France, property rental and getting ripped off – Part 2

In the first part of this story, I offered some general advice regarding not losing your deposit when renting property in France. The key advice I gave is to be sure that before accepting the property, you must make sure the état des lieux is absolutely correct and comprehensive.

Now let’s jump ahead several months or years, to the point at which you leave the property, and the Great French Rental Rip-Off starts…

Previously I mentioned that some (many?) tenants will serve their notice to the landlords as required and stop paying rent, so that the rent comes out of the caution (deposit). I also mentioned that there are pros and cons to that, but it’s ultimately your choice. Here I will relate what happened to me, where I decided to be “legal” and pay my rent correctly up until the point of departure.

Who’s afraid of an Etat des Lieux?

In my case I knew we had a comprehensive and complete état des lieux when we moved in, as it was performed by a huissier (in English the best translation I can think of for that is bailiff, but a huissier does all sorts of things in addition to those duties performed by a bailiff) The reason that the huissier had performed the état des lieux was due to the previous tenant refusing to agree on a normal état des lieux with the landlord’s agent. Maybe that should have rung alarm bells in my head! When a huissier performs the état des lieux it is considered as neutral and impartial (and probably is) and forms both the état des lieux for the outgoing tenant and for the incoming one (me).

So, three years after moving in we gather to complete the état des lieux for departure. The house has been completely emptied and we’ve cleaned everything. The agent himself was not available that day, so had subcontracted the état des lieux to another company who did such things. The lady doing this was pleasant and all went well. She recorded the state of things very accurately and completely, and I was happy to sign it.

The landlord has, normally, two months to return your deposit after departure. This period is to allow him to notify you of any issues that require addressing and for you and he to discuss them.

For the two month period we heard absolutely nothing from the agent. I took this to be a good sign – since he was not a shadowy one-man operator, but runs a large agency in Antibes (Yes, I’m talking about you, Labau Immobilier – you idiots) I knew the money was safe and, since no dispute had been notified, would be returned after the two month permitted period.

The rip-off begins

Two months pass and nothing comes. I write them a letter and they have the immense good grace to reply after a while, enclosing a cheque for 752 Euros, and photocopies of bills for items deducted. What items? Cleaning the chimney and redecorating the entire hallway… They had thus deducted an amount of 516 Euros. (In a pathetic attempt to make it look like they had written before the two month period the letter was dated some weeks previously, however since they are really not as bright as they seem to think, the cheque was dated correctly, and thus showed that they had not paid within two months.)

Horrified by the deductions I of course immediately went back to the état des lieux to see what on earth had triggered a complete redecoration of the hall. The copy of the bill they sent me lovingly detailed the re-plastering and repainting that had been required for the full area of the hall, so I expected something pretty major. The only thing I could find in the outgoing état des lieux was this: “un eclat de crepi”. (English: small chip in the plaster) In actual fact the hall wall was cracked from nearly top to bottom where the house had obviously moved a little, so a small “chip” being noted was almost certainly true!

And so in the best traditions of rental here, I can only assume the agent had spoken with the owners and assured them that they could try it on and get the whole tatty, shoddy hallway redecorated and get the idiot tenant to foot the bill.

Who pays what?

Now at this point I need to yet again remind the reader that I am not any sort of expert in this field – I can only relate my moderate understanding of the rules and regulations, which may be incomplete or misleading. The law here states that when apportioning blame (and hence cost) to a tenant in such a situation there are various rules to follow.

First rule: Is it even the tenant’s fault? Obviously if the damage recorded is not due to negligence by the tenant then the landlord has a weak case for charging for it!

Second rule: If it is due to the tenant then the cost of fixing it will not necessarily fall in its entirety on the tenant Рit will depend upon the original state of the property as per the ̩tat des lieux when moving in.

For example: say I had engraved my name in 2-inch high letters on the wall of the hall. Any reasonable person would conclude that this is “my fault”. If the original état des lieux had also recorded the hall as having been in perfect or near perfect condition when we moved in, then I’m going to cop the full cost of repair. Which seems fair.

However if the original état des lieux had noted that the hall was tatty, had not been painted in years, full of cracks in the plaster, and so on, then even my blatant additional damage would not fall solely upon me. The law reasonably states that if the landlord is going to end up with a brand-spanking redecorated hallway, then I should only pay a portion of that if it was not in that state to start with. You’d need to speak with a lawyer to get the exact details and how the sliding scales work, but that’s the general principle.

So in my case, having had our hallway recorded as crap when we moved in, then due to a chip in the plaster getting a bill for 516 bucks 3 years later, I was kinda peeved.

Wrote the Labau Immobilier and told them so. They wrote back politely telling me to go away.

At this point in the standard rip-off the tenant dance, the tenant is meant to roll-over and wave his legs in the air. I did not. See part 3…

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