 euros) and often a percentage of the rent as a sort of finder's fee. In short, it seems like a bit of a rip off, not to mention a surrender. I'm still looking on my own. But I'm running out of time.

I did my 8th visit this morning. Out of the 8 there are only two possibles, and only one that I'm in love with. As foreigners, Tom and I are at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to dealing with landlords. Even if I can muster good enough French to satisfy them, we are unable to provide the same standard of "Frenchness" as other candidates when it comes to our paperwork, in particular the garant. After trying to muddle through without one, we finally got Tom's supervisor to agree to back us. Unfortunately, he seems to be balking at the idea of all the paperwork he has to present (and I mean really, who wouldn't?)

I will end with the very high-tech graphic I made to illustrate the aggravation factor of this whole process. It shows all of the components involved in renting a residence. The arrows indicate the "price" needed to gain the "product" (i.e., the black arrow from the garant to the house indicates that you need a garant in order to get a house). The fuchsia arrows highlight the many catch-22s inherent to the system (i.e., you need a job for a residency card, but also a residency card for a job) that seem designed to weed out foreigners.
...mais, enfin, ce qui ne me détruit pas me rend plus fort...

1 comment:

  1. WOW. I knew the French were crazy about their nonsensical paperwork requriements, but honestly. I haven't read your newer posts yet (working on that next) but mad props to you if you eventually found a place!