My first apartment in Paris, 2007

Finding a chambre de bonne, studio or one-bedroom apartment or flat as a student in Paris can be a daunting task. Even if you have a budget and know where you want to live, arriving in October is the worst – every other student in Paris arrives between the end of August and the end of September, and it’s a sellers’ market. You’ll be competing with at least a dozen students – if not up to 50 – most of whom have family in Europe who can guarantee that the rent will be paid. If you have a “garant” from outside of the EU, it can be a lot tougher to find a place.

So how do you find an apartment in Paris?

Rather than settle for a high-priced apartment geared towards tourists, one trick is to play the numbers game, and visit as many apartments as humanly possible as quickly as possible. To avoid charges of discrimination (it is in fact illegal to discriminate against non-EU renters, along with the normal restrictions based on gender, religion, etc.), most landlords have a policy of first come, first serve. Although you’re required to provide all of the financial documents (more about this in the Housing chapter), the majority will accept one of the first visitors if the dossier looks solid, you seem genuinely interested in the apartment, and you “click” personally with them. If the landlord has an open house, it’s hard to be the first – or know if you’re the first – but follow these tips when looking for an apartment:

  1. Arrive early. If it’s a scheduled visit for everyone interested in the apartment, arrive at the very beginning, or even a bit early. Check out the neighborhood as you’re walking to the apartment, noting how close the grocery stores, boulangeries, and restaurants are. Is it close to public transportation? How many metro lines and buses are nearby? Is this a place you’d want to live for 10 months? Just because you know it’s going to be hard to find an apartment doesn’t mean you should settle for living in a place you don’t like. Show up at the apartment early, and introduce yourself to the landlord when you enter. Have an immediate positive reaction. If you decide you don’t like it after a few minutes, you don’t have to give your paperwork, but better to make a good impression and decide unfavorably than to scowl when you enter and not be able to convince the landlord you find his place charming.
  2. Have all of your documents ready. If you are serious about an apartment you visit, you have to let the landlord know immediately by giving him or her a complete dossier with all of your information. As soon as you know how you feel about a place – and it’s positive – you should hand over your paperwork, gush (genuinely) about the great bathtub or the high beam ceiling, and ask when you can expect to hear back. Try to be memorable. When I was looking for apartments with my fiancé, I always put a picture of us together on the cover sheet of my dossier, so potential landlords would think we were a cute couple and want to rent to us. We also played up the fact that we were getting married, which seemed to help too. Just don’t be fake.
  3. Don’t mention anything that could be used against you. As a student, you’re only required to give one month’s notice to end your lease, and as a tenant, you can have anyone you want in your apartment at any time, including pets. Even though these factors shouldn’t affect your ability to get an apartment, they can. So if you’re planning on having your whole family stay in your 10m2 studio for a week, or you’re getting a cat, don’t mention it to the landlord. Once you’re signing the lease, you may find that it has “clauses abusives,” which, according to a study by Le Parisien, are found in practically all student leases. Don’t fret. If you determine that something in your lease is, in fact, illegal, you can safely ignore it. If your landlord insists, show her that, for example, making you pay extra rent when you have guests is illegal. If she were to try to evict you or withhold your quittances de loyer or security deposit, you could sue, and the court would find that the clause abusive is a “clause non-écrite,” and won’t take it into account.
  4. Be familiar with clause abusives. Since every single student lease examined by Le Parisien in a study last year included illegal clauses, it’s a good idea to be aware of what they are before you start visiting apartments. When meeting landlords, trust your instincts. If they give you the runaround, try to ask for more than one month’s rent as a security deposit (illegal) or worry that you might decide to go back to the US (your prerogative – see number 3), steer clear. There are enough apartments out there, and you don’t want to end up with a dishonest landlord for a year, especially one who can potentially withhold a substantial security deposit once you’re on a plane home.
  5. Follow up. If the landlord mentions when you should hear back and then doesn’t call you, feel free to call to check on the status of the apartment a day or two after he said he’d make up his mind. If he’s vague, or says he has more visitors, let it go. (Also, one thing that’s illegal is asking potential tenants to pay a “holding fee” or “reservation fee” on an apartment. You either pay the security deposit and get the keys, or you pay nothing).
  6. Keep searching. Until you’ve signed your lease and received the keys to your apartment, don’t stop looking. Some landlords like to keep fishing for the best-sounding people out there – either the most financially sound, or the most gullible pushovers. You can find any number of great apartments in Paris, you just have to be persistant and treat apartment-hunting like your job.

So how do you find great apartments in Paris?

There are lots of resources, but if you’re not looking at an apartment destined for tourists – illegal short-term rentals for several hundred Euro per week rather than per month – you’ll want to look on sites destined for the French.

These five sites can all be consulted for free, and several of them post ads for flat sharing or roommates. If you like living with other people, and want to improve your French, finding roommates is a great way to save money and make friends.

On this list, Adèle is the only website dedicated to student housing in France, but all of these are good places to start for finding reasonably priced rentals with a 9-month or 1-year lease. A word of advice: rents on these apartments may be, on average, 10% higher than what a rental agent would advise. On the other hand, by bypassing an agency, you’re saving money on fees, which can be one month’s rent – or about 10% of your total stay. So basically, it ends up being a wash.

  1. Adèle: http://www.adele.org/
  2. Colocation.fr: http://www.colocation.fr/
  3. Se Loger: Seloger.com
  4. Particulier à particulier: http://www.pap.fr/
  5. Acheter-Louer: http://www.acheter-louer.fr/
  6. A Vendre A Louer: http://www.avendrealouer.fr/
You’ll want to avoid any sites that ask you to pay to get contact information for the ads you want to respond to, as well as websites that cater mostly to tourists who want to stay in an apartment. While renting out furnished apartments for less than 9 months is technically not allowed in Paris and other large cities in France, lots of agencies do it, and it drives up rental prices all around. Sites that are in English, including Craigslist and FUSAC, are generally far more expensive, and their landlords don’t want to rent to students. Avoid them.
  1. Appartement.org
  2. www.craigslist.org
  3. FUSAC
  4. Sites in English
There are lots of reputable websites and agencies available to help you find an apartment in Paris, and you should use everything at your disposal when starting your search. Once you arrive, you can also check out bulletin boards at your French university, your American program, the American Church, and French newspapers to find ads. It may take several weeks to find the perfect place, but it’s out there. You just have to look.

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