Monday, 21 January 2013

To let, Paris. Studio appt - size 1.56m², rent €330 per month

A mother and child's 4m² apartment. (Photo - Facebook-Fondation Abbé Pierre
Paris, like many other major world capitals, has long been known for its housing penury and the high rents for small apartments which result from the laws of supply and demand, but two recent news stories have brought to light just how serious the situation has become as well as just how little the authorities seem to be doing about it.

We learned a few days ago that 'Dominique', a 50-year-old man with a low income, lived in Paris for 15 years in an 'apartment' measuring 1.56m², which is about the floor area of a good-sized dog kennel. The miniscule room was under the roof so he could only stand upright within a narrow 20-centimetre strip. Dominique was charged €330 in rent per month.

That story was followed up yesterday with another, similar one, that of a mother in her thirties who paid €200 per month for a cubbyhole of 4m² in which she lived with her small child, again, in Paris.

That this kind of thing should be allowed to happen in the first place in a country which (erroneously as it happens) proudly proclaims itself to be 'the country of Human Rights' is scandalous enough, but worse still is what the authorities did, or rather didn't, do about it.

The degrading housing conditions of both of these people had been known for many months by the Abbé Pierre Foundation, which fights for improved housing rights for the disadvantaged, and both of their cases were brought to the attention of the relevant authorities by the Foundation. But the authorities did nothing for over six months, despite the obvious urgency of the victims' circumstances.

In Dominique's case the authorities only took action very recently to remove Dominique from his lodgings and have them padlocked, with the owner being barred from entering, and it also emerged that three different private flatsearch agencies had rented the 1.56m² space over a long period, thus flouting a law which fixes the legal minimum for a housing unit at 9m², without housing authorities being aware of it. Dominique has been rehoused.

The case of the woman and child was even worse. She had financial difficulties which had led her to fall three months behind with her rent, and as a result the owner changed the lock on the door while she was out and put her meager belongings into plastic bags which she left in a corridor in the building before sending a text message to her tenant to inform her of what she had done. This broke almost every rule in the book, which obliges owners to send warning letters and obtain court permission to evict tenants. Also, she is theoretically liable for 'endangering life' and renting lodgings which are 'incompatible with human dignity'. Not only that, she evicted the tenant just recently, which means that she has also fallen foul of a law which forbids evictions during the cold winter months.

Many people, including myself, lived for a while in Paris (London too, in my case) during their early adulthood because of these cities' bustling lifestyle and opportunities, which young people often crave. And, like most of the others, I didn't earn much money so I had to content myself with about 10 or 12m². It wasn't The Ritz, sure, but there was room for a bed, a table, a small hi-fi system and an armchair or two. It was all part of the  growing up game. Nevertheless, although I gladly accepted those conditions in exchange for a chance to live in these cities I just cannot imagine how degrading and soul-destroying it must be to live in 4m², never mind less than 2m².

And it's not only a question of size, it's also a question of extortionate rent. As a comparison, I live in a high-ceilinged apartment of about 90m² near Lyon's city centre. It has a marble fireplace, wooden parquet floors and all mod-cons. Price? In the upper €400s per month. In other words I pay a rate of just over €5 per square metre. The lady with her baby though, was paying €50 per square metre, Dominique was actually paying a staggering €200 per square meter, and it's probably safe to say that they both earn rather less than many people.

High rents and small apartments are an inevitable part of living in a much sought after capital city for many people, but the almost inhuman conditions in which these two people found themselves does no credit to the Paris authorities. They should be forced by law to react immediately in cases such as these and they should also be able to circumvent the long wait for court proceedings which are characteristic of courts not only in France but elsewhere, in order to bring offenders to justice quickly.

This legislation is needed urgently because each day spent waiting for it to be drawn up and enacted is a day on which the poor of Paris will continue to be subjected to this kind of abuse because, as Dominique says, they have no choice. After all;

"It's either that or the street."


  1. That is so sad! ( I am taking my time but trying to read as many of your old posts as I can while I have the time).

    1. (Uh oh, Nadege is diving into my old posts, the good, the bad and the ugly. :)

      Hi Nadege and how are things on the other side of the pond? About the article, but on a much lighter note, at least these people didn't have to live in a shoebox in the middle of the road! Enjoy..

  2. That was very funny indeed!
    Hors sujet, if you are homesick for London, do you know this blog? "Mais quest-ce qu'on mange ce soir?"

    Very long 2 posts on London; it took me a while to finish reading it but it was so interesting. I am always amazed that so many people take the time to document their lives and travels, to my joy really.
    One question : is Downton Abbey popular in France?

    1. I don't know that blog so I googled it and there are a few blogs called 'Mais qu'est-ce qu'on mange ce soir'. You put a URL in your comment but it was to the Monty Python video. Did you intend to put the URL to the blog?

      As to Downton Abbey being popular in France, I really don't know as I don't keep up with TV news in any way and most of the people I know don't watch TV much either, but I suppose it must be given the number of French people who mentioned it on Vagabonde's blog. And I wouldn't be surprised for another reason, which is that the French don't do many series, at least not ones that people watch much, so English and American series are popular I believe. One very popular one is Dr House. I know it's popular because a lot of people have told me I look like him so they must know about him.

      The girls in my local pharmacie call me Dr House, same thing for the girls at the checkout in the local supermarket, and I was stopped by an older lady in the street one day who asked "are you the gentleman who plays Dr House?" She looked like she really wanted me to be him so I replied "yes, I'm on a few days' holiday here in Lyon." So she asked me if I would give her an autograph, which I did. She was really pleased (I think my accent helped to convince her that I was him) and I suppose that she spent the next few days saying to her friends "guess who I saw the other day?" :)

      Oh, I thought that if it would make her happy to think she had met Dr House why not pretend to be him? After all, there's so little happiness and surprise in many people's lives.

  3. I will tell Hugh Laurie about you when I run into him. That is a very funny story. Most english actors I meet have country houses in France or have been there many times.
    I started watching Downton Abbey because I got the first and second seasons from the Academy (which I am a member). It is like a period soap opera but very interesting. You can also watch the episodes on your laptop.
    I have always loved "Masterpiece theater".
    Here is the address for "Mais quest-ce qu'on mange ce soir". Hopefully it won't make you home sick.

    1. Ooohhh, that looks like a super blog Nadege, and I've subscribed to new posts. Thanks for recommending it. As to feeling homesick, I don't mind feeling homesick in a way. I'm very happy here in France so my pangs of homesickness are not too strong, and that means that 'feeling homesick' for me feels more like being proud of my home country and what it has to offer than a negative feeling, if you see what I mean. I am very suspicious of people who renounce their origins..

      At the end of the day I'm quite lucky really, because not only am I proud to be English, but I'm proud to be living in France too. It's a 'gagnant-gagnant' arrangement which suits me fine.

  4. You get the best of both world. It is how I feel too. I am so glad I can read news in english, french, I understand spanish though am not fluent and I have traveled a lot.
    Have you been to David Lebovitz's blog? He is a funny writer and I always learn something from his posts.
    He is american of palestinian/Israeli decent. He wrote few cookbooks. I am not sure how good of a cook as he is since he didn't get a classic training (a la Jacques Pepin), but I really think you will enjoy him.

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