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Monthly Archives: January 2012

Hitting The Road!

Music Video Via YouTube Hit The Road Jack

How many of you, I wonder, remember Ray Charles singing the song I have linked to this post? Well, it’s the same song that I was humming softly as family and I left our house that’s not a home, here in France, in the early Spring of 2008. Somebody had to keep a sense of humour! But, I must be honest, that song has become our rallying cry every time we do hit the road!

During the morning of the day before we were originally due to leave the property, in the autumn of 2007 – we were even using bottled water to flush the toilet by then, and we had no safe electricity – the resident locataire, Monsieur C, joined Tom and me as we were sitting on the bench outside the house drinking coffee. Monsieur C asked us if we could give to him the contact details for our avocat. Briefly, he explained that he would like to give evidence for us, against our sellers, at the Grand l’Instance Tribunal hearing that Monsieur MA, avocat, estimated would probably be set for the following June, ie just under a year away. Tom and I were shocked, speechless! There had been several altercations between Monsieur C and me during previous days, I felt quite concerned for our safety at times, he was explosive. I asked Monsieur C if he was having a joke at our expense. It was his turn to look shocked! Having the advantage, I told Monsieur C that family and I would be leaving the property the following day.

Monsieur C then told us he was sincerely sorry we had to leave as we were not to blame, we were “nice people” and the entire situation was the fault of our sellers, due to the way “she” (Madame T) had treated him “for too many years”. He went on to say he could “move out tomorrow”, but “I won’t”, because “I want to see Madame suffer”; he ended with, “You are her victims as I am her victim, we are all victims of that woman.” He smiled and walked to “Mon Garage” to get into his car, I followed. In the open doors of ‘Mon Garage’, I asked Monsieur C to explain to me exactly what had gone on for the situation to become as it was. He started to shout at me that Tom and I had put pressure on him to move out, the Immo had been phoning him every day, apparently. I quietly told Monsieur C that we knew nothing about such actions. He looked uncertain, then he asked me why we wanted to raise his rent. I told him we did not want to raise his rent, we wanted him to leave, end of the matter, but that we would give him a reasonable length of time to find and secure another property to rent. He just stood looking at me silently. As I was beginning to feel more than a little uncomfortable, Monsieur C shook his head, said, “I believe you, Chrissie, please put your avocat’s contact information under my apartment door, I will return in one hour.”

Vendetta? Revenge? We have no idea what that was about, but it did not inspire confidence in us to remain in the property with Monsieur C for any longer than we had to stay under the same roof with him! However, we really did believe he would contact Monsieur MA and that would be the beginning of the end of the nightmare.

What a ridiculous idea! We cancelled our plans to move into a gite – and understandably lost our deposit – but Monsieur C cancelled his good intentions several days afterwards! In the meantime, winter was knocking on ‘Mon Garage’ door, Monsieur MA had decided he needed a further cheque for €2,000, followed by yet another cheque for €1,600 to administrate the French income tax declaration, plus the taxes Foncier and d’Habitation during 2008.

Bottles of water to flush the toilet, no shower, no electricity, no heating, no light after the sun went down, cold washes, hot drinks and food from a camping-stove – we moved out in the Spring of 2008. We left the house that’s not a home, and we hit the road as the hobos in France! By that time, the village had a brand new Maire who, “Désolé, Madame”, couldn’t help us – the previous Maire had offered us public housing to rent! C’est la vie!

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People

Different people respond or react in different ways when life suddenly turns turtle for themselves, for loved ones, or for friends. Our family and friends were no different when we told them our house in France could never be our home. But, I think the worst parts of the responses and reactions have probably been associated with the sheer disbelief that we have met since August/September 2007. In all honesty, I can’t blame anyone for not believing what has happened to us during that time. I can’t blame anyone for not believing the difficulties we have faced during our fight for justice in France. It is a fact that nobody could ever have envisaged how we would be living now, compared with how we lived our lives in the UK before we moved to France.

I digressed because I am now receiving stunned messages from family and friends who, understandably, have not realised, probably have not believed, just how serious our situation has been throughout the past 4 years and 6 months. In simple terms, it must have seemed incredible, ridiculous, unbelievable and beyond all comprehension. But, for each and every paragraph I write, there is a formal document to confirm the content of each paragraph.

A few days after our initial conversation with Monsieur MA, avocat, the resident locataire, Monsieur C, sent  a formal, registered letter to Tom and me. In the letter, Monsieur C refused, point blank, to allow any repairs or restoration works to be carried out on any part of the property that was rented to him. He also referred to our ‘family’s dream’ becoming our ‘nightmare’. What a charmless person!

