Adjusting Your Expectations for Housing in Paris
A) Unfurnished vs. Furnished Apartments
Furnished apartments generally have everything you will need, including linens, though you should double check this. A full inventory will be taken before you move in. This is to protect you as well as the owner in case of damages. An unfurnished apartment is often completely empty. This means that there will likely be no refrigerator, oven/stove, kitchen cabinets, mirrors, or medicine cabinet. In addition, don't be surprised if there is not even a single light bulb or curtain rod left. The reason for this is that the landlord is responsible for anything attached to the walls. Also, most French people buy their own cabinets and large appliances and move with them. Note that when you leave an apartment, all holes in the walls must be filled in.
About 10% of rental properties in Paris are furnished and they are nearly always inside Paris. They are usually lightly furnished and it is difficult to find apartments where landlords have put really attractive furniture inside. We usually suggest that tenants planning to stay for one year or less should rent furnished accommodation and those renting for two years or longer should rent unfurnished. If your stay is for a time in between it will be your personal choice. You may however consider the possibility that your stay could turn out to be longer than expected.
B) Modern vs. Older Buildings
A building constructed since the 1960's is considered modern. There are many general differences between a modern building and an older one. However, you should note that there are exceptions to every rule, particularly when an older apartment is refurbished. Here are some examples:
Modern apartments are much more likely than older ones to have parking. If you choose an older building and require parking, you can often find paid parking in public, underground lots in the neighborhood. In addition, there are sometimes spaces in larger modern buildings that go unused. Thus the owners will rent out the space. Older buildings are more likely to have hardwood floors while modern buildings generally have carpeting in the apartments. Modern buildings are more likely to have elevators and often make better use of space. Older buildings often have a strange set-up with the kitchen many times being across the apartment from the dining areas. Also, you are more likely to find closet space and shelving units in a modern apartment whereas an older home might require you to buy additional armoires and drawers. On the other hand, older homes ten to have much more charm and feel much more Parisian than a modern home.
C) Residence Hotelière
For a short term stay, you may want to consider a residence hotelière. This sort of home is a fully furnished hotel style apartment meaning you will have all the amenities of a hotel, such as housekeeping, but the "room" will be a fully furnished apartment complete with a kitchen. This may be an acceptable option if you need a place temporarily while looking for a more long term home, or it may suffice for the entirety of your stay. However the cost of this type of lodging can be quite expensive so it may not be worth the cost if you are staying longer than six months.
D) Haussmannian Apartments
A typical style of Parisian apartments is the Haussmannian style, named for Baron Haussman who was the interior minister under Napoleon III. Many of these buildings were built between 1850 and 1920. Full of Paris charm, these homes were designed to be practical in that era and are not always practical in modern times. For example, they were not built with elevators, thus the apartments on the upper floors, originally for servants and poorer people, were cheaper to rent. Today, if an elevator has been installed, the upper floors are more expensive Generally, in these buildings, the ground floor was designed for shops. The next level, was for the shopkeepers. The second and third floors were at one time the most desirable and were built for the aristocrats. The ceilings are much higher than the other floors, the windows are much larger, and often the balconies are more ornate. On any floors above, the ceilings will be progressively lower.
A) Taxe d'Habitation
This is a local tax that every household must pay, whether as a renter or owner. The cost is determined by the town in which you live and can vary depending on the size of the home and family status. Note that taxes are not necessarily lower because the rent in a certain town is lower. Often times in the Paris region, for example, rent can be lower in the suburbs, but taxes much higher. It will need to be paid by whomever was living in the apartment or house as of January 1. Therefore, if you moved in sometime after January 1, you will not have to pay this tax the first year.
Normally you will receive a notice in the last trimester of the year as a tax bill. It will show how much you owe, by what date it needs to be paid, and how they determined the amount.
In France the ground floor is called the rez de chaussée. It is not the first floor. What other countries call the second floor would be the first floor in France. Occasionally there will be an entresol or a "between floor" right above the ground floor. In this case, the next floor up is the first floor.
