The Airbnb War continues in Paris

I wrote some time back rather passionately about forces conspiring to stifle Airbnb and Uber in Paris.  The City of Paris recently upped the ante by publishing a website that shows all the properties that are “properly registered” as airbnbs in the city.  Unsurprisingly, the French, operating from a cultural sensitivity to “denouncements” of neighbors during WWII, reacted strongly to this and labeled it a “rat on your neighbors” policy.  If anything, it will cause a backlash among even those neutral to slightly negative on airbnb.

To catch up those who aren’t familiar with the intricacies of Parisian housing policy, anyone is allowed to rent space within their own personal home, for example a spare room or a couch in a living room, provided that they either own the space or have permission from the landlord.  In one recent landmark case, an owner sued a tenant and won for letting out an apartment without permission.  The law additionally allows you to rent a space you don’t occupy for up to 120 days a year, which would cover a long absence from Paris (or several) for whatever reason.

The argument goes that these short-term rentals are changing the makeup of the city and of particular neighborhoods, and to an extent, this is true.  And yet, all these short-term rentals represent opportunities of pure revenue for Paris – everyone coming to the city is going to spend money and hotels and hostels alone don’t meet demand.  Indeed, Airbnb has moved the goalposts on what a travel stay consists of now – no longer prisoner to the social desert of a hotel or the social overload of a hostel, people can choose a third way, in which they sometimes have an unofficial guide to the city, whether that be as simple as answering a few questions before arrival or as far as leading them on a cool walk about town.  Airbnb is now saying, “don’t just visit there, live there, if only for one night.”

Paris is unlikely to get Berlinian about Airbnb, but given that there are fewer than 200 properties on the “official” register out of over 40,000 listings makes it clear that there is still a gap in reality and expectation between a city being brutally lobbied by the hotel industry (and a Republique that is insistent on taxing everything it can touch, and even what it can’t) and a Parisian populace only too glad to get some help paying the bills by renting out some personal space.  In a way, it’s time for the residents of Paris to benefit from Paris’ reputation as well – given that that they have to put up with (without compensation) a neverending flow of tourists  throughout the year.

For now, it seems clear that anyone who is renting out wholly unoccupied spaces on a short-term basis 100% of the year better watch out.  I suggest divesting yourself or pivoting into long-term rentals.  Otherwise, be warned that the city is coming for you, and it will cost you tens of thousands of euros if you get caught.

Paris: frontline of Airbnb and Uber’s wars

As a resident of France I appreciate that the French hold on to their traditions and ways of life and are generally skeptical of change.  Unmoderated and unguarded acceptance of change isn’t always the best thing.  Nowhere is this more a topic of conversation these days than with Airbnb and Uber.

These two American juggernauts have seized upon a simple idea and commercialized it: there is spare space in your home or car – if someone wants to rent that space for some period of time, and you are willing to allow them to rent it – you can complete an exchange of commerce.  Furthermore, in many cases, the necessary taxes are paid by the company, the provider, the end-user, or all three.  So what’s the problem?

In France?  “Les acquis.”  This term refers to the amorphous set of benefits and “rights” that the French feel broadly entitled to, and are willing to march in the streets to protect.  Not only (in their mind) are these rights guaranteed forever, but in all likelihood, these rights will only get better and sweeter with time.  I’m not going to talk about this concept for the moment.  I only want to use it as a reference point to help you understand why the hotels and taxi companies are absolutely livid about these two unicorns.

In a universe of acquis you have jobs and economic systems for life.  No pesky disruptions.  Year after year your universe is set and perfect.  Taxi-driving schools collect millions of euros in tuition and hotels collect hundreds of millions of euros in bookings. Never mind that both taxi companies and hotels employ tens of thousands of foreign workers and hence this can’t be argued to be about “French jobs.”

Indeed, it is a question of secrets.  In his book Zero to One Peter Thiel talks about the discovery of secrets as key to billion-dollar businesses.  The discovery of sharing unused space was a secret.  Overnight it created, in essence, the largest room-provider and largest transportation companies in the world.  Not by a massive capital spend, but by really intuitive software that could connect the provider and the end-user.  This massively democratizes micro-entrepreneurship by lowering barriers to entry.  You would think this would be welcome in a country that carves “liberte, egalite, fraternite” into the stonework of their buildings.

And yet, the French, used to the idea that anything you do with your time for money has to come with an enormous raft of benefits, including 2 years of unemployment pay, burn and flip cars and raid apartments in protest.  Who are they hurting?  Uber and Airbnb have more money, time, focus, and brains to devote to winning this matter legally – or they will simply pick up and leave.  In the meantime, people who own cars or apartments in Paris who are simply making some money to defray their costs of ownership, as well as everyday commuters and travelers looking to save money, are the ones actually penalized.

