CAIRN-INT.INFO : International Edition

1After World War II, the whole of Europe faced a severe housing crisis, both quantitative and qualitative. This shortage was the consequence of building destruction during the war, but also of inadequate new construction between 1918 and 1940 due to the economic recession and the low return on income property (Lefèvre, Mouillart et Occhipinti, 1991). From the very start of World War I, most of the belligerent countries introduced a system of rent controls to protect tenants during wartime [1]. And this situation persisted once peace was restored, notably due to the spiralling inflation caused by the economic crisis of the 1920s (Louvot, 2001). World War II simply aggravated the housing shortage, especially in countries that had suffered massive destruction [2]. The housing problem after 1945 was so critical that state intervention became legitimate and indispensable. All governments were obliged to implement reconstruction policies. Some relied on private initiative (North America, Switzerland), while others focused on the construction of social housing (Netherlands), or granted numerous state subsidies in favour of the most disadvantaged populations (Germany, France, Belgium). These policies aimed to stimulate new construction by encouraging households to buy their own homes and by favouring investment in income property. But to achieve this second goal, the first task was to restore the confidence of private investors who had turned away from income property due to dissuasive rent controls and regulations covering rented accommodation.

2It was against this European post-war backdrop that the housing law of 1 September 1948 was passed in France. Its purpose was to free up the private rental market by deregulating rents charged on newly constructed dwellings in order to encourage private investors back into the sector (Merlin 1988). First, we will present the content of the 1948 law and the characteristics of the dwellings and their occupants covered by its provisions. Then, using data from the Biographies et entourage (event histories and contact circle) survey conducted by INED in 2001, we will examine the impact of the 1948 law on the residential trajectories of Paris region inhabitants and, more generally, its role in the Paris region housing market over the last fifty years [3].

I – A “legendary” bill

3Contrary to what is sometimes claimed, the law of 1 September 1948 marks a turning point with respect to the successive rent control regulations in force prior to that date. Liberal in intent, it provided a framework for lifting rent controls on dwellings built before 1949 and deregulating rents on new dwellings to encourage investors back into the sector (Prost 1982). The aim was to find a compromise between the interests of tenants and those of the owners (Fribourg, 1988). In this context, rent controls were used as an emergency measure, applied in municipalities where the housing shortage was most severe. The scope of the law was limited to urban areas, districts destroyed by the war and expansion zones, i.e. centres of industrial and urban development.

4With the 1948 law, the notion of tenant protection appears for the first time in French housing history. The law introduces the “right to remain in the premises” for tenants, whatever the starting date of tenancy. It nevertheless provides for certain exceptions, notably if the tenant does not live permanently in the dwelling (less then eight months per year). If a tenant is “legally” evicted (after renovation work for example), he/she is not rehoused unless the eviction is in the public interest. The right to stay in the premises, an exceptional advantage for the tenant, is limited however by the owners’ right to recover the premises if they wish to house themselves or members of their family or to replace the premises with new dwellings. In this case, the owner must rehouse the tenants in premises of a similar nature.

5Though liberal in intent, the law of 1 September 1948 has practically “frozen” the rents charged in old private sector dwellings, since the tenants’ right to remain in the premises prevents owners from recovering their property. Its effect has, in some ways, been quite contrary to that intended. There is little incentive to upgrade the housing stock covered by the 1948 law since the tenants living in these old, poorly equipped and sometimes insalubrious dwellings are protected by the right to remain and pay very low rents.

II – A progressive reduction in housing stock covered by the 1948 law

6From 1958, new provisions made it possible to remove certain dwellings satisfying specific comfort criteria (the first categories) and vacant dwellings from the scope of the 1948 law.

1 – Effect of improved housing standards on the housing stock covered by the 1948 law

7Slum clearance policy initiated in the early 20th century was stepped up by the French government from the 1970s following major public outcry (press campaigns, demonstrations) in response to tragedies linked to poor housing conditions (fires, disease, etc.), and in protest against homelessness and housing insecurity among certain population categories (living in hotel rooms, bedsitters, shantytowns, etc.) (Magri, 1977; Ballain, 1987). Following a number of legal texts and provisions, it was the law of 10 July 1970, known as the Vivien law, designed to facilitate slum clearance, that gave legal impetus to urban renovation by speeding up the general improvement in housing standards.

