How I finally got a flat in Paris

You'll need guts and a sense of humour if you decide to rent in the French capital, says Pip Smith
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The Independent Online

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's trendy 11th arrondissement has a small balcony overlooking a quiet square. It has floor-to-ceiling windows and, most important of all, it's a short walk from the local boulangerie and the smell of freshly baked croissants.

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's trendy 11th arrondissement has a small balcony overlooking a quiet square. It has floor-to-ceiling windows and, most important of all, it's 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-bed, unfurnished flats in Paris have shot up by 8 per cent in the past year and by 42 per cent over the past 10 years, says Philippe Prevel, spokesman for the FNAIM real estate association.

The average monthly rent, including service charge, for a 40sqm, one-bed, unfurnished flat in the 11th arrondissement was €820 (£560) in March, up from €770 (£530) a year earlier, Prevel says. My 36sqm flat costs €770, including a service charge. Prevel adds that 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 sometimes frustrated by the less than helpful attitude of estate agents, not to mention the mountain of paperwork.

Claire Childs is a recruitment consultant and rented four flats in the UK before coming to Paris, where she rents a one-bed flat in the 15th arrondissement. "It's 50 million times easier in the UK to rent a flat," she says. "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 employment status. Your passport or residence permit, bank details, last tax statement and a rent receipt for your current flat are also required.

You also have to come up with a deposit of two months' rent to cover damage and, of course, pay for the first month upfront. 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 they are French. So, if you're without wealthy French relatives, 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. "France is a country where administration is heavy," says Carole Mohnblatt, of Easy Life, which offers services to newcomers to Paris. "It's a country of papers."

France's love of bureaucracy in property matters is partly understandable, given the generous protection enjoyed by the tenant under the law. "The law is repressive against owners - they don't have the right to evict in the winter, for example," says Alain Beugnier, of estate agency France Lodge Locations.

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 puts the under-supply of flats down to a deficit of new construction. He says: "Lending rates in France are at historical lows, so some people prefer to buy, but even people buying to let has not eased demand." Alienor van Litsenborgh, an accountant for a photo agency in Paris, considers word of mouth by far the best way to find a flat to rent.

I realised the extent of this competition when I arranged directly with the owner to view a one-bedroom flat advertised in the popular weekly magazine Particulier à Particulier (Individual to Individual). To my horror, I found at least 50 people queueing. Nevertheless, dealing with the owner has the benefit of skipping agency fees.

How did I find my dream flat? When I first arrived in Paris, I booked into a hotel for two weeks to get my bearings. Then I rented for three months near the Latin Quarter, through France Lodge Locations, before finding a flat near Montmartre, through Particulier à Particulier. The viewing was early one Saturday morning, when my fellow flat-hunters were probably fast asleep. And I found my third and current flat by dealing directly with the owner through renting website www.explorimmo.com.

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