Despite the fact that “entrepreneur” is a French word, fundamental disconnects like this happen.  Entrepreneurs don’t get acquis.  We build our own acquis over time, with hard work, perseverance, and a tremendous amount of sacrifice.  No one forces us to do it.  We provide willing services to those willing to pay us – we’re even happy to pay taxes…to a point.

It is the convergence of these two attitudes – the inbuilt idea of acquis and a population that prefers guaranteed jobs for life to entrepreneurship (because they are fundamentally risk-averse) that leads to such a strong pushback against these services in this country.

And yet, it seems to be politically motivated.  Many of the people my age (and younger) actively use Airbnb and Uber here in Paris.  We know what hotels are and we know what taxis are.  We have used them, many times.  We also know that airbnbs and ubers are neither hotels nor taxis, and come with their own risks (as if hotels and taxis are risk free!).  But we understand that it’s important for people to have lots of choices.  Transportation-wise, that’s what makes getting around easier: buses, metros, taxis, ubers, bikes, scooters, and yes, walking.  Indeed, Uberpool is even an innovation among taxis – using intelligent software and gps to save everyone time and money.

And yet, despite a multi-million euro settlement with Airbnb last year, the City of Paris is being pressed by the hotel lobby for more raids.  And the ride-sharing industry is under pressure after a recent taxi strike.

In English we say, “the cat is out of the bag” to say what has happened has happened, and that you can’t go back.  Parisians have discovered that they can make money renting out their homes and cars.  Hotels and taxi companies have discovered that their guaranteed monopolies are over.  The City of Paris is caught in between them.  But the secret is out, and the hotels and taxis are in for a very rude awakening should any real move be made to ban Airbnb and Uber in Paris.

The photo used comes from the Independent.

This article was also published on Medium and LinkedIn.

My worst week in Paris

This is the “Part II” to my “finding an apartment in Paris” article, though it’s really more of an appendix.  Future parts will discuss what to bring with you when moving here.

They say that whether you are a native of France or the lovestruck visitor of Paris (comme moi) your first apartment in the City of Light will always be the worst.  It gets better from there.  There’s a number of reasons why.  You don’t know the arrondissements.  You don’t know how you will feel about your commute.  You won’t know how you feel about your space.

One thing I did know, three months into my stay, as my landlady tried to charge me more for my already too-small space, was that I was done paying 800 euros a month for a studio (between $1000-$1100 USD, depending on the state of the world economy at any given time).  In a week I had settled on a very cool art studio that the resident artist had added a number of bedrooms to.  It was very cool and the price – 650 euros – was great.

She, Sophie, my new potential landlord, was a bit flaky in setting up the appointment to see the place but I chalked it up to the “artiste” in her.  A writer and teacher at heart, I’m able to shush my inner businessman who (rightfully) whispers “accountability!” at necessary times.  But we got along okay at the first meeting and we shook hands on a move.

It was 30 days before my move when I gave notice to my then-current landlady.  I didn’t tell her all my grievances.  They had been kind and I was determined to leave on good terms. I found out, in drips and drabs, just how much had been missed in the handshake agreement that had sealed the deal.  Each new discovery, via email or text, was not in itself a dealbreaker but cumulatively it worried me a lot.  I think I was too excited about moving to the 11th and so close to Père Lachaise, as well as saving almost $225USD a month, so I didn’t really blink as I discovered:

1) I would need a security deposit equal to one month’s rent (pretty standard here).

2) I would need to do one hour of chores per week or pay the cleaning lady 15 euros each week (no big).

3) I was not allowed to receive bills or bank statements – what???  So I could get personal mail but not bills?  This would also complicate the immigration process – but the concierge of my current place agreed to – for 30 days – collect my mail while I figured out an alternative.

4) I was to sign a contract and agreement, 7 pages long, all in French.  I figured I would just have to hash that out with her after moving in.  I wasn’t going to pay for a translation nor was I going to sign something without fully understanding it. But all of these (what should have been blatantly waving red flags) paled in comparison to what I dealt with on February 28th, my worst day in Paris and the beginning of a tough week.  Please keep in mind that I use “worst” and “tough” purely in the First World sense.  At no time was I without the basic necessities of life nor was I being waterboarded, and incidents like these do great wonders for one’s sense of gratefulness.

