What is an unsanitary housing?

Is your accommodation poorly maintained? Does it have cracks or significant moisture problems? It might be unsanitary!


When can we start talking about unsanitary conditions? How do I know if my accommodation is unsanitary? And what should I do if unsanitary conditions are confirmed?


Studapart guides you step by step.


Unsanitary housing: what does it mean?


Definition of an unsanitary housing


The law states that an unsanitary dwelling is a housing unit that poses a risk or danger to the physical safety and/or health of the people living there (Article L1331-22 of the Public Health Code).


Certain types of premises are considered unsanitary for residential use. These include:


  • basements, cellars, and attics;
  • spaces where the ceiling height is less than 1.80 meters;
  • cramped premises without openings to the outside, or without sufficient natural lighting;
  • overcrowded spaces.


Good to know: overcrowding means that there are too many people living in the dwelling compared to its habitable surface area. In France, a single person must have at least 9 square meters available. For two people, it increases to 16 square meters, and for 3 to 8 people, an additional 9 square meters per person is added.


We distinguish between remediable unsanitary conditions and irremediable unsanitary conditions:


  • Remediable unsanitary conditions are only temporary: by carrying out work and implementing certain technical measures, the dwelling could become sanitary again.
  • On the other hand, irremediable unsanitary conditions imply that no technical means would be able to put an end to the unsanitary state, or that the cost of the work would be higher than a simple reconstruction.


What is the difference between an unsanitary housing and a substandard housing?


An unsanitary housing is by definition a substandard dwelling, but the opposite is not necessarily true:


  • To be considered decent, a dwelling must meet a certain number of criteria: minimum surface area, no risk to the tenant's safety and health, minimum energy performance, absence of pests and parasites (rats, fleas, cockroaches, etc.), and provision of certain equipment (heating, wastewater disposal, electrical network, sanitary facilities, etc.).
  • If these minimum standards are not met, the dwelling cannot be rented, but this does not necessarily mean that it poses a danger to its occupants and/or the neighborhood, and therefore that it is unsanitary.


Please note: for rental contracts signed since January 1, 2023, the dwelling must compulsorily consume less than 450 kWh per square meter of living space annually. You can find this information in the EPC (Environmental Performance Diagnostic), available with the rental listing announcement as well as in the lease agreement.



What are the criteria for unsanitary conditions in France?


The concept of unsanitary conditions is assessed on a case-by-case basis, but the main criteria and issues examined are:


  • External elements to the dwelling, in the immediate environment: possible fixed or mobile nuisances.
  • The sanitation and safety of the building itself: structures (load-bearing walls, framework, stairs, etc.), waterproofing, thermal insulation.
  • Possible specific health risks: toxic emissions, fire risk, access and evacuation, asbestos, etc.
  • The condition of the equipment: electrical network, gas network, drinking water supply and wastewater disposal, etc.
  • Humidity and ventilation in the main rooms, water rooms, kitchen, etc.


When an unsanitary procedure is initiated and a professional comes to assess the condition of the housing on site, they assign a score to each of these criteria that reflects the level of danger to the health of the tenants: risks of CO2 poisoning, lead poisoning, fire risk, etc.


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What to do in case of unsanitary rental housing?


If your housing is unsanitary, the first step is to notify your local city hall (the mayor or the health and hygiene department) or the prefecture.


Once this recourse is activated, an unsanitary procedure will begin:


  • A visit is then organized in the housing by the Regional Health Agency (ARS) or the Municipal Health and Hygiene Service (SCHC), to assess the situation. If the unsanitary condition of the housing is confirmed, a statement of unsanitary conditions will be sent to the regional prefect, who will take charge of the case.
  • A departmental commission will be convened to study the situation. At this stage, the owner and/or the co-ownership syndicate (if the unsanitary conditions concern common areas) are informed of the ongoing procedure and are required to explain the unsanitary conditions of the housing and/or common areas.
  • Once the commission has given its opinion, the prefecture issues a decree to address the unsanitary conditions. The content of this decree will depend on whether the unsanitary conditions are permanent or not. In the case of remediable unsanitary conditions, the decree will detail the measures and work to be carried out, as well as their deadline for completion. If the unsanitary conditions are deemed irreparable, the decree pronounces a permanent ban on occupying the housing, which can no longer be rented.
  • The owner and the syndicate are then informed of the nature of the unsanitary decree. If it provides for a ban on occupying the housing, even temporarily, they will be obliged to find alternative accommodation or rehousing for the tenant.


What are the consequences of unsanitary housing?


The finding of unsanitary conditions leads to several consequences, first and foremost for the owner (landlord) of the housing:


  • The unsanitary treatment decree obliges the owner to carry out work: repair, renovation, demolition, prohibition of renting the housing, either temporarily or permanently.
  • If the work is not carried out within the deadline imposed by the decree, the owner will have to pay a penalty, i.e., a fine, which can go up to €1,000 per day of delay.
  • The prefecture can then initiate the work on the unsanitary housing by default, at the expense of the owner and/or the condominium syndicate.
  • If the unsanitary condition is irreversible, the decree can still specify a list of works to be carried out and impose a ban on inhabiting the housing, which cannot exceed 1 year. In some cases, the prefecture may request an immediate evacuation of the building or even the outright demolition of the building.


Indeed, an unsanitary housing also has consequences for its tenant(s):


  • From the first day following the issuance of the unsanitary decree, the payment of your rent and charges is suspended.
  • During the duration of the work, the tenants are rehoused: the owner and/or the syndicate must offer you a decent housing solution while the work is being completed. Otherwise, the prefecture will take care of it, at the expense of the owner or the condominium syndicate.
  • If the housing is declared irreversibly unsanitary, it is also the owner's responsibility to find you a new, permanent housing solution.


Good to know: in all cases, the owner of an unsanitary housing risks criminal prosecution. If they refuse to carry out the work recommended by the prefecture, they are liable for a fine of up to €50,000 and a prison sentence of 1 year. If they do not take care of the tenant's rehousing and continue to charge rent, they risk a fine of up to €100,000 and a prison sentence of up to 3 years.


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