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Garant: How the French guarantor system works for property rental

If you're looking to rent an apartment in a larger city in France, you're likely to see announcements that require a 'garant'. Here is what you need to know about finding a guarantor in France.

Garant: How the French guarantor system works for property rental
Photo by Robert Linder on Unsplash

Renting in large cities in France – particularly in Paris – is a known challenge for foreigners, especially new arrivals. In the countryside, it’s a bit easier, with less competition properties, but in the big cities compiling your dossier and landing the right place can be a challenge.

One of the biggest surprises for many people is that most landlords ask for a guarantor (garant) in order to sign a lease for an apartment. It is not a legal requirement, but in competitive real estate markets, it certainly feels like one.

Though asking for a garant might feel a bit juvenile, it is quite common, and applies to a lot more people than you might realise. Here is what you need to know:

Who typically needs a guarantor?

The most common group to need guarantors are students. However, if you are a foreigner who is not employed with a CDI (indefinite contract) and if you do not make over three times your monthly rent, you will likely need a guarantor as well.

If you don’t collect your income in France (or if you don’t have an income) you will need a guarantor.

You will also likely need one if you are still in the probationary period of your CDI, or if you cannot show three months worth of pay stubs from your job yet (even if you pay meets the three times a month requirement). If you do have a CDI, you could ask your employer to sign you an attestation d’employeur which verifies your monthly income. 

If your income is not steady or consistent (perhaps you are a freelancer). Typically, if you use an agency during the leasing process, they will require a guarantor, especially if any of these conditions apply to you. 

It is worth noting that showing bank statements typically do not suffice – landlords are looking for proof of ongoing income, not savings.

Who can count as a guarantor?

The guarantor should be a third party, such as a parent or close relative who agrees to pay your rent if you fail to pay.

This person must fulfil all the requirements outlined above (ie earning more than three times your rent with an indefinite contract).

The other tricky part is that this person must work and live in France, and usually it’s best that they are French themselves.

However, this can pose a problem for foreigners who might not know anyone that fits that description, so thankfully there are some other options fill this requirement, like taking out a caution bancaire or using an online agency. We explained the ins-and-outs of these bellow.

What does my guarantor need to show?

The guarantor needs to put together a dossier of documents including;

  • Proof of identification (a passport or French ID card)
  • Proof of residence that is less than three months old (eg utility bills).
  • Most recent tax returns
  • Employment contract and typically three months worth of payslips
  • If they earn money via real estate, they must also provide documentation for this
  • If the person in question is retired, they must provide proof of pension (again, this must exceed your monthly rent threefold). 

So, what if I don’t have a French person who can be my guarantor? There are a few options for you:

Use an online service

There are two main online services that can act as guarantors for foreigners in France.

The first is Visale, which is accessible primarily to foreign students.

This is a programme offered via the French state through “Action Logement” and it covers up to three years of unpaid rent. You must be between 18 and 30 years old to apply, and you must hold a long-stay visa (VLS-TS) – either a student visa or a ‘talent’ one.

For students who are already citizens of a European Union country, then simply presenting a student card and a valid passport will be sufficient. It can be applied to private housing and student residences, but it is ultimately up to the landlord as to whether they will accept a tenant who uses Visale as their guarantor. The main benefit to Visale is that it is free for the user.

Visale does come with some restrictions, however. Your rent (including charges) cannot exceed €1,500 in Paris, and €1,300 in the rest of the country. In addition, the lease must be for a primary residence, and your rent should not exceed 50 percent of your total income.

Another option is GarantMe, a paid online website that can also serve as an official guarantor.

Landlords might actually prefer this service over a physical guarantor who might refuse to pay or for whatever reason not have the funds to do so. The benefit to GarantMe is that they accept a wider range of tenants for their service, but the downside is that there is a fee. The minimum payment (per year) is €150, but the fee is normally 3.5 percent of the annual rent (including charges) and it renews automatically.

The nice thing about GarantMe, is that in order to apply for the service, you basically need to create a full dossier that will be identical to what you’ll need for your apartment search anyways.

Take out a Caution Bancaire

Basically, a caution bancaire is a bank guarantee, and typically its a bit more of a last resort option because it is quite restrictive for the tenant. It involves blocking off a large sum of money to be used to pay rent if you fail to do so.

Depending on the landlord (and the bank), they might ask you to block between six months worth of rent to sometimes up to two years. This would be used as guarantee during the duration of your lease, but it takes a bit of administrative coordination and obviously requires a large sum of liquid funds.

Sometimes activating a bank guarantee can take a few weeks, and for foreigners, of course, this would require already having a French bank account. There can also be fees, depending on the bank, for using a caution bancaire, and simply closing of caution bancaire account in itself can involve fees.

The other downside to this is that not all landlords will accept it, which is why this option might be best served as a last resort.