I telephoned Monsieur MA and was able to speak with him immediately, his cheerful greeting was confirmation that we did, indeed, have a vice caché Case against our sellers. I asked if our property insurances policy would cover the cost of the legal fees, Monsieur MA replied that we were not covered under the policy. Tom and I had €50,000 set aside in our French Bank account to pay for the restoration and conversion works, €10,000 more than our architect had quoted. We also had £25,000 savings stored in our UK Bank account, the rest of our life savings. I asked Monsieur MA for a ballpark figure for the cost of the proceedings, his reply was €4,000 to €6,000. I quickly explained to Tom and he immediately agreed that we should proceed.

Monsieur MA was totally incorrect. To date, the proceedings, other expenses incurred due to French law, the extra costs associated with owning one property and having to live in other properties, plus the expense of having to constantly move around France, in addition to having to pay in full for all medical treatment, has cost in excess of €55,000. Our remaining life savings, plus £5,000 loaned to us by our eldest son, plus £1,200 jointly loaned to us by my sister and my cousin to pay towards my breast cancer and cardiac issues, well, that little lot just saw us through the three years until my pensions kicked in and started being paid! It took a little under eight months for DWP to finally start paying my pensions, that was after I had contacted an MEP about the delay. The MEP (then) was Caroline Lucas, she is now the Green Party Leader, a wonderful, caring person.

Monsieur MA had some bad news for us, though, we could not undertake any works on the property during the proceedings, but any existing works Contracts would have to be honoured, in French law, and the cost would be claimed from the sellers in due course. So, we paid Monsieur MA’s initial bill, he thanked us; we paid the architect’s bill, he thanked us; we paid the double-glazing guy – the new windows and external doors had already been ordered – he thanked us; we had paid for other materials up-front and we gathered all the receipts together.

But, temporary repairs on the toilet and other plumbing requirements gave up the ghost, the plumber was unable to carry out further repairs and we weren’t permitted, in French law, to have new plumbing. The electrical installations that would have been entirely replaced under our ownership, were suddenly considered by EDF to be ‘dangerous’, but we weren’t permitted, in French law, to have a re-wire. Yet, it took EDF over three years to disconnect the meters, so we had to keep paying Standing Charges until the meters were eventually disconnected! People, eh?

Oh, and Monsieur MA was (for want of other words and terminology) incorrect, our legal costs would have been covered by our insurance Policy – if Monsieur MA had bothered to contact the agent! Some people are just not thorough. However, we didn’t actually discover that little gem until over a year later.

Bottom line – we had to move out of the property.

 

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The Plot Thickens

Monsieur MA, the avocat, had patiently listened as we told him everything. I asked him if our property insurance policy might cover us for payment of any legal fees, he said he would look at our policy and let us know. In the meantime, we were to send all relevant documents to him, he would assess and let us know if we had a case for claiming back our money and moving on. Within an hour, we were standing at the photocopier in the village La Poste copying some 60+ documents. The originals had to be sent to Monsieur MA, but we kept copies, as you do! The documents were posted to Monsieur MA, we have never seen them since.

We crossed the road between La Poste and our property, heading back – couldn’t look at the house, we both felt sick. As we approached the front door, Madame A, the hairdresser, called us into the shop, she looked worried. Madame A congratulated us on our purchase and asked us if we had been informed about her planned departure in December. We confirmed that we had been informed, but she still looked worried. She then asked us if we had been informed about the sale of her business. Tom and I just shook our heads, I asked Madame A how the sale of her business was relevant to us. She then told us she had sold her rental Lease to another hairdresser who would be working with her from late October until the hand-over planned for December; she added that she had informed the Immo months before, ie before we paid the purchase deposit for the house.

I asked Madame A for a copy of the Contract between her and her Lease buyer, she immediately went into the back of the shop, took a document from a filing cabinet and handed it to me. It was an Attestation, and the sale had been agreed by the proprietor, Madame T, aka the female half of our sellers, around the date when we had made our formal offer to buy the property. I pointed out to Madame A that an Attestation is not a Contract of Sale. She nodded and explained that the Contract was held by the notaire. I asked her for the notaire’s contact details, she wrote down the information – her acting notaire was the same notaire who had conducted our property purchase! With great difficulty, Tom and I thanked Madame A and returned to the telephone to contact avocat Monsieur MA, he was out of the office. We posted a copy of Madame A’s Attestation to the avocat.

Later that day, our architect, Monsieur G, contacted us and asked if we could visit his office before 5pm, if convenient. We confirmed we would be there by 4:30pm, wondering if something else was going to slap us in the face before bedtime! Not a bad guess, as things turned out! Reality of life!

