French local authorities crack down on holiday rentals

A rule coming into effect in June will force landlords in popular French holiday destinations to rent out one property on the local market for every holiday rental that they own, in an attempt to tackle the housing shortage in key areas.

Biarritz is a popular city for tourists from France and abroad. It will introduce strict new rules on holiday rentals from June.
Biarritz is a popular city for tourists from France and abroad. It will introduce strict new rules on holiday rentals from June. (Photo by Gaizka IROZ / AFP)

France faces an acute shortage of affordable housing. 

In the Pays Basque area of southwest of France, increasing numbers of landlords prioritise lucrative short-term holiday lets over traditional rental contracts, exacerbating the problem. 

According to the Agence d’urbanisme Atlantique et Pyrénées (Audap), the area has more than 16,000 properties let out exclusively to tourists – a figure that grew 130 percent between 2016-20

In response, local officials voted earlier this month to set tough new rules to curb holiday rentals and listings on platforms such as Airbnb in 24 Pays Basque communes including Biarritz, Bayonne and Saint-Jean-de-Luz. 

The following measures will come into effect on June 1st: 

  • Landlords who want to use their property for short-term holiday lettings will need to offer a second property, similar in size and in the same town, with a conventional rental contract;
  • Landlords cannot simply build another property to rent out alongside their Airbnb one – they must renovate a building that already exists and is being used for non-housing purposes (ie a garage). 

Some landlords will struggle to meet these requirements and may be forced to offer their property onto the traditional rental market instead, thereby adding to the housing supply. 

READ ALSO 5 things to know about renting out your second home in France

People renting out property in the Basque country already need to apply for a license to offer short-term holiday lettings, which are renewed every three years. Those who already have a license will need to abide by the new rules once the three-year validity period runs out. 

Landlords will still be able to rent their primary residence through platforms such as Airbnb for up to 120 days per year (as is the case in the rest of France) and offer holiday bookings in properties that are rented to students for at least 9 months of the year, without submitting to the new rules. 

Holiday rental rules elsewhere in France

  • Primary residences 

If you are absent from your property for more than 4 months of the year because of a health problem, professional reasons or because of a cas de force majeure, you can rent our your primary residence for more than 120 days of the year. 

From 2019 Airbnb and other holiday rental platforms introduced a tool that blocks postings which would allow someone to book accommodation beyond the 120-day legal limit. This measure was introduced in Aix-en-Provence, Annecy, Bordeaux, Levallois-Perret, Lille, Lyon, Martigues, Menton, Neuilly-sur-Seine, Nice, Paris, Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, Saint-Cannat, Saint-Paul-de-Vence, Sète, Villeneuve-Loubet and Versailles.

If you want to sublet a property where you are the tenant via a platform like Airbnb, this is legal for up to 120 days as long as you have the permission of the property owner. 

Many French towns require people renting property through Airbnb to register with the local town hall. 

  • Second homes 

French cities and towns with more than 200,000 inhabitants require property owners to seek an authorisation from the local town hall if they want to offer holiday rentals. 

Places with 50,000 inhabitants but which qualify as a zone tendue (as having a housing shortage) are also subject to these rules. 

In Paris, people who wish to rent their second property to tourists are obliged to follow similar ‘compensation’ rules as those being introduced in the Pays Basque – in other words, by offering one traditional rental property for every holiday property. The difference is that in Paris, it is possible to buy an existing property and rent it out – rather than renovate a garage or an office for example. 

Nice and Bordeaux also have similar compensation rules in place. 

Many French towns require people landlords renting property through Airbnb to register with the local town hall. 


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MAP: Where in France can you buy property for less than €100k?

While French cities such as Paris are notoriously expensive, there are many areas outside the cities where it is still possible to buy spacious homes for less than €100,000 - particularly if you don't mind a bit of renovation.

MAP: Where in France can you buy property for less than €100k?

We decided to look at where in France you could afford a property on a budget of €100,000, and it turns out there are some bargains to be had.

There are a lot of caveats while searching for property, and many local variables in place, but our search does show some of the areas to concentrate on if you have a limited budget.

We used the Notaires de France immobilier website in August 2022, and we specified that the property should have at least five rooms (including kitchen and bathroom) and a floor space of at least 100 square metres.

We also discounted any property that was for sale under the viager system – a complicated purchase method which allows the resident to release equity on their property gradually, as the buyer puts down a lump sum in advance and then pays what is effectively a rent for the rest of the seller’s lifetime, while allowing them to remain in the property.

READ ALSO Viager: The French property system that can lead to a bargain

For a five-room, 100 square metre property at under €100,000, you won’t find anywhere in the Île-de-France region, where the proximity of Paris pushes up property prices. The city itself is famously expensive, but much of the greater Paris region is within commuting distance, which means pricier property. 

Equally the island of Corsica – where prices are pushed up by its popularity as a tourist destination – showed no properties for sale while the region of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur – which includes the French Riviera – showed only 1 property under €100,000.

The very presence of Bordeaux, meanwhile, takes the entire département of Gironde out of this equation – but that doesn’t mean that the southwest is completely out of the running. A total of 25 properties came up in the Nouvelle Aquitaine region. One property was on the market for a mere €20,000 – but it was, as the Notaires’ brochure noted, in need of “complete renovation”.

Neighbouring Occitanie, meanwhile, showed 12 further properties in the bracket.

By far the most properties on the day of our search – 67 – were to be found in the Grand Est region of eastern France. The eastern part of France overall comes out best for property bargains, with the north-east region of Hauts-de-France showing 38 properties and and Bourgogne-Franche-Comté displaying 25.

Further south, however, the presence of the Alps – another popular tourist destination – pushed up prices in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region which showed just three results.

The below map shows our search results, with darker colours indicating more cheap properties.

Property buying tips 

In order to make a comparison, we focused our search on properties advertised online, but if you have a specific area in mind it's well worth making friends with a few local real estate agents and perhaps also the mayor, since it's common for properties not to be advertised online.

Most of the truly 'bargain' properties are described as being "in need of renovation" - which is real estate speak for a complete wreck.

If you don't mind doing a bit of work you can often pick up property for low prices, but you need to do a clear-eyed assessment of exactly how much work you are willing and able to do, and what the cost is likely to be - there's no point getting a "cheap" house and then spending three times the purchase price on renovations.

READ ALSO 'Double your budget and make friends with the mayor' - tips for French property renovation

That said, there were plenty of properties at or near the €100,000 mark that were perfectly liveable or needed only relatively minor renovations.

You also need to pay attention to the location, as the sub-€100,000 properties are often in remote areas or very small villages with limited access to amenities. While this lifestyle suits many people, bear in mind that owning a car is a requirement and you may end up paying extra for certain services.

Finally remember that government help, in the form of loans and grants, is available for environmentally friendly improvements, such as insulation or glazing.