8Further to the rehabilitation and demolition of slum areas under the urban renovation policy, and the sale of certain dwellings, a large proportion of the housing stock covered by the 1948 law has now disappeared. The various studies of dwellings covered by the 1948 law, based mainly on data from the INSEE Housing surveys, reveal a rapid and substantial decline in the number of these dwellings from the late 1960s. In 1973, the stock of dwellings covered by the 1948 law represented 6.6% of the total French housing stock (1,137,000 units), though by 2002 it represented only 1% (246,000 units) (Table 1). It is in Paris and the Paris region that urban renovation and improved housing standards have reduced the 1948 law housing stock most significantly. In 1973, 311,000 Parisian dwellings were covered by the 1948 law, i.e. 29% of the total stock. By 2002, only 39,000 dwellings of this type existed, representing a mere 3.4% of the total.

Table 1

Proportion of dwellings covered by the 1948 law in the housing stocks of Paris, the Paris region and France from 1973 to 2002

Table 1
1973 1978 1984 1988 1992 1996 2002 Paris intra-muros 29%* (311) 23% (259) 15.2% (173) 9.7% (108) 8.6% (95) 4.8% (54) 3.4% (39) Paris region (excluding Paris intra-muros) 10% (205) 6.7% (151) 4% (97) 3% (72) 2% (56) 1.2% (35) 0.8% (25) France 6.6% (1137) 5% (934) 3.5% (705) 2.4% (502) 2% (443) 1.4% (337) 1% (246) Note: The numbers of dwellings are given in brackets (thousands). Interpretation: In 1973, 311,000 Parisian dwellings, i.e. 29% of the total Parisian housing stock, were covered by the law of 1 September 1948. Sources: INSEE, Housing surveys from 1973 to 2002.

Proportion of dwellings covered by the 1948 law in the housing stocks of Paris, the Paris region and France from 1973 to 2002

2 – The different channels for removing dwellings from the scope of the 1948 law

9A report by Pierre Merlin to the minister of housing in 1982 detailed the different channels for removing dwellings from the scope of the 1948 law, the most frequent being the sale of dwellings to their tenants. Hence, without moving to a new address, former tenants covered by the 1948 law changed their tenure to that of owner, while others became tenants of the free market rental sector after renovation of their dwelling. Dwellings are also removed from the scope of the law following the departure or death of their tenants. Owners may take this opportunity to bring the dwellings concerned into line with market standards.

10The Merlin report points out certain abuses of the system, both on the part of owners who look for ways to get around the 1948 law without carrying out the necessary renovation work, but also on the part of certain tenants who exploit every legal loophole to maintain their advantageous status. Certain tenants have developed strategies and legal know-how to maintain their homes within the scope of the 1948 law by claiming inadequacies of one kind or another (non-existent or substandard sanitary facilities, etc.). This climate of friction between tenants and owners is fuelled by the yawning gap between the rents fixed by the 1948 law and those commonly charged on the private rental market, especially in Paris and other cities where spiralling rents generate strong tensions on the housing and property market (cf. Figure 1).

Figure 1

Mean gross rents per m2 in euros/year by rental sector and category of municipality in 2002

Figure 1

Mean gross rents per m2 in euros/year by rental sector and category of municipality in 2002

Source: INSEE, 2002 Housing survey.

III – Sociodemographic characteristics of the population

1 – A large proportion of elderly tenants

11The data from the different Housing surveys conducted by INSEE from 1973 to 2002 indicate that tenants covered by the 1948 law have, on average, been living in their dwelling for many years. In 1996, the average period of rental tenure was 20 years, compared with 10 years in the HLM [4] sector, and 5.6 years in the private rental sector. This long average period of occupancy shapes the structure of the tenant population in 1948 law dwellings, which is characterized by a high average age. Hence, according to a study by A. Massot (2000) based on data from the 1996 Housing survey, “1948 law housing tenants had an average age of 64, compared with 48 for Paris region households in general”. The under-30s represented only 4% of tenants in the 1948 law sector, compared with 29% in the free market rental sector, while the over-70s represented respectively 42% and 10% in these two sectors [5].

2 – Small, primarily one-person households

12The 1948 law housing stock now houses a large proportion of one- and two-person households. This can be explained by the age structure of this tenant population. Certain households are reduced to one person because of the death of a spouse or because the children have left home. Moreover, since the 1970s, the proportion of large households has remained low, since most of the 1948 law dwellings are small in size. Hence in 2002, according to the Housing survey data, the 1948 law sector was the rental sector in which the proportion of one-person households was highest, reaching 46%, compared with 19% in the HLM housing sector and 43% in the free rental sector.

