March - 2015
Close to You is the second album by The Carpenters, released in August 1970. The song named "(They Long to Be) Close to You" is a popular song written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David. It was first recorded by Richard Chamberlain and released as a single in 1963. The version performed by the Carpenters is the best known one.
Clearly there is a feeling of love for France and all things French when a foreigner decides to sell everything to move to Paris. Sometimes this powerful feeling blurs the reality of living in a foreign country and disappointments come shortly thereafter. At times, the scrutiny of the French administration feels very intrusive to Americans who live in France; such Americans frequently have a typical knee-jerk reaction and want to protect their rights to privacy. The fact is, in many ways, France guarantees less privacy than does the USA, although it can be debated whether this is still true in today's world.
On a much lighter note, people who have lived in France for the last 30 years can see the evolution of the French administration, which has become more accessible and, most of the time, more understanding in its dealings with the common man. I am not sure that recent immigrants would agree with this evaluation, as they generally are very intimidated when confronted with officials at the préfecture, the CPAM branch, or the tax office.
MS. HARRIET "HAT" STERSTEIN HAS DIED EARLY DECEMBER, OWNER OF MON BON CHIEN, THE BAKERY FOR DOGS IN PARIS
In my meetings at the office and my ministry at the church, I have helped people with so many different projects that I often feel each new client brings an opportunity to discover something totally original.
I remember the first meeting with Hat in my office. Her project of opening the first bakery for dogs in Europe sounded challenging to say the least, but it fascinated me, too, since I could see all the obstacles that needed to be overcome to open the shop and create a viable business. Several years after our first meeting, she told me that I was the only professional who took her plan seriously and was willing to work with her, which was why she chose me. I learned early on in life, from a project in archaeological aviation, that what makes the difference is not how crazy an idea sounds but how sound the business model is. If the revenue exceeds the costs by a sufficient margin, then it is worth creating the business; the rest is irrelevant as long as the business itself is legal.
I spent some of the most challenging and exhilarating moments of my professional life with Hat. Even today I recall our appointment with the inspection vétérinaire - the authority that grants the health permit to sell prepared food in a given location - as one of the five most gripping meetings of my professional life. I also have countless fond memories of her years in Paris, especially some of the parties she hosted at her shop. Rest in peace, Hat you are missed.
IT IS NOW EASIER TO BECOME FRENCH
Manuel Valls, France's prime minister and former interior minister, has often stated his intention of making it easier to adopt French nationality, not by changing the rules but by redefining the requirements so that more people qualify. I remind my readers that he was born Spanish (Catalan) and was naturalized later in life. Before informing my readers that he was as good as his word, I wanted solid data proving it. There were 77,335 new French people last year, an increase of about 10% across all categories. Thus the improvement is not striking, but it is there. Keep in mind that it still takes over a year from the time the file is submitted until the decision is made. And, depending on the préfecture, there can also be a rather long delay to get an appointment.
PARIS CITY HALL IS BACK ON THE WARPATH AGAINST SHORT-TERM RENTALS
Without going into detail about the "war" on short-term rentals declared a few years ago by the previous mayor of Paris, Mr. Delanoë "rentals referred to in French as locations touristiques or locations saisonnières " I would like to remind readers that the legislation in effect until December 31st 2014 specified that the owner of an apartment used for such a purpose had to change the zoning to commercial so as to comply with zoning regulations, since this type of rental was treated like a tiny hotel made up of one suite. The standard procedure for changing zoning in Paris from residential to commercial involves turning a space of equivalent size from commercial to residential elsewhere in Paris. The limited experience I had with people trying to follow the law was that it was impossible. The procedure never went through, as there was always something missing.
Now a new law requires such trade-offs to be made within the same arrondissement. Paris is divided into 20 arrondissements, which correspond to the 20 postal codes in the city. Tourist rentals are concentrated in the first eight, that is, the central part, covering the Etoile and the Champs-Elysées, the Madeleine, the Opéra, the Place de la République, the Place de la Bastille, the Gare Montparnasse, Invalides and the Eiffel Tower. These are the priciest neighborhoods in Paris, which makes such swaps even more difficult and costly. There is also another new requirement when turning a commercial space into a residential one, for every square meter of short-term rental apartment two square meters of commercial space must be turned into an apartment.