With the possible exception of studios, most homes in France have the toilet in a separate room called the WC or water closet. Though this may seem strange to you at first, it can be quite practical when someone else is in the shower with the door locked! Unfortunately, many do not come with a sink to wash your hands, so you may end up having to walk to down the hall to the bathroom anyway. In the actual bathroom, though there is no toilet, you may find a bidet. This is another thing you may find strange, depending on what country you are from. In addition to the usual purpose, people today sometimes use them for washing things by hand, washing babies, or even as a sink for small children. Finally, the shower itself may be different. Most apartments have bathtubs with a hose attached to the faucet. You may be lucky if you have a place to hang the hose and take a real shower. Otherwise you will have to hold it. This may prove difficult when trying to wash your hair. You can always install a hook however.
The job of the concierge, or gardien(ne), has changed much throughout the years. So his/her job will change depending on the type of building in which you live. In some buildings, the concierge will collect and distribute all mail. Other buildings will have mailboxes for each tenant, but the concierge will hold any large packages. In some buildings the concierge will do the cleaning in the common areas. Other buildings will hire outside help. In most cases, you will pay your rent to the concierge. Try to stay on good terms as this person could turn out to be an invaluable source of information for anyone who is new to the neighborhood, giving advice on where to find a good plumber, babysitter or even a good place to shop. Traditionally, New Year's Day is the time for the Etrennes or gift to the concierge. This form of tipping varies, but a general guideline is from 200-500 francs. If possible ask your neighbors.
Some apartments still have concierges who will keep track of comings and goings in the building, but many have been replaced by digicodes and intercoms. The digicode is a little panel of numbers at the front door. There will be a code for anyone wanting to enter. Once inside, there is often an intercom as well. Anyone wanting to visit will have to ring your specific apartment in order for you to buzz them in.
If you are burglarized, you should immediately call your local commisariat de police. You should also call your insurance company, generally within 48 hours although that will depend on your policy. You will most likely need to make a complete list of all that was taken.
All owners are required by law to allow tenants to keep domestic animals. If you have a cat or dog, you do not need to worry. However, if you have a more exotic animal, you may want to check in advance if it is permitted.
G) Keeping Records
Make sure to keep a copy of your lease throughout the time you live in the home, and up to five years after you leave. Also make sure to keep the records concerning the Etat des Lieux and the form surface corrigé which gives the official amount of surface area counted by the government for tax purposes. Make sure to keep any correspondence exchanged with the owner, your insurance policy, and any contracts or bills associated with keeping up the heating system throughout the time you live in the home, and any quittances de loyer or rent receipts for five years.
H) Chimneys and Fireplaces
Before using your fireplace, you will have to have the chimney cleaned by an outside service. This will need to be done every six months. They will give you a certificat de ramonage which you should keep for one year, proving that your chimney is up to inspection. Before the work is started, shop around for prices. Foreigners can be easy prey for swindlers. Make sure beforehand as well that they will give you the certificat.
Most apartments come with a cave (cellar), a small, poorly lit storage space located under the building. In old buildings, it may have a dirt floor and be totally inappropriate for storing anything but wine. In modern buildings, your cave will be dry and warm and storage will be possible. Since caves are easy targets for burglars, putting a steel plate over the door and fitting it with a couple of good locks can't be too recommended. In any case, avoid storing anything valuable in your cave.
J) Chambre de Bonne
Larger apartments, especially in older buildings, often come with one or more chambres de bonne (service rooms or maid's rooms). These are small rooms equipped with a sink, sometimes a shower and a toilet. They are usually located on the top floor and can prove extremely useful; if you don't have a full-time maid, they can be used as a remote and private den or bedroom, or for storage. You can also rent them, furnished or not, to students or other people but be aware that subletting is usually prohibited in the lease. If this is your case, you will have to have your landlords' prior consent put in writing.
K) Street Signs and Addresses
The postal code inside Paris begins with 750 or 751. The last two digits give you the arrondissement. 75007 is the 7th. On streets perpendicular to the Seine, the numbers begin at the river. On streets parallel to the Seine the numbers increase with the flow of the river, from East to West. Whenever an address is mentioned, it is fully written out the French way: number, street name, area code, city name. Paris' arrondissements (districts) are indicated by their postal code. Therefore, the 6th arrondissement is referred to as 75006 Paris.