Attempt to find an apartment that does not require a garant

This is quite difficult in Paris (and other large cities around France). It is possible sometimes if you stick to foreigner-oriented sites like NY Habitat or Paris Attitude. Another possible loophole could be to see if your insurance plan offers coverage of unpaid rent. This is quite uncommon, but could be a possible option. If you rent specifically particulier-à-particulier (meaning you do not use an agency at all) you might be able to negotiate with the landlord, or if you have a sub-lease you might not need to show proof of a guarantor.

Ultimately, however, in most cases when renting in France’s large cities, you’ll likely need a guarantor.

What should I be aware of when it comes to guarantor websites?

As mentioned previously, Visale is only for people in the 18-30 age group, so unfortunately it does not apply to everyone. It is also intended for lower income people or students, so if you are a high earner you might be rejected.

Regarding using a website like GarantMe, beware that they will charge you every year – it is not a one time fee. This will be deducted from the card you put on the site and the only way to cancel the charge will be to show proof that you have moved out (i.e. an état des lieux or letter releasing you from the obligation signed from your landlord)

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CRIME

EXPLAINED: How to find a lawyer in France

The French legal system can be complicated, so in many circumstances it's better to have a lawyer on board. Luckily, there are a lot of qualified, English-speaking lawyers in France - here's how to find them.

EXPLAINED: How to find a lawyer in France

First steps

First, you need to know exactly what it is you are looking to address – is it an immigration issue? Property-related? Are you caught up in the criminal system?

This will help you to determine the type of expert that you need.

If your concern deals with property or a will, you probably want a notaire rather than an avocat (explained below).

All lawyers in France must have at least a CAPA (Certificat d’Aptitude à la Profession d’Avocat) master’s degree in law. After working for four years, French lawyers are able to work toward a specialisation.

Next, you need to decide whether you are confident enough in your French to seek out legal advice in French, or if you will need a fully bilingual lawyer. Don’t worry – there are plenty of lawyers in France who speak English, but unsurprisingly it will be easier to find a lawyer in French. 

Where should I look?

A good resource available to you is your Embassy and its website, as well as the websites for other English-speaking countries’ embassies. For example, the British, American, and Australian embassies all have extensive lists of recommended English-speaking lawyers in France (by region and speciality). 

Other online resources include the website “AngloInfo,” along with Facebook groups moderated by lawyers and notaires (ex. Strictly Legal France). 

If you are confident enough to go through the French system in French, then you can search directly through your local barreau (bar) via their online annuaire (directory). 

One thing to keep in mind, according to Maître Matthieu Chirez, a criminal attorney at J.P. Karsenty & Associés law firm, which is one of the British Embassy’s recommended law firms, is that foreigners ought to be vigilant when using the internet to find a lawyer.

“The lawyers who are most visible on the internet are not always the best,” said Chirez. “It is always best to go through your embassy first.” 

What criteria should I prioritise?

It is worth considering your lawyer’s level of expertise: How many cases similar to yours have they handled? How long have they been practising law? Do they come recommended? By going through your Embassy’s resources, you can have more peace of mind that the lawyer you would be working with fits these criteria. 

You should also prioritise your own rapport with the lawyer. If possible, try to schedule a preliminary meeting or consultation (before doing so, be sure to check to see whether this will be charged or not). This will help you also determine whether the lawyer has a satisfactory level of English for your needs.

What is the difference between a notaire and an avocat?

A notaire’s role is to secure and make official concerns related to a “sale, purchase, or transmission” or a property, as explained Chirez.

A notaire cannot represent you in court, but they will be necessary for making official matters related to succession, like writing your Will, for instance, and officially registering the sale of a property. A property sale in France cannot be legally completed without the involvement of a notaire.

It is important to note that a notaire is a representative of the French state, so having a personal lawyer looking out for your individual best interest during a sale or purchase might still be advisable.

And yes, avocat means both lawyer and avocado in French.

READ MORE: The reasons why you’ll need a notaire in France

What about payment?

In France, it is the lawyer who sets his or her own fees – meaning it is not regulated by the State.

Average rates will depend on the ‘complexity of your case’ and the specialisation of your lawyer, but the average hourly rate for 2022 is between €100 and €300.

Criminal lawyers often charge more for drink-driving cases.

You can pay a lawyer either based on their hourly rate or by a flat-rate (usually reserved for simple procedures). When you find a lawyer, you will have to sign an agreement that outlines their fees, as well as various additional costs that might be incurred.

If you cannot afford to pay your lawyer, you might be able to qualify for legal aid (though for this you must demonstrate a sufficiently low income/ wealth status). The rate of legal aid is calculated based off your earnings, and you can use the online calculator to see how much you would benefit HERE.

READ ALSO How do I find professional help with my French taxes?

Otherwise, you can check to see whether any “permenance juridiques” (legal clinics) will be held near you.

These tend to be free days where you can seek out legal support (though it is worth verifying it is indeed gratuite before going). For finding legal aid in France, you can use this government website, which is also available in English.

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