3 – A high proportion of economically inactive persons

13The distribution by socio-occupational category of household reference persons with 1948 law housing tenure shows that their social composition is very different from that observed for other types of tenure. In 2002, the proportion of economically inactive persons was higher among this population than in other rental sectors (45% vs. 31% in the HLM housing sector and 27% in the private rental sector). Here again, this situation can be explained by the tenant age structure, which directly influences their labour force participation rate. A total of 34% of the 1948 law household reference persons are retired.

IV – An analysis in terms of residential stages via data from the Biographies et entourage survey

14The Biographies et entourage survey conducted by INED in 2001 reconstituted the residential trajectories of 2,830 residents of the Paris region aged between 50 and 70 [6]. Out of this total, only 147 spent at least one significant residential period (more than one year) in a dwelling covered by the 1948 law. This represented only 5% of the surveyed population, but 12% of Paris region inhabitants born in Paris intra-muros, 7% of those born in the inner suburbs and 3% of those born in the outer suburbs.

15Of the 147 people who had spent at least one stage in a 1948 law dwelling during their residential trajectory, 23% had spent two, 10% had spent three and 5.5% four or more stages. More than half these stages lasted less than five years and were generally at the beginning of the residential trajectory (with parents or alone). However, the average period of occupancy of 1948 law dwellings is significantly longer than that of dwellings in other rental sectors (cf. supra). The data from the Biographies et entourage survey also show that the shorter the stages spent in 1948 law dwellings, the higher the tendency to multiply these stages.

16At the survey date (in 2001), only 11 respondents—i.e. 0.4% of the sample—were still living in a 1948 law dwelling.

1 – Tenure status preceding the first residential stage in a 1948 law dwelling

17The survey collected data on the trajectories of individuals from their birth, i.e. including dwellings occupied with their parents. A total of 22 respondents occupied a 1948 law dwelling from the time of their birth (Figure 2). For the others, the most frequent tenure status before the first residential stage in a 1948 law dwelling was that of private sector tenant (52% of cases). This high proportion can be partly explained by the change in rental status of many dwellings when the law of 1 September 1948 came into force. Moreover, before their first stage in a 1948 law dwelling, 12% of respondents had occupied housing with insecure tenure or outside the scope of common law, such as furnished apartments, hostels and hotel rooms, other components of de facto social housing. An identical proportion had previously been housed by their employer.

Figure 2

The residential trajectories (since birth) of Biographies et entourage survey respondents having spent at least one residential stage in a 1948 law dwelling

Figure 2

The residential trajectories (since birth) of Biographies et entourage survey respondents having spent at least one residential stage in a 1948 law dwelling

Source: INED, Biographies et entourage survey 2001.

2 – Tenure status preceding the first residential stage in a 1948 law dwelling

18The most frequent tenure status after the last residential stage in a 1948 law dwelling is that of owner (32% of cases). This high proportion can be partly explained by the large number of 1948 law dwellings put up for sale, and for which the sitting tenants had right of first refusal. However, the purchase of occupied dwellings represents only one in five cases of transition to owner status. The low rents charged for 1948 law dwellings enabled certain tenants to save money and become homeowners over the medium to long term. Note also that 31% of respondents moved on to the private rental sector and 18% to the subsidized public housing sector (hlm – habitations à loyer modéré, ILM – immeubles à loyers modérés, etc). This proportion shows that a bridge exists between the 1948 law sector, a component of the de facto social housing sector, and the subsidized public housing sector, since during periods of urban renovation and after expropriation in the public interest, a certain number of tenants were rehoused in subsidized public housing. So the 1948 law housing stock appears to have constituted a “provisional solution”, a “transient stage” before obtaining a more comfortable, spacious dwelling in the private or social sectors, or before access to home ownership. Lastly, certain respondents (11) chose to stay in their 1948 law dwelling, even if it offered limited comfort, in order to remain in the same centrally located district of Paris rather than move (or “be exiled”, to use their own words) to the suburbs. Most of these respondents had installed the sanitary facilities that were previously lacking, with only one dwelling having no facilities at the date of survey.