Architect, Monsieur G, confided to us about his long association with the Immo, they had even gone to school together. He also cautioned us about the Immo’s ‘less than honest business style’. Apparently, the Immo had contacted Monsieur G that morning, by telephone, and had asked if we intended to continue with the renovation works. Monsieur G told us he had made clear to the Immo that it was not his business to know anything about our intentions or expectations. Monsieur G then made us coffee and we told him the entire story to that date. He told us he was not at all surprised, pointed out certain facts about the commissioned works (I will clarify later) and offered his full support. We gratefully accepted that offer.

Monsieur G eventually offered hard evidence to support us for two Tribunal (Court) hearings spanning 2+ years. His documentary evidence was not presented to the first Tribunal, that was due to Monsieur MA and his incompetence – incompetence that led to him being dismissed by his Boss. But, that’s another story! Monsieur G’s hard evidence was largely ignored by the Appeal Court in December 2009.

 

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So The Games Begin

We’re not unreasonable people, and we can weigh up pros and cons fairly competently. So, when the Immo told us he had spoken directly with Monsieur C about the situation, and Monsieur C had agreed to let the Immo find him a new rental, we didn’t believe a word of it! Tom and I made an appointment to speak with Monsieur C personally, politeness is expected in France and, after all, courtesy costs nothing. He was charming, spoke excellent English and encouraged me to speak French, and he confirmed he would be happy to move out of the property so that my family and I could settle. Tom and I duly reported back to our family. We relaxed a little, but not entirely.

The sale/purchase proceeded. We had no choice, pulling out of the transaction would have left us with nothing to show for 79 combined years of working, confirmed by the notaire. We had sold our mortgage-free property in the UK, we had to move forward, there was no going back. The air was fraught with bad temper on the day of the final signing, especially when Tom and I immediately realised that one of the sellers, Monsieur T, was definitely non compos mentis. That lovely gentleman obviously had no idea about what was going on and I asked the Immo if the proceedings were legal, given the situation. He assured us that dementia was ‘no legal reason to halt the procedures’. Another Napoleonic law? I have no idea, every time I have asked an avocat, I have received a perfect Gallic Shrug.

We completed in the morning, sort of celebrated in the afternoon, and we cried in the evening.

The notaire couldn’t wait to get us out of her office. The immo couldn’t look us in the eye as he sloped off in the direction of his car. Monsieur T insisted on shaking our hands a dozen times over, his wife shouted at him to get into their car, they drove off without a backward glance.

When we arrived at the house, Monsieur C met us as I pushed open the front door. He laughed as he reminded us about our first meeting – I had thought he was the plumber, brought in by the Immo to carry out a temporary repair to give us a working toilet while we waited for the renovation works to start. Then, without taking a breath, Monsieur C politely requested that we remove our possessions from, “Mon garage.” I thought Tom was going to lift off like a rocket! Tucking my arm through Tom’s arm (to hold him down!) I quietly reminded Monsieur C that he had no formal Rental Contract. He grinned as he told us he did have a formal Rental Contract, precisely as was written on the scrappy piece of paper the notaire had pooh-poohed as being “not important, not legal”. Monsieur C then went on to tell us his Rental Contract was held by his avocat, and he would provide us with a copy.

I telephoned the Immo’s office, no answer, I left a message. I telephoned the Immo’s mobile, no answer, I left a message. I telephoned the notaire, her secretary answered. I briefly outlined what Monsieur C had told us and politely demanded to speak with the notaire immediately. The secretary replied that the notaire had left the office to start her holiday, she would be away for two weeks, I could have the first available appointment time on the Tuesday of the notaire’s return. I made the appointment and enquired if people usually left work for their holidays on a Thursday. The secretary replied that she could not understand what I was saying. That was a first after months of chatting with her on various occasions.

Tom and I spoke with an English-speaking French avocat in Toulouse later that same day. I will call him Monsieur MA in this blog, but he has many names by which I will not call him in this blog!

 

Mon Garage

As, I’m sure, most if not all folks will realise, the words ‘mon garage’ translate as ‘my garage’. That rotten garage became the primary battleground for many skirmishes between me and the locataire (tenant) who lives his life in style in our French house that can never be a home for us!

In fact, there are two locataires. The guy, who I will call Monsieur C during these ramblings, has lived in the house since 1998, as far as we can ascertain – we have never seen a formal document to verify. The other locataire, a hairdresser who operates her business from the ground floor of the house, and who I will call Mademoiselle S, is not a resident living in the building. Mademoiselle S operates her business as a ‘lock-up’; she didn’t have her business when we purchased the property, she sort of ‘moved in’ several months after we purchased!

Neither locataire has a formal Lease nor a formal Contract to Rent any part of the property. Well, that’s what our first avocat told us in August 2007, and we have not seen any document to change our understanding. The only person who did have formal documents to Lease the hairdressing shop was Madame A. Madame A had leased the shop since 1998, her 9 years Commercial Lease was due to end in December 2007, she was moving on to enjoy extending her family, the shop would be closed forever.