Other aspects of the address: batiment (building name or number), escalier (stairway), étage (floor), code, (door code), à droite or à gauche (side of the floor). When visiting someone, always get as much of this information as possible. People usually will tell you something like this : "J'habite au 35 boulevard du Montparnasse, escalier C au fond de la cour, quatrième étage à gauche."
In French your address and phone number are your coordonnées.
Choosing a Neighborhood
Location is primary. Consider where the office and schools are. Next, are there the important conveniences nearby, i.e. shops, leisure facilities. Is it quiet and residential or busy? Also consider what is offered in different types of Neighborhoods. For example in Paris, you may want to live in an old building in the Marais. But if you want parking as well, that is much more difficult. Also, there is the security issue, particularly if there are children. Though violent crime is not as high as in some other countries, certain neighborhoods may still be more or less desirable.
First Arrondissement (1er)
Found in central Paris, this area is busy day and night, with locals and tourists alike. There you will find the Louvre, the Tuileries gardens, and Les Halles, the city's former marketplace. Along the Rue de Rivoli there is plenty of shopping including many tourist shops and La Samaritaine, one of the local department stores. Though most of the first arrondissement is filled with busy tourists, you can find some small side streets that are quiet and contain some lovely old buildings.
Second Arrondissement (2e)
As the city's commercial center, this area is mostly known for La Bourse or the stock exchange. However, you will also find some designer shops toward the Place des Victoires as well as clothing factories and warehouses around the Sentier and Place du Caire areas. The second is also known for it's many covered shopping arcades, some of which date back to the nineteenth century. Gourmets may like this area for the specialty kitchen shops.
Third and Fourth Arrondissements (3e and 4e, The Marais)
Once nothing but swampland, this district became popular with royalty and aristocrats about 400 years ago. Now it has become a trendy "Greenwich Village" sort of area, only with many beautiful h?tels particuliers dating from the 16th century. A Jewish community has developed in the last century around the Rue des Rosiers where you can find lots of wonderful Kosher delis and Jewish bakeries. The Marais is also known for its large gay population. You should know that if looking for housing in this area, that parking will be very scarce.
Fifth Arrondissement (5e, The Latin Quarter)
Known historically as an intellectual center, this area still contains the Sorbonne as well as several famous lycées and Grandes Ecoles. Though filled with students and tourists, this neighborhood has still remained residential in areas though it can be quite expensive as well.. You can also see the Mosque, the Pantheon, and the Museum of the Arab World.
Sixth Arrondissement (6e, St. Germain)
Also known for famous intellectual life, the St. Germain district contains some of the most well known cafes that people like Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre used to frequent. More chic than the Latin Quarter, you can find designer shops, galleries and maybe even a famous person or two. Parts of this neighborhood also remain lively throughout the night with a variety of bars and restaurants. Parking as usual can be difficult.
Seventh Arrondissement (7e)
Considered the area for "old money" and foreign embassies, this is one of the most luxurious, yet residential neighborhoods. Rents can be quite high and evening activity is minimal. However, you will find green areas such as the Champ de Mars for relaxing, and famous spots including the Invalides and the Eiffel Tower. There is quite a large expatriate community in this area.
Eighth Arrondissement (8e)
The eighth is probably most known for the Champs-Elysées and it's surrounding streets filled with the most famous of designer shops. Expect to find lots of tourists in that area, but know there is more to the eighth including the beautiful Parc Monceau and many impressive Haussmanian style apartment buildings.
Ninth Arrondissement (9e)
Known for the Opera Garnier, the large department stores and it's Grands Boulevards, the ninth is an interesting location between the chic areas of the eight and second, and the more "colorful" neighborhoods of the 18th. Rents are much more reasonable here and you will find different ethnic areas, each with it's own charm. Don't expect too much greenery however.
Tenth Arrondissement (10e)
Mostly known simply for it's large train stations, the tenth arrondissement is not always considered the most interesting. However rents can be very reasonable and you may find some beautiful old buildings that are being restored. Also, the area of the Canal St. Martin is an up and coming neighborhood. It is nice place to take a walk or skate when the weather is good as they close part of the streets specifically for this purpose on Sunday afternoons.
