22 September 2010

In on bail

French law protects tenants. Your landlord can't kick you out and can't raise your rent, the law is completely on your side. So landlords choose their tenants very carefully.

Suppose you make 3000 euro and the rent is 1001 euro. You won't get the apartment because the rent is more than one third of your income, an iron rule of renting. Landlords are also keenly interested in your ability to pay the rent, and will ask for a bank guarantee. Most people will ask their parents to sign the guarantee, which is perfectly acceptable even if the parents live on welfare in a nursing home. In my case, I was allowed to put a year's rent into escrow, 10000 euro. Easy. Another thing to watch out for is the état des lieux which lists all damage, like broken tiles - forget something and you'll pay for it when you move out. I have some flaking paint in the kitchen, which the landlord will get repainted asap; five months after the signature someone will definitely maybe come and take another look before the painters will perhaps come (this is southern France, after all). Once the contract - bail in French - is signed, the place is yours.

If I had tried to arrange all that on my own I'd probably be homeless now. An agency, Provence Relocation, did all the work. They arranged a visit of a number of available apartments, and all I had to do was pick one. They did everything else. The service is expensive, but the French government is once again helpful: you get a little welcome gift of over 3000 euro, just like that, which pays for the relocation agency and the real estate agent too.

The process is so complicated that people don't move much in France.

So I now have an apartment at La Plaine in the old center of Marseille, in walking distance to the old harbor and the mediterranean sea. There are lots of small cafés, shops, and restaurants in narrow pedestrianized alleys (pedestrianized means there are fewer cars) around here, and from my window I can see four boulangeries (bakeries) making fantastic French pastries. Most buildings here are 300 years old, which means high ceilings, French windows, and creaky old staircases, and everything is so densely built that the courtyards are narrow shafts. My place has a creaky old staircase too but the unusual luxury of windows with views on three sides, and those famous Provençal mauve sunsets that inspired painters like Vermeer and van Gogh; may they inspire my kitchen painters too. The floors aren't level, the walls aren't straight, the fireplaces can't be used because the chimneys are used as cable tunnels, and the bathroom is a daring combination of mint green and black. But I like it anyway.

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