The first thing to look at is property ownership, and as you would expect this is a lot simpler if you own your own home, in a single building.
Single-family home owners
If you own your own house you can install air-conditioning, although depending on the works that you need to do you may need planning permission from the mairie, and if you live in a historic or protected zone you may not be able to make any alterations to the exterior of your building.
This means you will likely need to submit a ‘déclaration préalable‘ (found HERE), and you can count on processing times being at least a few weeks.
It’s also quite a costly undertaking.
An air conditioner itself ranges from €250 to €12,000, depending on its capabilities. You will also need to consider installation costs as well as annual maintenance fees, plus added energy expenses.
If you live in an apartment or a shared building which has a syndicat (similar to a homeowner’s association in the US) you will almost certainly need to get permission from the syndic to install air-conditioning – even if you own your apartment.
If you intend to do any work that affects the exterior of the building you will likely also need planning permission.
If you rent your home, you will need permission from the landlord, who in turn may need permission from the building syndic if it is a shared building. The landlord is also responsible for getting the relevant planning permission.
Who bears the costs depends on the relationship you have with your landlord, if you are a great tenant and have a good relationship your landlord may agree to pay to get it installed, but this is far from being a standard feature of French homes so don’t expect the landlord to pay.
Your landlord may agree if you offer to pay the costs yourself, but they are under no obligation to do so, and it’s the landlord that is responsible for sorting out things like planning permission and (if applicable) agreement from the syndic.
If you either can’t afford air-conditioning or your landlord isn’t keen on installing it (or you’re worried about the environmental impact – not only does AC guzzle energy, it also contributes to the ‘heat sink’ effect that can make cities up to 10C hotter than the surrounding area) there are some alternatives.
You could consider getting a heat pump – expensive to install but very eco-friendly, these will keep your home cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Because of their very low energy usage, they will also eventually end up saving you money on annual heating/cooling bills.
The alternative to a full air-conditioning system is a free-standing AC unit, which has a hose like a clothes dryer that hangs out of the window. These are less effective than full AC systems but nonetheless provide some cooling.
You won’t need planning permission as you’re not making any structural alterations, but if you live in a building with a syndic you may still need their permission to install one, depending on the rules of your building (some syndics are very strict and even forbid things like hanging clothes out to dry or storing items on your balcony).
The other alternative is an electric fan – either a desk fan or a standing fan – which don’t require any kind of installation or permission. These are on sale in almost all electrical retailers and many large supermarkets (although they often sell out in the first days of a heatwave).
There are also lots of ways of keeping your home cool without AC, including using shutters or curtains to block out the sun.