3 – Residential trajectories involving one or more stages in a 1948 law dwelling

19To understand the role and the place of 1948 law dwellings in residential trajectories, a dozen semi-directive interviews were conducted with respondents who had spent at least one stage in a 1948 law dwelling. The aim was to analyse how respondents had obtained a dwelling of this type, the influence of this dwelling on their residential trajectory and, lastly, how and why they left this dwelling. We present four cases here, whose trajectories are summarized in the boxes below. They illustrate the different reasons for moving into and out of 1948 law dwellings and the impact of this dwelling type on the occupants’ lifestyle.

Obtaining a 1948 law dwelling

20Though these dilapidated dwellings offered very limited comfort, they were greatly sought after because of their low rents and central location. In the 1950s, these dwellings were quite easy to find, but they progressively became much scarcer as city-centre districts were rehabilitated. The trajectories recounted here illustrate several different ways in which 1948 law dwellings could be obtained.

21• Transmission of a 1948 law dwelling

22A large number of respondents spent their childhood or adolescence in a dwelling which became a de facto 1948 law dwelling when the law came into force. Some have never left this dwelling, or have moved back to live with their parents. Benefiting from the right to remain in the premises which was introduced for the first time in 1948, they have thus been able to “inherit” a 1948 law dwelling. This is the case for Monique, who has spent practically her entire life in a dwelling of this type (case no. 1).

Case no. 1 Monique’s story: the 1948 law dwelling, an inheritable asset

Monique was born in Germany in 1949. Several months after her birth, her parents moved to the Paris region. After seven months in the grandparents’ second residence in the outer suburbs, they eventually found an apartment in central Paris. In 1956, the grandparents, who were still alive and had a business in Paris, found them a 1948 law apartment with no sanitary facilities in their building. This suited Monique’s father, who worked in the family business. When they moved into the apartment, Monique’s parents discovered an extremely rundown, dilapidated dwelling. They did a bit of repair work, but did not install any sanitary facilities. The apartment had its own toilet, but nothing more. Monique’s parents never sought to move to a more comfortable or spacious apartment because the rent was low and they were able to live close to the grandparents and their business. In 1972, Monique, who now had a job, moved into a 1948 law studio in the inner suburbs to be independent of her parents. A few months later, her mother was hospitalized, so Monique moved back to her parents’ apartment to look after her father. Within the space of eighteen months, her father and then her mother both died and she inherited the 1948 law lease in her parents’ name, which at that time could be handed down to descendants. Monique thus benefited from the right to remain in the premises. In the late 1970s, the owner offered to improve comfort and install a bathroom at his own expense in exchange for progressive conversion of the 1948 law lease over an eight-year period, but Monique refused, preferring to maintain her standard of living and continue her travels. In 1984 she formed a couple with Ali and had a child two years later. After the birth of their son, the couple carried out major improvement work without the owner’s knowledge. Ali built a bathroom and modified the interior layout of the apartment. After twelve years together, Monique and Ali separated and Monique stayed on with her son in the apartment. Present in the apartment since 1955, she has never moved out. The low rent and the district are key factors of her strong attachment.
figure im4

23Other respondents have deployed strategies to move back with their elderly parents or to use their parents’ dwelling as a “fictitious address” so that they can claim the right to remain in the premises. For example, certain households who have retired to the provinces have left their 1948 law home to a child who can then claim the right to remain in the premises after their death.

24• The importance of networks

25As 1948 law dwellings are becoming scarce on the housing market, another way of obtaining one is to exploit one’s network of contacts, the closest contact circle in particular. The fact that parents or family members already live in a 1948 law dwelling substantially increases the chance of living in a dwelling of this type one day, since they are constantly on the lookout for apartments that become vacant in the building or the district. A very private submarket thus exists, to which only those in the know have access. The building caretakers (concierges) play a key role as information providers, as shown by Benoît’s trajectory (case no. 2). It was via his aunt, a concierge, that he was able to find a 1948 law apartment, and again via a concierge friend that he obtained his third dwelling of this type. Altogether, Benoît has lived in four different 1948 law apartments, thanks to an active network comprising family members and concierge friends. The role of the family in access to 1948 law dwellings is reflected in the residential proximity of family members. It is not unusual to find grandparents, parents, brothers, sisters and even cousins all living in the same building. This is the case for Benoît, whose first dwelling was on the same landing as that of his parents, in a building where his grandparents had been concierges. The entire extended family thus benefits from the enormous advantages associated with the job of concierge in a 1948 law building.