We had been informed by the Immobilier (Estate Agent) that the house had previously been used as a block of apartments, but that would not be the case when we purchased. Every time we viewed the property, pre-purchase, we saw no evidence of inhabitants, nobody skulking around corners, no human presence except us and the Immo, and our commissioned architect on two occasions. The property was empty – apart from some junk in one of the cellars and more junk in a small section of the huge loft.

So, very happy with what we saw as our dream property; ecstatically happy with the architect’s formally quoted cost of renovating and restoring the property to one family house, we paid the deposit to the Immo to forward to the notaire. Voila! Our expectations were en route!

Now, for those who don’t know, paying a deposit in France is a legally binding agreement. I’m not going to explain, clarify, quantify or qualify all the French legalities, processes and proceedings when purchasing a property in France. That would be totally boring! But, please ask for more information if you want more information. Simples!

Once the deposit was paid and relevant documents signed, approved, sealed and filed, the rot set in! Monsieur C emerged from the closet aka his extended vacance (holiday) with a hand-scribed, crumpled piece of paper that had obviously been torn out of a note-book some time ago, and which he called his Rental Contract. The so-called Rental Contract included the following parts of the property: a spacious three-roomed bed-sittingroom, kitchen, shower/wc/sink, on the existing top floor, ie the second floor. In addition, his rented areas were the sole garage, for sole use of, one of the three cellars for sole use of, x amount of square metres of loft space for his sole use, and one of the five derelict outbuildings in the rear yard, again, for his sole use.

Almost distraught, we immediately drove to the Immo’s office in Egletons, in the Correze, and we told him we wished to withdraw our offer with immediate effect. Obviously, we told him why we needed to follow such a course of action, and we requested the return of our hard-earned money. The Immo’s response was life-shattering. We could not, in French Napoleonic law, withdraw our offer without subjecting ourselves to a lawsuit that he knew the sellers would bring against us. We would be held, in French law, to pay the full value of the property purchase price, plus all costs, plus the Immo’s fees, plus an amount to the notaire for her wasted time and effort, plus compensation to the sellers.

Well, that was reality! Where could we go from there?

 

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The Beginning of the End

You might be thinking the title of this post is rather strange. But, moving to France was, indeed, the beginning of the end of life as we knew it in the United Kingdom. We brought family with us, and we also left family behind.

Tom and I had been researching for our potential retirement location since before 2003; we had e-looked around various countries in Europe before finally making a decision that changed our lives and outlook more than we could ever have envisaged.

In 2003, following an extended holiday in France with my sister and brother-in-Law, Tom and I decided France would be our retirement destination. Not too far from our UK-based family, easily accessible via road, sea and air. I was equipped with a French language GCE ‘O’ Level – ok, so it wasn’t as helpful as I thought it might have been, but it still turned out to be a base on which to build my French language skills. Several years later, I realised my French language skills had not fared well through French residence, despite all my efforts. Intending to inform our Cour de Cassation (French Supreme Court) specialist avocat (solicitor) about our difficulties, I asked him if he had enjoyed his sausages and chips for dinner! He was not amused! In fact, he is nothing short of a misery at any time! Hope he reads this and knows that I have him weighed up!

There are many words, and much terminology, that can’t be translated from English to French, or vice versa!

We intended settling in the Midi-Pyrenees, in the south of France; that was the area where we had enjoyed such a wonderful recce type holiday with my sister and bro-in-Law in 2003. No part of the Midi-Pyrenees is too far from the Mediterranean Sea, and my roots, on my mother’s side of the family, had originated three or four (not entirely sure which) generations ago in a tiny canton just outside Gaillac, in the Midi-Pyrenees.

However, as the old adage goes, even the best laid plans…..etc! We eventually landed in the Cantal, Department 15, on a plateau between the beautiful rugged volcanic peaks of the Auvergne. The Commune of Champagnac-les-Mines is typical of the huge number of dying communities to be found in the Massif Central, specifically, in south-central France. It is located between the Auvergne Mountains and the Cantal mountain range, ski-slopes barely an hour away from our house that’s not a home. Champagnac is an idyllic, sleepy  farming community where we have met and lived among some of the most down-to-earth, genuine French folks it has been our great pleasure to meet. The village ticked all of our boxes! We knew, from travelling extensively around France, that we would certainly not find a better environment in which to retire. It also ticked all the boxes of our family members who had accompanied us to live their French dream.

In the last week of July 2007, we purchased a 150+ years old traditional stone house that faces Champagnac’s Village Church, it is a house in which we can never live.

 
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Posted by on January 26, 2012 in Expectations, France, Life, People, Time, World

 

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