I had asked two colleagues from Paris Foot Walks to help me.  I had four suitcases and two backpacks to take literally across town (17th to the 11th).  We would be able to stay on the (mostly for locals) Line 3 and just have one change at the very end.  Additionally, the metro stations at the starts and ends of the journey were roughly 500 meters or less from where we needed to be and all the bags had roller wheels.

The day started auspiciously enough.  I had woken up on time and lugged the bags down to the fourth floor where my landlady generously allowed me to use the building’s elevator to get down the final four floors.  My friends arrived on time and were treated to some excellent pastries and coffee from my soon-to-be former landlord.  We made our way in and out of the Metro – up and down quite a few steps – huffing and puffing and laughing – and grateful for the assistance of the (always polite) Parisians around us.

We arrived at my new place-to-be.  One of Sophie’s employees answered the door and she came out.  She had a look of surprise on her face.  “Well, you come tomorrow!” she said.  It was February 28th.  “Well, that’s fine,” I said.  “I’m not going to sleep here tonight, I just need to drop off these bags.  I’ll come back tomorrow.”  “Non, non, it’s just not possible,” she replied with the typical French shrug which said, “I don’t give a merde” about your situation.

I kept my composure.  My colleagues very astutely just kept silent.  She was going to be a landlady for at least the next 6 months, so handle this well, I thought to myself.  I explained that we had come across town – that these bags were not light – that my friends were able to help me today and not necessarily tomorrow – and that I was due to be out of my old apartment first thing tomorrow morning.  I also referenced a text I sent her last week saying I was coming Friday.  To my chagrin she pulled it up and pointed out that I said I was coming to drop off money on Friday, not drop bags.

Now, as an American I would have proffered one of two responses, in my experience as an erstwhile landlord:

a) Okay, you’re here a day early, but you’re going to be here the next six months and you’ve got 1300 euros in your pocket, so I can do a favor for you this one time.

OR

b) If your stuff is here I must charge you rent for today, pro-rated.  Is that okay?

Either of these would have been acceptable, but instead I got the French “sorry, I cannot do anything.”  She said she was in the middle of a photo shoot, she had no room, people always take advantage of her, etc.  But what you need to understand is that I picked this place precisely because it was ENORMOUS by Parisian standards.  If she had room in one place, surely it was in my room which anyone could reasonably expect was cleared out less than 24 hours before my arrival.  It was unoccupied when I had previously seen it. After 5 minutes of fruitless back-and-forth we agreed I would arrive at 09h00 the next day.  The door closed and the man not usually at a loss for words was.

Josh immediately and kindly offered storage at her place, about 14 blocks away.  A wheel had kindly broken off on one of the pieces – cobblestones are murder on cheap luggage, and while I did have 3 Samsonites, that was not one of them – which made the trudge just a bit more challenging.  Two of the three in our party were American and while we tried not to see this incident through the “customer is always right” lens, I was still shocked at such unaccommodating behavior.  “I’m not,” said Danyell, who was married to a Frenchman.  “My mother-in-law is the same.  Typical French.”

We agreed, in between huffs, puffs, and stops, that if I could not even leave my luggage there the day before I moved in that all that awaited me was more unpleasant surprises.  We got to Josh’s, where four more stories and the corresponding stairs awaited us.  I laughed bitterly as I lugged the luggage up those flights, marveling that what I imagined would be such an easy day instead had gone wrong in every conceivable way.

One of the new views from my new apartment

One of the new views from my new apartment

Danyell had to run off to another job, so I didn’t get to take her to lunch for all her troubles.  We parted and Josh and I grabbed some lunch and discussed the problem further.  She had some room and very kindly consented to let me leave my luggage there for a week while I scrambled to find a new place. I swung into action and had a place the following morning, for one week.

It was in Le Pré San Gervais, which is at the very edge of the 19th Arrondissement.  When I say edge, I mean outside of.  It was outside Paris city limits by about 1 km.  Good, I thought.  Let me find out what it’s like to live in the burbs for a week.  Gk, who owned the room, wanted 700 euros per month for a very sunny and lovely room – but for someone living and working in Paris – it wasn’t tenable, by my standards, for a long stay.  I paid for one week. It was at the edge of Paris transport, and door-to-door, with Velib, bus, and metro, it would take at least 30 minutes to get to one of the “center” stations of Paris, like Chatelet, Opera, or Republique (see, even right there in my list I can see how Right-Bank biased I am).