Case no. 2 Benoît’s story: multiple residential stages in 1948 law dwellings

Born in 1946, Benoît spent his childhood and youth in Paris, in a small 1948 law apartment with no sanitary facilities. At the time, his paternal grandparents were the building caretakers (concierges), and it was they who obtained the apartment for Benoît’s parents in 1953. In 1966, his aunt, who had taken over as concierge, found a 1948 law room for him on the same landing as his parents’ apartment. Three years later the entire building was put up for sale. Benoît, who did not wish to buy, was rehoused by the new owners in another 1948 law dwelling in the inner suburbs. His parents, for their part, were rehoused in the centre of Paris, one of his aunts obtained a dwelling through the SNCF railway company and his cousins were rehoused in an HLM apartment. The rehousing operation was “a good deal” for Benoît, since his new home was a more spacious and comfortable studio apartment. In 1972 he married and had a daughter shortly afterwards. Two years later, thanks to a concierge friend, Benoît and his wife found a three-room apartment, yet another 1948 law dwelling with minimal sanitary facilities. Their second daughter was born in 1978, but they remained in the apartment without doing any work on it until 1980, when the Paris city transport authority (RATP) offered Benoît a three-room apartment on an HLM housing estate in the suburbs. Though their housing conditions were much better than before, with all modern comforts, they soon began to dislike daily life in the neighbourhood. After several years, they put an end to their experience—that they qualified as unpleasant—in an HLM apartment and moved back to the municipality where they had previously lived. Once again, through their network of contacts, they found a three-room apartment, previously under the 1948 law and whose rent was not raised after their arrival. Benoît has now retired and his youngest daughter is still living at home. The older daughter lives with her partner and children on an HLM housing estate in the same municipality.
figure im5

26Luc’s trajectory represents another type of situation (case no. 3). In this case, it is not the family network but work colleagues who serve as intermediaries. Luc obtained his apartment from a colleague, who charged him key money for recommending his name to the owner. The previous tenant thus obtained a handsome price for handing over his very low-cost apartment. Though illegal, the payment of key money—often a substantial sum (4,000 francs in 1976 for Luc)—was a common practice, given the severe housing shortage and the considerable advantage of a very low rent.

Case no. 3 Luc’s story: a 1948 law dwelling as a stage preceding home ownership

Luc was born in Bayonne in 1949. He left home at age 21 to live and work in the Paris region. In 1971 he accepted a job as an educator in a specialized centre for young people in difficulty. He was housed in the centre in a bedroom with no sanitary facilities. He stayed for 18 months before taking up a new job in an aviation research centre, a job which he still holds to this day. After several months in a garret room, he paid key money to a colleague who was leaving his 1948 law dwelling in the south of Paris. He stayed in the apartment for three years. Its small size and the lack of sanitary facilities did not bother him since he spent very little time in the apartment. During the daytime he was at work and in the evening he studied at the CNAM (Conservatoire national des arts et métiers). The modest rent enabled him to live in a district with good public transport services and to save money. In 1975 his brother joined him in Paris, though their cohabitation was cut short by a large-scale renovation programme. In 1976, all the building inhabitants were evicted and rehoused, for the most part by the Paris city council. Luc’s brother was rehoused on an HLM housing estate in the suburbs. Luc did not want to live in an HLM apartment and preferred to stay in Paris so that he could continue his evening classes at the CNAM. For the second time, via his work colleagues, he found a 1948 law apartment in the inner suburbs near his workplace. Though the apartment was damp, cold and dilapidated, he paid 4,000 francs of key money to obtain the tenancy. In 1983 Luc married. Even before the first child was born, Luc and his wife decided to move to a dwelling more suitable for a newborn baby. Luc enquired about the chance of obtaining an apartment in a social housing scheme, and was told that the waiting lists were very long. Finding nothing they could afford in the private rental sector, Luc and his wife decided to buy an apartment, using as a downpayment the money they had saved thanks to their low rent. In 1984 they bought a three-room apartment with all modern comforts in the inner suburbs. Their second daughter was born in 1986. After a few years, their apartment became too small and Luc and his wife started looking for a home where both daughters could have their own bedroom. In 1997 they managed, with some difficulty, to sell their apartment located in an urban development zone (ZUP). They borrowed heavily to buy a larger home in a well-appointed apartment block. It was a struggle for Luc, whose wife did not work, to pay his mortgage instalments and this tense situation led to the couple’s separation in 2002. So Luc was forced to sell the apartment and look for somewhere else to live. No longer in a position to buy, he turned to the rental sector. Thanks to financial assistance from his employer (1% patronal), Luc obtained a four-room apartment for him and his daughters, of whom he has custody, in an HLM apartment block close to his workplace. At the time of interview, Luc had no plans to move. He was waiting for his divorce settlement and for confirmation of a possible transfer of his company to Toulouse.
figure im6

