Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Renting versus buying in France

Out of 27 million 'principal residences' (excluding holiday homes) some 60% of French are owners of their home, consisting of some 15.5 million households. Of these 80% live in individual houses and the remainder in apartments. Some householders elect to rent out of choice, perhaps also owning a secondary home, while others have fewer options - including the young, those on low salaries, the old - who are obliged to rent within the private sector (nearly 60%) and the remainder in social housing, much of it built in the period after the war when huge estates - known as cit├ęs - started to appear on the outskirts of many French cities and towns.  Many of these are now considered 'problem areas' (see post below) and have created wide social divisions between rich and poor.

Those moving to France from abroad tend to be property buyers, unless their stay is intended to be short for professional reasons, such as a temporary work assignment or to complete a course of studies at advanced level. Some potential buyers may choose to rent for a short period - say one year - while they look around one or more areas before deciding where to settle and this category can include many (older) people seeking a retirement home in the sun.

Rentals are offered either on a short term basis - up to 12 months and invariably furnished, with the possibility to negotiate an extension. Houses or apartments in this category tend to be more expensive to rent than longer term unfurnished properties. An unfurnished private rental is normally for a minimum of three years, with considerable security enjoyed by the tenant, particularly if it is his/her principal home. Even defaulting on rental payments or causing nuisance or damage cannot automatically lead to a tenant's eviction - legal cases can take years to reach the courts, while there is a 'period of grace' during the winter months with yet more protections for those in old age, all of which can make eviction difficult. Potential landlords should be aware of these potential problems, mindful of corse that the vast majority of tenants behave correctly.

As in Britain and elsewhere, the French government bemoans the lack of social housing and there are long waiting lists for properties at controlled rents (known as HLM). And as noted in the posts below, government subsidies (through tax relief) to provide lower cost rental homes have generally failed.