I am a Brit and have been here over three years and have understood many things along the way, mainly by struggling with the help of my ex-boyfriend (that was useful!) as well as asking friends. I find myself in a pickle now, though. As a freelance foreigner, getting accommodation is hard work. For the last three years, I have had a casual arrangement with a friend of a friend of a friend. I have no contract and pay the owner directly. After some problems with a burst pipe, he now wants me to get homeowner insurance. In the UK, the tenant would insure only his or her own property in the flat, not the flat itself. I am told that it is in fact commonplace for tenants to insure in case of accident, or fault of their own, in France. I get conflicting advice from friends. One said it would be pointless because I do not have a contract and do not pay the electricity myself, so I would be insuring a place that I have no proof of living in. I do not know which way to turn.
The answer is crystal clear but it will require some explanation. Everyone must have their domicile, their home, insured in France, including tenants. I would like to explain why your landlord wants this, taking into account the fact that French logic is very different from what British and American people may be used to, and focusing on the notion of domicile rather than ownership. Hopefully this will help you address issues that could arise in the future related to rentals.
Under French law, the landlord does not simply rent you a place to sleep, he enables you to secure a domicile. This concept is a complex one in French law, and is much wider than just having lodgings. The domicile is legally protected, since an individual in France who does not have an address does not have certain rights. In effect, the domicile is one element of a person’s identity and as such is mentioned on the carte nationale d’identité. This is one reason it takes a good two years to expel a non-paying tenant, and why a utility bill is needed in France to do many things.
In the French logic, any rental of a home is assumed to be for your domicile unless it is specifically stated that it is a vacation rental, secondary rental, etc. When you get the keys, the responsibility for what happens in the place shifts from landlord to tenant. From that minute on, you are assumed to be responsible for everything that happens while you are renting unless you can prove otherwise. To help with this, insurance companies issue a policy called multirisques habitation to tenants, rather than a homeowner insurance policy.
The bottom line is that your landlord is asking you to change the legal nature of your stay so that you become a resident rather than a kind of long-term tourist. Given the legal protection afforded to tenants in France, and the liability that exists once you are staying in a place, I would advise you to accept and buy a multirisques habitation policy, which can be found for a reasonable price.
In my experience, insurance companies do not ask for proof of address to issue such a policy. In many cases, it would be difficult to prove that a rental agreement exists when the policy is purchased, as most leases require insurance to be obtained before you sign the contract and move in. In a couple of months, after complying with his request regarding insurance, you will probably be in a position where you can put the utilities in your name.
Finally, I would just point out that your French bank offers insurance. It may not be the cheapest, but it is very simple to set up. Among other things, they know you and your address, as you cannot open a bank account without proving that you live at the address on the account form.