27As shown by the above examples, it is clear that the networks of family, friends, work colleagues and neighbours play a crucial role in access to 1948 law dwellings. Grandparents, parents, uncles, aunts and colleagues are solicited, and complex strategies are implemented to obtain and keep a 1948 law dwelling.

28• Dwelling exchanges

29Dwelling exchanges were very common and enabled households already living in a 1948 law dwelling to move to a new home while continuing to take advantage of the law. This was a way of obtaining a home more suited to changing family needs while continuing to pay rents much lower than those of the free market sector. These exchanges often involved the payment of key money and other “dodges” to use Muriel’s expression. Her story brings in another player on the very limited 1948 law housing market: the estate agent. In such cases, the price paid to obtain the dwelling included not only the previous tenant’s key money, but also the agent’s commission. The highly complex strategies required to obtain dwellings of this kind are an indication of their scarcity.

Case no. 4 Muriel’s story: purchase of a 1948 law dwelling

Born in 1941, Muriel spent her childhood with her parents in a three-room apartment with no sanitary facilities, probably a 1948 law rental. Muriel married in 1964 and looked for an apartment close to her parents’ home. Muriel wanted to find a 1948 law apartment. After visiting several estate agents, she accepted the “strategem” organized by an agency and an apartment tenant who was asking for key money. As this apartment was only available through an exchange, she temporarily occupied another dwelling owned by the children of the 1948 law tenant. Three months later, after informing the owner of the change and paying key money of 10,000 francs, Muriel was able to move into the three-room 1948 law apartment with her husband. When she first moved in, the apartment had no sanitary facilities or heating. She divorced in 1968, but the apartment lease remained in her name. In 1973 she met Jean, who was living in a studio apartment in Paris. They both kept their own apartment and Jean did not move into Muriel’s 1948 law dwelling, whose rent was much lower, until 1975. In 1984, Jean bought, in his own name, a larger, more well-appointed three-room apartment in the same street. Muriel joined him, but kept her 1948 law apartment, in the hope that the owner would sell it to her one day. She went to the apartment every day to pick up her mail and took the precaution of leaving her furniture to give the impression that she was still living there [7]. She also let it out temporarily to her niece and to friends. Finally, after 26 years as tenant, Muriel bought the apartment in 1990 at a very affordable price. She then undertook major renovation work to bring the apartment into line with modern standards of comfort so that she could rent it on the free market. She very quickly recouped her investment.

30But the challenge was not simply to obtain a 1948 law dwelling, but also to keep it. As dwellings were renovated, rehabilitated and sold off, and as the law was progressively relaxed, making it easier to remove dwellings from its scope, the number of 1948 law dwellings began to shrink, from the 1980s especially. Some households were obliged to accept very sub-standard housing conditions, and often performed renovation work without informing the owner in order to continuing enjoying the advantages of a 1948 law dwelling. One frequent strategy was to refuse, like Monique, any modernization work which would have meant a substantial rent increase. But in the end, over time, and despite active resistance, most tenants have been obliged to relinquish their privileges, in one way or another.

figure im7

Leaving a 1948 law dwelling

31• The obligation to leave

32The renovation of central Paris districts in the 1960s and 1970s involved the demolition of numerous dilapidated dwellings and the eviction of their tenants. Luc and his brother were evicted. Though his brother agreed to move to an HLM apartment in the suburbs, Luc preferred to look for another 1948 law dwelling. He managed to find one via work colleague, but was obliged to pay key money for it.

33Benoît’s story illustrates a situation in which the tenants are obliged to leave for a different reason. When, as in this case, the entire building is sold off, the owner must give right of first refusal to tenants or rehouse them elsewhere under similar conditions. Benoît, his parents and the rest of the family could not afford to buy their dwelling. Benoît was rehoused by the new owners in another 1948 law dwelling, but in the suburbs, while his parents were rehoused in the centre of Paris, his aunt obtained a dwelling via the SNCF and his cousins an HLM apartment. Benoît was twice obliged to leave his apartment and each time he succeeded in finding another dwelling of the same type via his family network.

