The Secretary of State to the Ambassador in France (Edge)

No. 1529

Sir: Reference is made to a despatch from your Embassy No. 3243 dated January 10, 1933, regarding the rights of American citizens under the French rent laws.

[Page 178]

You are authorized to enter into an exchange of notes in substance as follows:

“I have the honor to communicate to Your Excellency my Government’s interpretation of Article seven of the Consular Convention between the United States of America and France concluded February 23, 1853, in relation to the rights of American citizens in France in connection with the French rent laws. It is my understanding that the following interpretation is concurred in by your Government.

“The effect of the provisions of Article 7 is to establish the right of citizens of the United States in France to enjoy the same treatment as French citizens in matters relating to the ownership, possession and disposal of property. Accordingly, citizens of the United States are entitled, to enjoy in France the benefit of all the provisions, whether applicable to owners or tenants, contained in the French law of April 1, 1926, as amended by the law of June 29, 1929, governing the relations between lessors and lessees of premises used for residential purposes, and in the law of June 30, 1926, as amended by the law of April 22, 1927, governing the relations between tenants and landlords of premises used for commercial or industrial purposes, notwithstanding article 11 of the Civil Code and the exceptions or restrictions applicable to foreigners under the aforesaid laws.

“I shall be glad to have your confirmation of the agreement thus reached.”

For your guidance you will observe that the foregoing text contains no statement, such as appears in the Swiss and British notes, regarding the obligations of the United States under article VII of the convention. This article is construed as according national treatment to French citizens in the United States in respect of the possession and ownership of property only in so far as the then existing laws of the several states permitted and only “so long and to the same extent as the said laws shall remain in force”. The records show that the draft of the consular convention used as a basis for the negotiations was drawn up by the French. In its original form it provided for reciprocal national treatment in respect of the possession of property. In submitting the draft the French pointed out that American citizens received national treatment in regard to ownership and possession in France whereas in the United States French nationals encountered difficulties, being subject to a different law in different states. Under our system of government legislation on the subject of ownership and possession was presumably regarded as a matter within the competence of the several states. However, in order to meet so far as possible the French viewpoint, this Government agreed on its part to recommend to the states the passage of such laws as might be necessary to give aliens the right to hold real estate, and the French text was revised accordingly. The President promptly brought the matter to the attention of the Governors of the various states with a view to eliminating the discriminations against [Page 179] aliens. At the present time French citizens enjoy national treatment in practically all of the states.

In essence, therefore, the article is regarded as providing for the continued enjoyment of national treatment by American citizens in France in matters pertaining to the ownership, possession, and disposal of property, in consideration of the treatment then accorded or that might thereafter be accorded French citizens in the United States and of the President’s recommending legislation to accord national treatment to aliens in those states that did not accord such treatment in regard to the holding of real estate. The French obligation, however, was conditioned on the ulterior right of France to require reciprocity, which is construed to mean that national treatment could be denied to residents of states of the United States which have not followed the President’s recommendation. In view, however, of the fact that most of the states of the Union accord national treatment to French nationals and of the further fact that France has not raised the question, it is deemed inadvisable to limit at the outset the rights of American citizens in France to those citizens whose home states reciprocate. In so far as concerns the laws of the several states with respect to the renting or leasing of property, it is the Department’s understanding that French citizens are accorded national treatment. In view of this fact, if the French Foreign Office insists on a statement of the rights French citizens enjoy in the United States being inserted in the exchange of notes, the existing situation in the United States could be set forth as the third paragraph in your note. Such a paragraph should be worded in substance as follows:

“I may add that, under the laws of the states of the United States and the District of Columbia, French citizens in the United States enjoy the same treatment as American citizens with regard to the leasing and renting of real property.”

With reference to Navaille’s inquiry regarding the word “possession” as used in the convention, the Department construes this word as applicable to any situation in which possession has been acquired as a result of lease, rental or ownership.

Very truly yours,

For the Secretary of State:
James Grafton Rogers