Eleventh and Twelfth Arrondissements (11e and 12e)
This is the up and coming area in Paris. Many new buildings are being constructed for housing as well as for commercial use. The Bercy neighborhood, which was once a wine warehouse district may be the place to be in the next few years. Several of the warehouses have been turned into shops and cafes. In addition there is the lovely Parc de Bercy and a brand new metro line serving the area, with the outskirts of the twelfth being lined by the Bois de Vincennes. Farther north you will find the Place de la Bastille and the Place de la Nation. Most of the neighborhoods here in general are residential, but expect to find lots of tourists and young people in the Bastille as the night life is busy.
Thirteenth Arrondissement (13e)
This neighborhood is home to Paris' large asian population who mostly settled here in the 1970's. Go there if you are looking for any special asian ingredients as you will find lots of small markets and shops that specialize. Also look for the neighborhood around la Butte aux Cailles with it's hilly, quiet streets and lots of small, inexpensive restaurants.
Fourteenth Arrondissement (14e, Montparnasse)
Once known as a bohemian center, Montparnasse was on the playground for the likes of Modigliani and Picasso as well as various american artists who came until the stock market crash of 1929. South of Montparnasse are the Place Denfert Rochereau and the Parc Montsouris. The Cite Universitaire is also an interesting spot as it is a campus of student housing for students from around the world. It's worth a visit. Each building is representative of each country's local architecture.
Fifteenth Arrondissement (15e)
A large, middle class arrondissement, you will find this to be a relatively residential district with several parks including the Parc André Citroën and the Parc Georges Brassens. Rents are reasonable and, for the most part, tourists are minimal.
Sixteenth Arrondissement (16e)
A relatively aristocratic neighborhood, this arrondissement is rather popular with the expatriate community. This may be because of it's location near to the southern and western suburbs as well as it's proximity to English speaking schools. As it is a quiet area, and next to the Bois de Boulogne, many find this to be a suitable area for children. The Passy area is also known for some great shopping. Housing is generally on the expensive side.
Seventeenth Arrondissement (17e)
This arrondissement hold the entire spectrum from expensive and aristocratic to the working class. The southern side touches the Parc Monceau from the eighth arrondissement. It is filled with the larger boulevards. Going north is the more middle class Batignolles area with a small park suitable for children as well. Moving towards the 18th arrondissment and the rue clichy, the neighborhoods become much more working class. However this is not necessarily a bad neighborhood either. You may still find some attractive and reasonably priced homes and it is still a relatively safe area.
Eighteenth Arrondissement (18e, Montmartre)
Topped by the Sacre CSur which is always swarming with tourists, Montmartre was considered yet another of Paris' bohemian neighborhoods. Homes around it can be beautiful and quite expensive. However, as you move down hill and closer to the Pigalle or Barbes neighborhoods, you may feel a bit less comfortable, even if rents are significantly cheaper. However, these neighborhoods may still be worth seeing. Don't forget, Pigalle is home to the famous Moulin Rouge, known for it's "can can" girls.
Nineteenth and Twentieth Arrondissements (19e and 20e)
Relatively inexpensive neighborhoods within Paris, these areas are considered to be very working class and ethnic districts. Though many parts have been run down, in recent years there has been somewhat of a move to restore some of the older buildings or to reconstruct. If you are looking for a newer, modern building that is not too expensive, this may be an interesting neighborhood for you. On the north side there is the site of La Villette with it's park and giant science museum. Moving south, you will also see the Parc Buttes Chaumont, another area worth seeing whether with children or not. Finally, the most famous site here is the Père Lachaise cemetary, now "home" to Jim Morrison, Chopin, and Oscar Wilde.
The most popular suburbs with the expatriate community are the ones to the West of Paris. The reason for this is probably their proximity to La Defense, where so many people work, and the foreign and international schools. For those who want to remain close to the city, you may want to look into Neuilly-Sur-Seine or Levallois-Perret, both pleasant towns that are still on the Paris metro lines. A little farther out are the towns of Puteaux, Suresnes, and Courbevoie. Still farther is the well known St.-Germain-en-Laye, a very chic area which is also home to the international school.
If you still want to be near to Paris, but on the southern side of the city, look into Boulogne-Billancourt or Saint-Cloud, also on the metro lines. You may also consider Issy-les-Moulineaux or Meudon, which is a little further out. These towns are accesible by the RER.