Meanwhile, the city is buying office spaces without business tenants, renovating them and turning them into modern apartments which means the city is also collecting valuable real estate that could be used for additional vacation rentals. These can be sold: Le Monde says the market price ranges from 500€ per square meter to 2,000€ for premium locations where most short-term rentals are. The city can be expected to earn a fair amount of money this way, given the demand. Still, as I have often explained, the request to change these apartments into short-term rental units has close to no chance of success if city hall follows the same policy. The applicant must buy the real estate before submitting the request, so the money will be earned by city hall. Furthermore, if the request is successful, it will be difficult to sell the re-zoned spaces as lodgings, since they are zoned as hotel suites. Nevertheless, just as city hall is quite lenient when the change goes from commercial to residential, the same applies if the owner decides to live there permanently, for example.
My last comment may sound like it is motivated by pure cynicism, but it just reflects the reality of some aspects of French politics. A team of twenty civil servants was created, only five of whom have police clearance to enter lodgings. Yet city hall estimates that at least 20,000 apartments were being used for short-term rental in 2011 and about 3,000 new ones are added to the market yearly. I cannot see how a team of twenty people can tackle the job efficiently. At this point, official sanctions against the practice are more a calculated risk than a serious threat. I would estimate that each person on the team is responsible for at least 1,500 apartments, since the city's figures are probably too low.
HOW DOES THE PRÉFECTURE FIND OUT THE AUTO-ENTREPRENEUR STATUS?
I am an American working in France with a CDI with a salarié immigration status, which I renew every year. I recently registered for auto-entrepreneur status and I am looking for work this way. I am bound by an exclusivity clause (clause d'exclusivité) but when I check my contract it does not say anything about auto-entrepreneur . So I am not sure if I have the right to do this or not. My friend has been in a similar situation for a year, and he renewed his salarié visa with CDI and continues to work as auto-entrepreneur too. He has not faced any problems so far. Do I risk anything with my employer by having an activity on the side?
I believe you may be concerned with the lesser of two risks. As I see it, losing your job because of the exclusivity clause is less of a risk than losing your right to stay in France as a legal immigrant.
There is no need to say much about the exclusivity clause, since it all depends on what you do in your side business. If it is totally unrelated to your employerés work, there is no unfair competition. For example, if you are an accountant for a marketing firm and you also help individuals fill out their income declarations, you are no competition. This activity could be seen as infringing the monopoly held by CPAs (expert-comptable), depending on how it is done, but that is not the topic of this discussion. On the other hand, if you are a graphic artist both as an independent and as an employee in a marketing firm, then the services you offer are very likely in direct competition with your employer, and you are bound to lose your job once they find out. It is as simple as that.
I have written a lot about how the auto-entrepreneur status is dangerous for foreigners living in France, so I just want to add a couple of things.
First, one needs to understand that the French administration maintains very tight control over foreigners right to work. This is supposed to protect the established people already living in France, i.e., the French! You have registered for a right to work as a self-employed auto-entrepreneur, and obtained it without first getting permission to do so from the préfecture. For that reason alone, when the préfecture finds out, the chances are you will automatically lose your carte de séjour salarié.
They will find out when they see your French tax return (avis d’imposition sur le revenue) less than two years after you started this independent activity, which will show up on the income tax form. Your friend was able to renew his carte de séjour salari� once because none of the tax documents he submitted indicated the existence of his new business, and he showed no document related to this independent activity. At the next renewal, however, this side activity will be in plain view on the tax return. This danger applies to so many situations. People should remember that almost all carte de séjour renewals demand the current avis d’imposition sur le revenue. As on the US form 1040, the different types of income are itemized and therefore can be identified.
The other point I would like to make is that under French law there are four different types of right to work that the administration scrutinizes, and this applies to everybody, not just foreigners. One is either an employee or an independent worker, and the latter category comprises three types of status:
- 1–Merchant = commerçant,
- 2–Craftsman = artisan,
- 3–Self-employed professional = profession libérale.
These categories were created during the reign of Louis the XIV and have not been changed since then. That is why auto-entrepreneur is a complete oddity that does not fit the French traditional legal system, for two reasons:
It was created to be secondary to an employee position.
It does not distinguish among the three abovementioned forms of independent status.