34• Buying a 1948 law dwelling

35Unlike Benoît, certain tenants were able to buy their 1948 law dwelling at an attractive price by claiming their sitting tenants’ right to prior purchase. By saving money that would otherwise be paid out on rent, they were able to build up a capital, often via a special savings plan [8] for future property purchase. So when the opportunity to buy arose, they were quick to take up the offer. Some stayed in their dwelling, despite its disadvantages, in the hope that the owner would agree to sell. Muriel waited to buy for 26 years, implementing complex strategies in the meantime. During certain periods, she lived fictitiously in the apartment, since she was actu ally sharing another dwelling with her partner. Analysis of event histories reveals the strategies adopted by households to keep these dwellings, even when they are not their primary residence. Some, like Muriel, pretend to be living in them, or sub-let them to a nephew, a cousin or to a trustworthy friend so that they can recover the dwelling at a later date.

36• Moving into a new home and access to ownership

37Not all tenants are determined to stay in their dwelling, generally damp, dilapidated, and with limited sanitary facilities. Though many accept these conditions early in their life, when single or living in a couple, the birth of the first or second child triggers a desire for access to modern, fully equipped housing. Luc and his wife considered that their apartment was not fit for a newborn baby and, thanks to the rental money saved, they decided to purchase their own property. The 1948 law thus enabled many households to save money for a downpayment on an apartment or house.

38Whether the 1948 law dwelling is just one stage in their residential trajectory, or their long-term home, this residential sequence has a major impact on respondents’ lifestyles. Rents three to four times lower (depending on the district and the sanitary facilities in the dwelling) than those charged in the free market rental sector enabled tenants who would otherwise be excluded for reasons of cost to stay in centrally-located up-market districts of Paris. Given the advantages of their situation, none of these tenants would envisage moving out to the suburbs, let alone to an HLM housing estate.

39The low rents also enabled tenants who had lived in 1948 law dwellings for several years to save money to finance the purchase of a primary residence (as shown by the examples of Luc and Muriel) and, even more frequently, the purchase of a second residence. According to the Biographies et entourage survey, 43% of persons spending at least one significant residential stage in a 1948 law dwelling own a second residence, compared with 35% for the survey population as a whole. This is the case for Benoît for example, who spent many residential stages in 1948 law dwellings and who now owns a studio in the Vendée département. Muriel and her partner have recently bought an apartment in the south, while several years ago Monique bought a studio in a ski resort that she plans to sell when she retires so that she can buy a house in the Pyrenees. Moreover, the low rents enabled certain tenants to improve their standard of living and to live more comfortably. For Monique, for example, the rent was so low that she was regularly able to travel abroad for several months without having to terminate her lease.

40Analysis of the residential trajectories of inhabitants of the Paris region aged between 50 and 70 reveals the specific role played by housing which is covered by the 1948 law over a long period. Though the dwellings were dilapidated and lacking in sanitary facilities, they provided a low-cost housing solution for young people leaving their parents’ home or starting life in a couple. These inexpensive, centrally-located dwellings enabled a significant number of individuals of these generations to reach the first rung of the housing ladder. With urban rehabilitation and the associated gentrification of central districts, this stage is increasingly rare, a fact which partly explains why young people now stay longer with their parents before moving into a separate dwelling.

41Moreover, 1948 law dwellings have enabled populations which would otherwise, for reasons of cost, be forced to move out to the suburbs, to continue living in the city centre. So the existence of these dwellings has slowed down the process of social segregation and their progressive disappearance has marked the onset of city-centre gentrification. At present, the absence of this “de facto” social housing sector is being cruelly felt since, despite its marginal nature, it formed a sort of “safety valve” on the housing market. With its disappearance, the question of “affordable” housing for young people and low-income households has become an issue of concern.


