11 Big Problems With Your Paris Airbnb

interior of paris apartment

Planning to rent a Parisian Airbnb this summer? Coming for the Olympics, or the art, or the food? Parisian Airbnbs come with their own specific set of challenges: size, access, and more. Here, a run-down on a few of the most common concerns for living à la française — from burglars swooping down from the rooftop to seven-floor buildings without an elevator in sight.

(Here’s a link to the Airbnb shown above.)

1. Am I Going to Be Burgled?
Violent crime is rare within Paris’s city limits, at least compared to similarly sized American cities, but property crime is not. (My building, with nine apartments and in a very nice part of town, has had nearly a half-dozen break-ins in the past 18 months.) This problem is most apparent in late summer, when Parisians go on vacation and thieves…do not. Keep valuables well out of sight and always close and lock your windows when you leave — and don’t assume (as I did) that a top-floor apartment means you’re out of danger, since many break-ins are launched from the roof.

2. What Time Do Renovations Start?
Many Parisian apartment buildings are hundreds of years old, which means that renovations in neighboring apartments are a fact of life. Obviously, this being France, there are strict rules about when construction can start and stop to maintain general public health — in my building, drilling started at precisely every morning at 8:15 a.m. for three months. If you’re staying for a while, it might be worth asking the owner if renovations are forecast for the time you’ll be there.

3. How Much Does a Lost Key Cost?
Paris locksmiths who advertise on the flyers distributed in vestibules and entryways are sometimes fronted by cheats and scammers, who’ll accompany you to an ATM and empty it out, charging €3000 to let you into your apartment. This is why you’ll see Parisians sleeping in front of their apartment doors sometimes, waiting until morning (or a Monday) to call the local locksmith. Homeowners’ policies can greatly reduce this fee, and some providers of rental insurance have deals with local locksmiths for service.

4. How Small Is This Apartment?
Even more than in the U.S., French apartments are listed according to their square meterage — it’s the primary unit of measure, as much as whether the apartment is a studio or one-bedroom, etc. If the Airbnb listing doesn’t mention it, the lister should be able to provide the figure. Google can handle the calculation between square meters and square feet — note that you’ll often see this noted as something like “50m2” — 50 mètres carrés, or 50 square meters, or 538 square feet. Parisian apartments have a reputation for their small size, though I think they’re not too different from those in New York (to name another city with a reputation for small apartments). For a quick conversion, add a zero to the square meters to get square feet — it’ll get you close.

5. Why Are The Toilet And Shower In Separate Rooms?
One is for dirty things! The other is for clean things! That about sums it up! If you see a listing with a “WC séparé,” that means that the toilet is in a room separate from the shower. Usually there’s a sink in a WC séparé, but not always. This is also a feature of older buildings.

6. Why Is Everyone Screaming Outside At 2 A.M.?
It’s summer, and since few people have air conditioners, everyone’s sleeping with the windows open — which means street noise. This effect is amplified in the older parts of the city, where the streets are narrower, so the sound ricochets between the walls, and in older buildings, which are often built around a courtyard — obviously, if your apartment faces the street, you’ll catch more noise than you would if it was on the back. Personally, I like it — the convivialité! — but if you don’t, I’d invest in ear plugs, or seek out an apartment that doesn’t look out on the street.

7. Is This Even Legal?
Probably?? But less likely so than previously? These days, Airbnb hosts are limited to renting out their primary residences 120 days per year — more than that, and they’re subject to fines. Note this only applies to “Entire Apartments” — if they’re just renting out a room, they can do it all year long.

8. What Am I Supposed To Cook On A Hot Plate?
Some Parisian kitchens are grand and full of gadgets, but most are not. Before booking, be sure what your kitchen will offer, and don’t assume it will include: a dishwasher, a full-sized fridge, an oven, a microwave, or anything else. Speaking of appliances, many will have neither a washing machine nor a dryer, and if they have a washing machine, they may very well not have a dryer — instead, you’ll find a wire drying rack or an electric drying rack in the bathroom.

9. Calls To The U.S. Are How Much?
French telecommunication costs are ridiculous — ridiculously cheap, especially if you’ve ever had the tremendous displeasure of paying for cable TV service in the U.S. I’ve paid under $100 a month for: wifi, cable service, landline service, and my cell phone, with free calls to the U.S. Can you imagine? Seriously? I hope everyone goes to France, if for no other reason than to experience life outside the Spectrum/Xfinity/etc. monopoly.

10. How Hot Does It Get?
The huge majority of French apartments won’t come with an air conditioner, though they are slowly becoming more popular. Every summer the past few years, we’ve had a week or two (usually in late July or early August) when it gets unbearably hot — north of 100º. The good news is that it’s not nearly as humid as many hot-weather American cities, and it usually cools down considerably overnight. The bad news is that the culture of subzero AC in malls and movie theaters isn’t exactly analogous – it’s usually cooler but not cold, if you know what I mean. The best option? Do like Parisians do and skip town for the beach or the mountains.

11. How Many Flights Of Stairs Am I Supposed To Climb?
Probably a maximum of seven. Don’t assume just because your apartment is on the sixth floor that it’ll have an elevator. And don’t assume that because there’s an elevator that it’ll be an American size — many are incredibly small, and will only fit a couple people comfortably.

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