Where are France's 3 million empty homes and why so many?

Vacancy rates are in double figures in some rural communes, but also in major cities

The number of vacant homes has increased by 60% since 1990
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The number of homes currently vacant in France sits at around 3.1 million, reveals new data from French statistical body Insee.

This equates to 8.2% of France’s total housing stock (of 37.6 million homes), and has increased by 60% since 1990, when less than 4% of properties were vacant.

Every single department bar Hérault (Occitanie) and the two in Corsica have seen vacancy figures rise.

To combat the spike, various plans have been proposed, including a senatorial bill from the French Communist Party that would give local authorities the power to requisition vacant homes.

Another idea, proposed by La Fédération Nationale de l’Immobilier (Fnaim, France’s leading estate agents union) is a tax exemption for properties for more than ten years, to encourage more homes to be put on the market.

What is a vacant property?

Despite the images evoked by the phrase, vacant homes are not necessarily those abandoned or in a state of disrepair.

A vacant home is a property that has no specific use (i.e not used as a second home, or for renting) and is left unoccupied.

However, homes that are up for sale or rent that have nobody currently living inside, purchased properties awaiting new owners to move in, and homes involved in an inheritance process are also classed as vacant, meaning in some cases these properties are only ‘vacant’ for a few weeks.

Read also: France’s property market sees greatest fall in sales for 50 years

Number of vacant properties increasing everywhere

The number of vacant properties increased by an average of 2.5% per year between 2005 and 2023, although this was higher in rural departments and those with a population decline.

Creuse is the department in mainland France with the highest vacancy rate (15.9%), the second highest overall behind Martinique (16.1%)

The departments of Nièvre, Ardennes, Cher, Yonne, Indre, Meuse, Orne and Vosges also have a vacancy rate of 11% or higher.

Corsica has one of the lowest vacancy rates, at less than 4%, and the current trend of the island as a retirement or second-home destination has seen this fall in recent years.

The only other department where vacancy rates fell, Hérault in Occitanie, saw them drop from 7.4% in 2009 to 7.1% in 2020. This is partly due to the huge population growth (more than a 15% increase) in the department during these years.

Read also: Why are rural French houses so cheap?

Vacant properties are also common in cities, however.

The city with the highest number of vacant properties in France is Nice, where 28% of properties fall into this category.

Paris is second (19%) followed by Grenoble (17%) and Nancy (16%).

However, this data from Agence parisienne d'urbanisme (Apur) includes properties ‘with occasional use as a second-home) which may skew figures.

In Nice 14% of homes are permanently vacant, with a further 14% used occasionally as a second-home.

Some of these ‘vacant’ properties (up to 25,000) may in reality be used illegally for short-term letting on sites such as Airbnb without being ‘declared’ as such, said Alexandre Labasse, head of Apur.

Read more: How Paris plans to crackdown on second homes and empty properties

What are the potential solutions?

The senatorial bill from the French Communist Party would give mayors the power to requisition “residential premises that have been vacant, unoccupied or inadequately occupied for more than six months.”

Currently, only departmental prefectures have the right to do this, and only then if the owner of the property agrees, meaning in effect it rarely happens.

Communist Senator Ian Brossat said, however, that the bill was more widely targeting properties that have been empty “for years… as opposed to only a few months.”

He also highlighted the importance of local communes to have this power during the winter months, particularly in cities where rates of homelessness are high.

More than 330,000 people in France were homeless (or without a fixed address) in 2023, a 30,000 increase from the year before, according to figures from the Fondation Abbé Pierre.

It is unlikely that the bill would pass scrutiny in France’s political chambers, however.

Although not explicitly directed at vacant properties, the Fnaim’s proposal to see tax exemptions for landlords could spur owners to put them on the rental market instead of retain them whilst keeping them empty.

The federation’s proposal would see taxes on rental income abolished on properties that have been rented (or up for rent) for more than 10 years.

“This tax deferral would help to stabilise the rental stock. Owners would be committed to renting over the long term,” said Loïc Cantin, president of the Fnaim.

Other proposals from the Union nationale des propriétaires immobiliers (a federation of landlords) include a shake up of wealth-taxes, abolishing rents on income from rental properties and replacing it with a tax on ‘non-productive’ wealth such as yachts and artworks, that do not directly generate income.

Both of these proposals, however, would need to be adopted by the government before being enacted.

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