Attractions of rental policy in France

Kiwis often make fun of what they perceive as French socialism. "Oh, Cecile, it's 3pm, don't you normally finish work now?"

And while my country can be ludicrous at times, there are some things Kiwis could draw inspiration from, especially when it comes to tenants' rights.

In The Press last week we learned about Campbell Neil, a guy with a fulltime job who chooses to live in his van instead of paying "ridiculous rents" for second-rate conditions. He made the move after Canterbury's earthquakes forced him out of several rentals because of unsafe conditions or the owners wanting to sell up or move in themselves.

Now let's imagine Campbell Neil was called Francois Camembert and lived in France.

Camembert's flat would have to be "decent", and that includes heating and proper ventilation. His standard rental agreement would have a three-year term and his landlord would have to renew it unless they wanted to move into the house, sell, or if Camembert had been in breach of the tenancy agreement.

And they could only give notice at the end of the three-year contract - with six months' notice. This would not have helped with earthquake damage, but at least once Camembert had found a suitable rental he would have had three years of stability, rather than being forced to move again and again as Neil was.

Then we read Byllie Jean Rangihuna's story this week. She and her three children had to move into a caravan when the lease on their New Brighton home ended.

They had lived there for the past two years and Rangihuna had never missed a payment, but she was given notice when the lease rolled around. Originally rented for $300, her rent had gone up to $350. It went back on the market at $400.

Now let's look at Billye Jean Rangihuna's French double, Jeanne-Billois Roquefort. Her rent could only be increased once a year and the raise would be capped to a government-issued index (usually under 3 per cent) based on inflation.

At the end of her three-year rental contract, Roquefort's landlord could hike the rent more, but only if it was significantly undervalued compared to market rates. To do so, they would have to give six months' notice. Even then Roquefort could refuse the increase, in which case the landlord would have to go to a conciliation commission.

If Rangihuna lived in France, she would have been able to stay in her rental, without worrying about rent increases every six months. Now what would happen if Roquefort or Camembert hit a rough patch and fell behind on their rent payments?

Their landlords would have to give them two months to pay. If Roquefort and Camembert still did not pay, the landlords could go to court to end the contract and if necessary to ask for an order of expulsion. However, Roquefort and her three children would not be kicked out in the streets in winter. During the "winter truce" - 4 months from the end of autumn to the start of spring - French courts cannot order expulsions.

The French system arguably puts lots of pressure on landlords. But tenants are usually the more vulnerable party in the tenancy relationship and therefore need protection.

Call me a socialist, but I would feel better if tenants like Rangihuna and Neil lived in a warm house this winter rather than in a cold caravan.

The Press