The logic of the law, which began when the merchant status was created in 1673 and is still in the Code de Commerce, is that merchants are assumed to be unscrupulous by definition and therefore the rest of the population, the "good people", should be protected from them. At the other end of this spectrum are the self-employed professionals, the "honest professionals" and their professional activity is civil in nature. It does not, however, match the employee position, which is still the standard one in France.
This is why the préfecture has a terrible time handling the auto-entrepreneur fiscal status, which covers two radically different types of carte de séjour commerçant-artisan and profession libérale. The procedure at the Paris préfecture is not even handled by the same civil servants; there are two distinct offices handling the two types of status, and they are not even on the same floor! The fact that auto-entrepreneur was created to be a secondary activity to an employee position was too much for the préfecture, so it was just dismissed.
Going back to your situation as well as that of your friend, once the préfecture discovers this second activity, it will automatically refuse your request to renew your carte de séjour salarié. The letter of refusal will give you 30 days to leave France, and you will have a hard time appealing this decision since it is 100% legally grounded. Unless you have a personal situation that can be used successfully to ask for private life immigration status, for several years you will be unable to stay in France legally unless you go back to your country and ask for an immigration visa. In short, you should realize how dangerous your situation in France is, and you should address it properly sooner than later and hope for a miracle that you continue to get a « Yes » on your request to renew your immigration status at the préfecture.
CAN ONE SPEED UP THE FRENCH ADMINISTRATION?
I received a French speeding ticket, then a second notice that I was late paying, at my home in the USA. Right now I am stuck at a point where I can't pay the fine through the website dedicated for this (at the original or increased amount) and I am waiting for some sort of additional correspondence in the mail. I was doing some research online about the situation and cannot find how I can pay without waiting for the next step, which will be even more expensive. Do you have any suggestions on how to proceed?
In response to your query as to whether the French administration can be speeded up, the short answer is « No ». I am not familiar with the administration of many other countries, but my experience is that the French bureaucracy is locked tight. It is extremely rare to meet the person who makes the decisions, and they are very prickly if you try to force them to do anything. There are only predefined ways to contact them; the most traditional one is by mail, which has a tendency to delay the process rather than speeding it up. Any new element is examined in such a way that it is as if a whole new file is being reviewed, and this creates extra delay. It can be very useful to improve the quality of the file, and then sending more documents is useful after all. More and more often the official document will give not only the phone number of the branch but also the direct line and the email address of person or the office in charge of your case. This means you may be able to establish a dialogue and find out how soon will you get an answer. For example, a very common reply is: « We are dealing now with requests which arrived six months ago, so do the math based on when you mailed it and you know when you will get the answer. » This is not speeding up the process but knowing the timeline is a significant improvement. Your specific question is about paying a speeding ticket and how to do it. Partly because of the time it takes the postal system to deliver the ticket, you cannot use the efficient way to pay, which is to access this website and pay with a credit card. For obvious reasons, it is impossible to find even a street address for where the civil servants are working on this.
Now, you could mail a check in euros to the P.O. box address below to pay what you know is the current amount, enclosing a copy of the initial ticket since all the needed information is on it. Eventually this payment will be credited to your account. Indeed, the sooner you do it, the better the chance that no more penalties and fines will be added. So, either it covers the amount owed in full and you are done, or there is a balance owed because of lateness. The good news is that this amount will not change over time. Thus it is possible that you never receive the related bill because the civil servant waived it, or you can address this new situation knowing that you risk very little for the time being. Eventually you will pay the remainder. One could see this as speeding up the process. I call it complying with the law, sooner rather than later.
THE ADDRESS FOR THOSE SPEEDING TICKETS
Agence Nationale de Traitement Automatisé des Infractions (ANTAI)
Infractions radars automatiques
If you want to try to speak to someone and maybe get some information out of them, here are the phone numbers.
Regarding tickets resulting from automatic radar:
08 11 10 20 30 (cost 0.06 euro per minute)
Monday-Friday 8h30 to 6h30, Saturday 8h30 to 12h30.
Regarding the procés-verbal électronique (PVE):
0811 871 871 (cost 0.06 euro per minute)
The French administration, in other words, is not known to be fast in most circumstances, but it is making a real effort to be accessible to the public and, in more ways than might be expected, helpful to people.
Please forward this message to all those who would be interested in its contents. The information contained in this newsletter is intended only as general information. I strongly urge readers to seek professional guidance concerning the legal and tax matters mentioned. This newsletter is intended as a general guide and is not to be taken as professional advice.