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Sunday, February 21, 2010

Finding a Place to Call Home (Apartment Search)

If you're going to live in Paris, you have to find yourself a place to live. This can either be really simple or back-breakingly complicated.

The French system of finding a place to live can drag out for months. In order to view an apartment, you need essentially every paper or document that you have ever received in your life. This is an exaggeration of course, but sometimes, it doesn't seem that far from the truth. Usually, you will need to find your last three paychecks, tax records, photocopy of your identity card, and two or more garants (people that can send you money if you find yourself running low.) In addition, each person that acts as a garant needs to create a dossier that includes their last three paychecks, a photocopy of their identity card, and their gas/electric bill, their tax forms (for the house and for revenue). Oh yeah, don't even think of getting an apartment without a job (unless you are a student it is a little easier.) That's already a lot, and I'm probably forgetting some stuff too.

There's a skit online where there is a young couple that has been searching for an apartment for the past 18 months, and they arrive at a place that is overpriced but they decide to take it anyway. The landlord asks for all of the paperwork, and it still isn't enough. He needs to make sure they couple is in good health, so he asks for documentation of their cholesterol levels, EKGs, and even gives a breast and rectal exam. Then, for the wellbeing of the neighbors, he needs to make sure that the girl in the couple doesn't make too much noise when they fornicate, so he has to try with her just to verify. After this is all done, he says he'll call them back eventually. I watched this with some friends who feel that that though it is a parody, it highlights how ridiculous this system can be. Here's the link:

I'm always amazed when I talk to some friends here that are looking for apartments about how long it takes them. It's not unusual to spend a couple of months with this process, and I even know some that have spent as long as six months without finding a place.

On the other hand, the employees in the company I am with, who rarely speak French nor are aware of the French system of apartment shopping, tend to find places within a week of moving here. How is that possible? What do the Americans know that the French don't? It's all about the way you look.

I was talking with my old landlord a couple of weeks ago, and he told me that he prefers to have foreign apartment dwellers because they don't care about not having all this paperwork drawn up. As long as he gets the money every month, he doesn't give a damn how you actually earned/found/stole it. Plus there are laws that protect the renter which can be a pain for landlords. In one instance, he tried to kick some people out of his apartment, and spent months dealing with paperwork and red tape before he could actually get them out of his apartment. One source (Julie) even says that it is illegal to kick renters out of the apartments during the winter months, barring extreme circumstances.

So anyway, let me give some on ideas on how to go about this whole process.

1. Pros and Cons of Searching Online

There are some great sites for looking for apartments online, and that even list their ads in English. On sites such as Craigslist, PAP, and Fusac, one can find a ridiculous listing of apartments, which makes one wonder how the hell people cannot find apartments in this city.

Occasionally, one can find a good, reasonably priced apartment on Craigslist, but on the whole I advise against using it. The reason why is that as it is a very popular site in the United States for looking for apartments, many Americans tend to look there first. As a result, a lot of landlords will put up prices for apartments that are much higher than what they are really worth, because they assume that if craigslist is the first place that the reader looked, then they won't know that they are paying too much. When I first moved here, I went to one of these apartments. It was 750 (maybe more) euros a month for a one bedroom place near Père Lachaise, the famed cemetery in the 20ème. I arrived and walked into the place. There were about 5 other guys looking at this place, and all of them happened to be American, or at least English speaking. This apartment was ridiculously small, and looked as if a storage space had been converted into this apartment. What made me laugh the most was the bed- I am no giant, but if I was to lay my head on the pillow, I could have bent my knees over the front of my bed and rested my feet on the floor. I almost laughed as hard at the douche bag of a landlord who wore a leather jacket, slicked back black hair and a Bluetooth. The other apartment I looked at on craigslist ended up being some scam where the girl asked me to pay for lawyer's fees to draft a contract for the apartment while her father was in Nigeria.

The other sites I mentioned such as PAP and Fusac are great as well, but you really need to be prepared to call a lot of people before you find a place. The thing is since the listing is online, people don't have to move their lazy asses beyond their beds to sit and call or send a mass email to everyone with an apartment. The problem with that is that if you are looking at a listing from the day before, that place is probably already gone. So if using these sites, be diligent and be ready to call a lot of people.

If you happen to speak any French, a great site for this is The prices on here are legit, and about as low as you'll find online. However, you might have to prepare your stack of documents for this as a lot of these people seek those that have all the guarantees and documentation.

2. Get Out and Look

Probably one of the best places to look for a place if you don't want to deal with the draconian French apartment hunting system is through the American Church in Paris. Every morning, they post notices for employment and housing, and because people actually have to get up, go to the church, then stand there and look at the bulletin board, far fewer people actually see these, thus giving you a better chance of snagging one of these places. I called two apartments here, actually looked at both of them, and chose one for 500 euros a month, which is not cheap but reasonable.

When you look here, as well as on the other English speaking sites, you deal with landlords that don't want to go through the French system either, because it is a hassle for them, too. Not only that, they get taxed for renting out their apartment, so they'd rather just draft a brief little contract with you that basically keeps you from screwing each other over and just tell the government that they are letting a friend stay there or that they are living there themselves. These people also tend to include electricity, internet, tv, and maybe even telephone with the price.

In my personal opinion, I feel that if you are paying more than 700 for a one bedroom place, or 550 if you have a roommate, you are probably getting ripped off and could do better. Of course there are exceptions, and it depends where in Paris you happen to be living. Once again, as with bars, the further you get away from the center the better. In addition, the west side of Paris (16ème, 17ème, 15ème in parts) is also very pricey. Sometimes you can get lucky and find a cheap place in the middle of an expensive quarter, but this is more an exception rather than a rule.

Happy hunting and I hope if you decide to look for an apartment in this city, that your search goes better than the young couple in the video above.

If you are traveling to Paris and looking to see (and eat) what French people really eat and take a walk around some cool neighborhoods of Paris, look into my tours at


  1. I know this is an old blog post, but I just found your site and I'm reading all the back posts. I love your blog! I am planning to retire soon and move to Paris for a few years. Since I'll be retired, I won't need a job and I won't be a student. I know there are mountains of paperwork to get through before they'll give me a long-stay visa; what I don't know about is other ways than the internet to find an apartment. You post here will be very helpful. I do have my eye on one spot advertised on one of the online places, that seems reasonably priced and well-located. I've been wondering if I need to take a special trip over there (I'm in the US) just to secure an apartment - something I understand is required BEFORE you can get a long-stay visa! Sounds like Catch-22 to me! Anyway, just to let you know someone is studying your posts with great interest!

    Terry in Omaha

  2. Hi Terry,

    I'm glad that you enjoy reading my blog! It really encourages me to keep writing. I just finished another blog today and will be posting (both here and on pretty soon.

    It might not be a bad idea to come to check out the apartment first, but I guess it depends. Mainly, how well do you know Paris? If you have spent a bit of time here and know the neighborhoods well and what to expect in each, then it might not be necessary. However, if you have only been here a couple of times for short stays, it might not be a bad idea to take a short trip to Paris. In addition, you could meet with those who would help you with getting your visa, those meetings are always much more productive in person anyway.

    There are many paradoxical issues that come when getting a visa here. Basically just except that anything is possible with French administration, it will save a lot of stress. I have had very good and very frustrating experiences with the visa process, but overall, I have been pretty fortunate.

    Thanks again for reading and hope all works out for your move to France!