Guide to Letting Property in France

8. Preparation of a French Tenancy Agreement

A tenancy agreement is commonly called a bail (pronounced ‘bye’). It may also more formally be called a contrat de location.

We do not consider it lettings of co-ownership properties (copropriété), as these are also subject to the règlement de copropriété.

The law does recognise a tenancy agreement that is made verbally but, in the event of a dispute, only the bare minimum of clauses are accepted by a court of law.

In consequence, the rights of the landlord are reduced, and it can become more difficult for them to terminate the letting on grounds of rent arrears or lack of insurance.

Accordingly, most tenancy agreements are made in writing, where the rights and obligations of each party are clearly stated.

Indeed, the tenant has a right to a written agreement if they request one and there are severe penalties for a landlord who fails to comply.

Four approaches to the preparation of a tenancy agreement are possible:

  • Use of a one of the standard form of pre-printed tenancy agreements that can be purchased from any good bookshop.
  • Use of a property professional such as an estate agent or huissier who may themselves have a model contract that can be used.
  • Preparation of an agreement by a notaire who will provide a tenancy agreement in the form of an acte authentique.
  • Use the government controlled service at DossierFacile an on-line service that provides all the documents you will need.

The choice of which approach to take depends on many things - the wishes of both parties, your own level of experience and competence, the extent to which either you might wish to incorporate revisions in a standard contract, and just how much you wish to spend! Arguably, if your understanding of the French language is good enough the cheapest option is to use DossierFacile.

One of the advantages of having it prepared by a notaire is that is it more easily enforceable. That is to say, if the tenant is in arrears of rent, it is possible to take speedier debt recovery procedures, without the need to go to court, although any possession proceedings requires a court hearing.

Whilst the standard contracts do permit for some limited additions and variations to be made, the use of a property professional or a notaire is recommended if you want to vary the standard conditions.

If either professional assistance or a notaire are used it is normal practice for the costs to be shared. The total costs are likely to be between circa €500.

In the case of unfurnished accommodation it is illegal for the landlord to insist that the tenant should meet all of the costs. There are no regulations governing the sharing of costs for furnished accommodation.

Whilst there is some freedom for the landlord and tenant to vary and add clauses, there are certain clauses are expressly forbidden in a tenancy agreement.

These include, an obligation to pay by standing order or by deduction from from their salary, obligation to take out insurance with landlords insurer, prohibition on taking in lodgers, or a clause which makes the tenant responsible for all defects in the property, irrespective of cause.

In terms of pets, see an article we published in our Newsletter at Animals in French Rental Properties.

Many expats who let to a non-French household on a long-let do not arrange for a tenancy agreement to be prepared.

Instead, the whole arrangement is run on the basis of an exchange of e-mails and/or verbal agreement. In most cases, things work out quite satisfactorily.

Nevertheless, provided it is their main residence, the occupants are still entitled to the same rights as those of a household occupying the property on a permanent basis and with a written tenancy agreement.

This applies notably in relation to the right to a minimum tenancy of one year if furnished, and three years if unfurnished.

Similarly, it is possible to have an agreement made up in the English language, which is legal in France, although French law will be applied on the terms of the agreement.

The tenant is entitled to a receipt for rental payments, and pre-printed rent books can be purchased from any good bookshop.

The rent book, or rental receipt, is called a Quittance de Loyer.

The following table summaries the principal differences in the law as between furnished and unfurnished tenancies.

Since 2018 it has also been possible to negotiate a 'mobility' tenancy, which we consider in Duration of Tenancy.

Table: Summary Differences

Aspect Unfurnished Furnished
Written Agreement Obligatory Obligatory if Principal Home
Length of Tenancy Minimum 3 years Minimum 1 year
Tenant Notice Period Three Months One Month
Grounds for Termination Occupation, Sale or Breach Ditto
Right of First Refusal on Sale Yes No
Tenant Insurance Obligation Yes No
Rental/Damage Deposit Max One Month No Maximum

There is no legal definition of what constitutes a 'furnished' letting. Case law suggests, only the barest amount of furniture is required. A bed, table and chairs, refrigerator, cooker, cupboards, a toilet and bathroom, and a hot water heater would seem be sufficient to meet the legal requirements. Much will depend on the expressed intent of the two parties as to whether it is to be a 'furnished' or 'unfurnished' letting. A prudent landlord wishing to let a property as 'furnished' would be wise to ensure there was sufficient furniture in the property to avoid any misinterpretation.

Next: Obligatory Surveys

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