I loved the size of the room and the quiet of the building, as well as being on the 1st, not the 7th, floor, but I wasn’t going to pay that much and not even live inside Paris proper. Still, in my week “in exile” I came to appreciate just how spoiled I had become (and would remain – my new apartment was in the same neighborhood as my old one – 20 minutes by foot, or 10 minutes by Velib, or 5 minutes by Metro to the Arc de Triomphe, a beating heart of the city).

The happy ending to my alleged “worst week”?  I picked up my keys that Thursday and moved in over the next three days.  I had plenty of time to adjust to my new views.  Danyell and Josh valiantly joined me to “finish what they had started” a week ago.  I avoided moving into a place that had featured numerous warning signs and a disastrous move-in day.  I found out I had friends who were more kind and generous than I could have imagined or even deserve.  But most importantly, I had upgraded my housing while decreasing my cost of living – which is a feat in any city, not just this one.

Finding an Apartment in Paris, Part I: Before you get here

Keep in mind that there is a reason the word “bureaucracy” has a French etymology.  The French aiment their paperwork.  Efficiency is not a vice, per se, but why be efficient when you can cloak yourself in the warmth of saying “non” to people, just because you feel like it? When I first started researching a move to Paris, in August 2012, my eyes glazed over at the stories I read: “Must provide paycheck stubs” (I’m an entrepreneur, so my cash flows don’t always come that way), “must sign a 6-12 month lease,” (I needed to maintain flexibility, especially if I didn’t like a place).  There had to be a good way to get an apartment in a foreign country before you got there.  There was.  Enter AirBNB.

I was an early adopter of this service, staying at my first place in 2011 when I visited Austin.  I love the service and have used it frequently ever since.  I figured Paris would have a lot of options, and indeed, there were, but there was a reluctance on the part of many of the owners to take on a long-term renter, as there seemed to them to be less trouble and more money in the short-term renters.  After inquiries and searching I settled on a 8×8 foot shoebox in the 17th arrondissement that would cost me 800 euros per month and would be all inclusive (water, internet, gas, trash, electricity).  The toilet, a squat one, was down the hall but I did have my own shower and kitchenette, etc.  My host was used to a bevy of weekly guests so she took some time before assenting to my proposal to stay six months or maybe longer. I visited in November 2012 while on vacation in Europe and moved in over a year later, in December 2013.  It was as I had remembered – perhaps a little smaller ;-).  I lasted a little under 3 months.

It wasn’t hell, by any means.  I came to realize that I was paying a high rate for the amount of space I had (24 square meters).  I also realized it was incredibly central (perfect for my day job) but also very quiet (not “hopping” as far as nightlife goes).  There was a nagging problem with the plumbing and backflow from my sink going into my shower.  Six weeks in I had had enough and started looking for other accommodations, again on AirBNB.

Why did I pick that site?  Less risk: AirBNB had insurance, and direct links to these people’s bank accounts so people were disincentivized to do you wrong.  Often times I also had access to testimonials from others and plenty of good photos.  I was also going to have something furnished and all-inclusive.  My second situation did not work out as planned (stay tuned for Part II, a harrowing but hilarious account of my worst week in Paris) but I am very pleased with where I am now.

Paris Find an apartment

My humble abode!

I found the listing for my current place on, of all sites, Craigslist, which is nowhere near as popula(i)r(e) as its French equivalent, Le Bon Coin.  The apartment costs 690 euros, all inclusive, and unbeknownst to me, had great views of Sacre-Coeur and The Eiffel Tower.  The listing led me to a service called Paris Expat.  They are pretty cool and cater to English-speaking expats.  They know our pain.  This place would be bigger AND cheaper than my last place.  Parfait.

I was able to see, decide, and pick up my keys for the place all within the space of 6 days.  It could have been sooner had I not had a request of the owner which was generously granted, and if I had not already paid for a week’s accommodations on the other side of town.

Here’s what you should expect (and Paris is a fairly stable market) as of March 2014. Outside the city, all inclusive, 10×10 (29 square meters), with a minimum 30 minute commute by TRAIN (RER) not Metro, 500 euros. Inside the city (in one of the 20 arrondissements), 750 euros. Inside the city, with a private bathroom and a “living room” area, 1100 euros. Should you wish to have a roommate obviously all these prices come down, but then the paycheck stubs and all that come into play, which are not easy to produce for those of us here on non-working visas.

I’ll cover “cost of living” in another article but expect to pay a security deposit as well as an agency fee (be it through AirBNB or ParisExpat or any other service) equivalent to 5-10% of your entire lease.  You’ll need a good chunk of change in your pocket come moving day.  And some smiling faces and helping hands to help you up all those flights of stairs.  More on that, next time.