France, property rental and getting ripped off – Part 4

And so to court.

We arrive at the Antibes Tribunal at the designated time. Here’s where things differed from my knowledge of the British Small Claims Court. I expected that the time we had been told to arrive would be the appointment for our case, and we’d all sit in a small office, us, the other solicitor and the judge, and everything would be discussed over a desk, and agreement reached.

Oh no. Not at all. No no no…


At the appointed time there are about two hundred other people milling around the court entrance. About one third were lawyers (identifiable by their daft attire) and the rest bewildered looking civilians such as us. Turns out everyone on that day is given the same appointment time.

On the door of the court is pinned a document with the running order of the afternoon’s hearing. Several hundred cases to be heard, and us listed as about number 75 or so.

After a scrum to read that document, we all gradually drift into the main court-room (drift, since no one is reall sure what to do, and there sure isn’t any one there to help or advise)


The court is disconcertingly reminiscient of a school-room. Rows of rough wooden benches for “us”, and a huge imposing (but still rather tatty) bench at the front for The Judge.

For about 15 minutes or so nothing much happens, and then The Judge arrives. We all stand up upon his entrance (yup, we are back at school) and he sits down and so do we. Immediately striking is his lack of daft legal dress. Normal looking, in just an open-neck shirt, but with the most imposing bling-bling medallion I’ve ever seen. We’re 75, so I suppose we need to sit and watch 74 others first…

One law for us, another for them

It quickly becomes apparent that the running order pinned to the door is not the real running order. Takes a little while to work out just what is going on – cases seem to get called in a random order. However after a while the penny drops: the number of lawyers in the court is gradually thinning out. Irrespective of the list, where a lawyer is present to represent one or other party in a case, the cases seem to magically float to the top of the queue. For the first time I am almost grateful that out adverseries had employed a local lawyer to represent them.

After about 40 minutes or so we get called.

Stand and deliver

No privacy. No frendly across-the-desk meeting. You’re called up to the bench, you on one side, with the other person’s lawyer, and the judge peering down at you from the other. And thus the interrogation beings, with several dozen other pairs of ears all straining to listen in!

I found this quite intimidating. Most others would too. The judge runs through the case and asks both parties to say what they want to say. He then tells you to expect judgement on a date which was about two months hence.


It took us about 10 minutes or so, and then we leave and just hope we’ve done ourselves justice (pun intended). Comparing with the British equivalent, the court appearence itself is much more confrontational and intimidating. But on a positive note, the judge does not deliver instant judgement. He instead goes off to read through the case (and the papers presented) in considerable detail before giving a verdict. Thus even if your Perry Mason impression on the day ain’t that great, if your paperwork is good, you’re still in with a shout.

Judgement Day

And so the day comes. The court sends the judgement to you and you open it with apprehension. Nearly three pages of legal reasoning was given by the judge, before getting to the important part where he awards us the refund of our money. There was a deduction for one small item we had claimed, but the main part was payable. Fantastic! He even awarded about 2.5 years interest.

Within the stipulated period, the other party’s lawyer forwarded us a cheque for the awarded amount. But without the interest payable. They really do try it on. However with a court order behind us we were more than prepared to nail them for every last cent they owed. Another letter to their lawyer indicating the amount of interest owed and an implicit threat to reclaim it via a court baileff if required, and the remaining money eventually arrives.

Would I do it again?

Hell yes. Invoking the legal system even in your native country can be intimidating. In a “foreign” country where your command of the language and law is less then perfect, it is doubly intimidating. But then I can’t help but suppose that this is exactly what the people who try and rip you off also suppose: that you won’t bother.

I have only my very limited experience to go on, but based upon that I would urge other tenants in France who are victims of the Deposit Rip-Off to stand up and fight. The laws exist to help you, you just need to invoke them.

Drop me a line if you need more encouragement!

Comments are closed.