  • [*]
    University of Paris X-Nanterre.
  • [**]
    Translated from the French by Catriona Dutreuilh.
  • [1]
    In France, rent control legislation, first introduced in 1914, remained in force throughout the inter-war period and during World War II (Ailap, 1984 ; Morio, 1977). In 1945, under legal provisions introduced during the war, almost the entire housing stock was subject to rent controls.
  • [2]
    Only 1,600,000 dwellings were built in France between 1919 and 1939. The extent of destruction during World War II was limited (500,000 dwellings destroyed, 140,000 damaged).
  • [3]
    This study was conducted as part of a DEA post-graduate diploma. For further details, see Loiseau, 2003.
  • [4]
    hlmhabitation à loyer modéré, subsidized public sector housing.
  • [5]
    Due to problems of data consistency relating to the 1948 law housing stock in the 2002 Housing survey (concerning the declarations of young households and newly arrived tenants), we preferred to use the data of the 1996 survey.
  • [6]
    For a presentation of the survey, see Lelièvre and Vivier (2001).
  • [7]
    Owners can evict 1948 law tenants if the dwelling is occupied for less than eight months in the year.
  • [8]
    The “plan d’épargne logement” savings plan for property purchase was created in 1965.


  • Ailap (Association pour l’information sur le logement en agglomération parisienne), 1984, Étude sur le parc loi de 1948 à Paris, Paris, 29 p.
  • Ballain René, Jacquier Claude, 1987, Les politiques françaises en faveur des mal-logés (1945-1985), Grenoble, Getur, 269 p.
  • Fribourg Anne-Marie, 1998, “Évolution des politiques du logement depuis 1950”, in Logement et habitat : l’état des savoirs, Paris, La Découverte, pp. 223-231.
  • Lefèvre Bruno, Mouillart Michel, Occhipinti Sylvie, 1991, “La leçon des expériences européennes : politique du logement social versus politique du logement pour tous”, in Politique du logement : 50 ans pour un échec (coll. Habitat et Société), l’Harmattan, chap. II, pp. 89-109.
  • OnlineLelièvre É, Vivier G., 2001, “Évaluation d’une collecte à la croisée du quantitatif et du qualitatif. L’enquête Biographies et entourage”, Population, 56(6), pp. 1043-1074.
  • OnlineLoinger Guy, 1982, “La politique urbaine dans la région parisienne”, in Les politiques urbaines françaises depuis 1945, CNRS (Série Histoire Urbaine), pp. 92-101.
  • Loiseau Maud, 2003, Rôles et fonctions du parc de logements de la loi de 1948, DEA dissertation in demography, University of Paris X-Nanterre.
  • OnlineLouvot Claudie, 2001, “Le logement dans l’Union européenne : la propriété prend le pas sur la location”, Économie et Statistique, n° 343, pp. 29-39.
  • Magri Susanne, 1977, Logement et reproduction de l’exploitation. Les politiques étatiques du logement en France 1947-1972, Paris, Centre de sociologie urbaine, 312 p.
  • Massot André, 2000, “Que reste-t-il de la loi de 1948 en Île-de-France?”, Les cahiers de l’IAURIF, supplément habitat n° 26, February, pp. 8-13.
  • Merlin Pierre, 1982, Pour une véritable priorité au logement social à Paris : rapport au ministre de l’Urbanisme et du Logement, Paris, La Documentation française, 394 p.
  • Merlin Pierre, 1988, “L’évolution du parc de logements (1945-1986)”, in Transformation de la famille et habitat, Paris, Ined (Travaux et Documents, cahier n° 120), pp. 203-221.
  • Morio Simone, 1977, Le contrôle des loyers en France 1914-1948, Document pour l’étude comparative des politiques de logement, Paris, Centre de sociologie urbaine, 401 p.
  • OnlineProst Antoine, 1982, “La périodisation des politiques urbaines françaises depuis 1945 : le point de vue d’un historien”, in Les politiques urbaines françaises depuis 1945, CNRS (Série Histoire Urbaine), pp. 32-47.
Maud Loiseau [*]
Maud Loiseau, University of Paris X-Nanterre, email:
  • [*]
    University of Paris X-Nanterre.
Catherine Bonvalet [**]
  • [**]
    Translated from the French by Catriona Dutreuilh.
Translated from the French by
Catriona Dutreuilh
This is the latest publication of the author on cairn.
Uploaded on on 03/03/2014
Distribution électronique pour Ined Editions © Ined Editions. Tous droits réservés pour tous pays. Il est interdit, sauf accord préalable et écrit de l’éditeur, de reproduire (notamment par photocopie) partiellement ou totalement le présent article, de le stocker dans une banque de données ou de le communiquer au public sous quelque forme et de quelque manière que ce soit.
Loading... Please wait