October 2010

The rental agreementRental agreements are one of the most commonly made contracts in France and the legal regulations that apply to them are very precise. However, the rules are subject to changes, depending on changes in government. Whilst the original system was designed to protect the landlord’s interests almost exclusively, the current one (6 July 1989 Act) is more balanced and provides tenants with more rights than previously.

It is crucial to be aware of the main provisions applicable, as these will apply regardless of the tenant’s citizenship. Before going deeper into this topic, it must be stressed that the rules which will be presented concern the lease of living space and not those designed for professional or commercial purposes.

A written tenancy agreement must be in place so that the tenant is aware of his or her rights and duties. It should be drafted by the landlord and then approved by the tenant. Each party keeps a copy of this contract (if there is someone acting as a guarantor for the payment of the rent, then they too should receive a copy of the contract). Although it is possible for the landlord and the tenant to write the contract themselves, it is strongly advised that you have a suitable model upon which to base this.

When the contract is drafted by a professional like an estate agent, the fees involved are usually divided between the landlord and the tenant. With regards to eventual fees, it is important to emphasize that no charge can be asked of the tenant, except where there is a disagreement between the landlord and the tenant making it necessary to hire a bailiff. Therefore, it would be illegal to charge the tenant for file management or for the contract’s renewal.

According to French law, the lease contract must contain certain stipulations. These include:

– The landlord’s name and address
– The location of the rented accommodation
– The nature of the rented accommodation (house/flat, number of rooms, surface area, garden, parking)
– The date when the rented accommodation will be available to the tenant
– The contract’s duration
– The rent amount and method of payment
– The deposit
– Information regarding the television

However, some clauses would be invalid even though stipulated. For example:

– A clause stipulating that the rent has to be paid by direct debit
– A clause stipulating that the tenant has to make the property available for visits during bank holidays or for more than two hours per day at other times
– A clause insisting that the tenant sign-up to an insurance contract with a company designated by the landlord
– A clause of contractual termination for a reason other than the rent’s non-payment
– A clause prohibiting the use of the property by the tenant for their holidays

Time to moveThe law also stipulates a contract’s precise duration (which is always renewable): the lease agreement may be for six years if the landlord is a professional person, three years if the landlord is an individual, or one year if the landlord is an individual who can justify that they will need to get the property back for one of a limited number of reasons (such as returning to France or retirement).

It is also important to be aware that the tenant’s marital status could influence the rental agreement. If the tenant is married, both spouses are tenants, even if only one of them signs the contract. Both spouses have to pay the rent but the landlord can request the whole payment from just one spouse.

In the case of a registered partnership, if only one spouse signs the contract, he or she is the only tenant, although their partner will have the right to remain in the property if the official tenant dies.

With regards to the termination of any tenancy agreement, the 1989 Act rules that if the tenant wants to terminate the contract, they must officially warn the landlord by sending a letter by recorded delivery within the notice period – three months if the tenant moves for personal reasons, one month if the tenant moves for his or her first job or because their employer sends them away, or because they have lost their job.

In either case, the tenant has to keep paying rent until the end of the notice period, except if the landlord can rent the place to a new tenant before the end of that deadline.

If the landlord wants to terminate the contract, it could mean one of two things:

– The landlord wants to sell the property. In this case, they must wait until the end of the contract’s term to do so and offer the tenant the opportunity to buy the property from them. The notice period is six months before the end of the term.

– The landlord can invoke a ‘legitimate and serious reason’, such as the tenant’s bad contractual performance – a rent non-payment or the infringement of a regulation.

It is also worth noting that if the tenant is more than 70 when the contract ends and their income is less than the French minimum wage, a landlord who wants to terminate the contract must find them suitable alternative accommodation (except if the landlord is over 60 and also has a very low income).

The above-mentioned elements cannot cover all the French legislation that rules every aspect of the contractual relationship between tenant and landlord. It is therefore necessary to ask a specialised lawyer about the contract’s validity and the scale of the commitments it involves.

Contributed by Michel Attal, Attorney-at-Law (Toulouse), Professor of Law (University of Toulouse)
Address: 1 Rue Montardy, 31000 Toulouse, FRANCE
Tel. 00 33 (0)5 62 15 21 68

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