My rental property saga continues in France, as I sit in a café overlooking Marseille’s port. It’s Friday morning and streets are not so packed with people wandering paths, if you arrive before 10:00 a.m. Marseille’s like any European city, tourists swarm the centre like flies. My sight followed the pavements, decorated with cigarette butts at 8:00 a.m., as I thought this place isn’t too bad while spotting the spearing peaks of the port’s yachts and sails.
At a nearby café I waited for an apartment inspection while sipping a 4.20-euro café beside the port. I’d arranged this through Airbnb. I didn’t want to go this way, originally, as I wanted to create a homely home. I’d seen many apartments before submitting to this application; the French do business differently, you see, they’ll ask for documents and guarantors, before they ask for cash.
All apartment inspections I saw, through the French system, ended in the same response.
“Have you got a guarantor?” said the first French homeowner. His name was Bruno, well-spoken in English. He pressed, “You’ll need that guarantor.”
“I’ve got cash,” I replied. I thought he’d be chuffed to hear that.
He ignored the thought.
“The paperwork in this country is thick,” he said, clasping his index finger and thumb.
“I can give you a deposit and show you the proof of the funds. I’ve got enough money to pay you for the year,” I said.
“I will need to see your salary and a French contract that says you’re employed.”
“But I have the money?”
“I need to be careful in this country,” said Bruno. “It’s more pro-tenant than landlord.”
I could see he liked me. We seemed to get along and he even asked me if I could provide the documents there and then.
I walked out of that apartment asking myself, what documents will I give him? My only papers were Australian, though they were financially up to scratch. I prepared all the documents he asked for and even gave him the last three months of my bank statements, since my income came from Australia.
After Bruno went over my papers he requested my passport. I thought we’re making progress here. That was until he phoned, “I’ve looked at your documents. They’re very good and you have the money.” There was a pause on the phone. “But I need you to open a French bank account, then transfer one year of the rent into the account,” said Bruno.
“I’m very interested in your apartment,” I replied. “But if it’s too complex, I’ll have to accept that it won’t be possible for me to rent it.”
I thought about my situation for a moment. The apartment I was trying to obtain was not just for myself. It was to live in with my girlfriend so I wanted the roof to be put over our heads sooner rather than later.
“Bruno, I’ll have a think about this then give you a call before tomorrow afternoon.”
I wasn’t about to transfer 12 months’ worth of Australian dollars into the Euros. I’d been watching the exchange rate of the fluctuating Euro for the last few years and I didn’t feel the need to throw money away by converting Australian dollars into Euros before I needed to. I began explaining this to Bruno, but thought, bite your tongue Gaston, just say good bye and hang up the phone.
When I woke up the next morning I knew I wasn’t chatting to a bank manager about Bruno’s request. I wanted to save time so began texting:
“Hi Bruno, I’m just letting you know that I am considering other apartment options. I believe you are being over cautious in this case. If you do wish to rent us the apartment I’m here. But I will not be able to assist with any further insecurities concerning renting the apartment. In my eyes the apartment belongs to you and not the French government, I have money and you have two nice tenants. If this is not enough, then it never will be. If it helps you feel more comfortable we could sign a shorter contract i.e. from now (September) until April. If all went well, we could discuss further from there. What do you think?
Naturally this didn’t go well. It was a bit to forward, as I think we all can see? I told my girlfriend, “I wouldn’t write shit like that if I really needed him.” Of course it would have been nice if the apartment just fell in our laps. But I’d been running around and seen around ten apartments and all of them had the same story. “You will need documents and a guarantor.”
It didn’t matter how much money you had in France, even if you had an unlimited supply, the landlord still wanted their French employment contract and a French guarantor. But the filthy rich don’t always work and the best tenants, where I come from, don’t need to ask favours from guarantors.
To me the request for a “guarantor” was simply hick up in the rhythm of capitalism. I would have thought the colour of money was the reason people did business, not for the security they felt was provided by a guarantor and employment contract. What ever happened to the old saying “cash is king?” Apparently it’s not the case in France. It appears the guarantors and their documents are the bigger kings, or should I say the operators of Photoshop for document manipulation.
I got a message while waiting on the port that Friday morning:
I am not over cautious but merely following the advice of experienced people who deal with leases on a daily basis and take into account French legislation. As I would be delighted to have you and your partner as tenants, maybe we could envision to have both of you take the lease together and have her parents as guarantors. Just let me know.
It had been one week since I’d heard from Bruno. I’d made other plans. I finished my coffee early in front of the sea, then casually walked along the historical stones until I’d arrived at this morning’s apartment viewing. I’d given up on trying to satisfy the French and their desire for “documents” so I allowed Airbnb to guide me to a neat little pad; Airbnb’s from Ireland, you see, so it by-passes French laws that don’t seem to favour French homeowners. When I locked my eyes on the apartment, I pulled out my credit card, and since it had money on it, cash for the apartment was sent to the French homeowner through Ireland’s Airbnb. The owner told me she preferred it that way. “I get a caution,” she said. “The laws in France are not so good for homeowners, you see.”
If you’re interested in the beginning of Gaston’s property hunt, there’s a creative nonfiction piece available here.