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Category Archives: Rates

One Down, One To Go – Maybe!

Three of us have just spent the lion’s share of a week a few kilometres inland from our favourite French beach, ie Saint-Georges-de-Didonne in the Charente-Maritime. We have visited just about every coastal area in France, from Brittany southward and from Nice westward, and we have yet to find a cleaner stretch of sand than the Saint-Georges beach. If anyone who is reading this has a hankering for a seaside holiday in France, I personally recommend Saint-Georges and immediate neighbour, Royan. Superb!

Our fourth family unit member, our son, was working for a wonderful couple inland, Gilly and Dave, pulling down a rather large shed! There can’t be many things that appeal more to menfolk than demolition! My other two menfolk and I slept soundly in the holiday home of yet another lovely friend, a super pal who has offered, on more than one occasion, to lobby the French judiciary by wearing a sandwich-board bearing words to the effect, ‘Justice for the Hobo Family’, whilst traipsing the main streets of Paris! This might present as being a tad unlikely to happen, but, believe me, that is not the case where this straight as a flying arrow friend is concerned!!

Anyway, during our few days of separation, an urgent request for pet/house sitters came our way, from a friend who lives on the outskirts of Civray. The super lady who contacted us, and who will remain anonymous, has much greater need than ours at this time. We still have the keys to the Gers property of our friends who live in the UK – we had only envisaged being away for 5 days, 6 days maximum with travelling, and we also needed to get to the Cantal to tackle the issue of having no French Income Tax Declaration documents, yet again! But, to reiterate, our friend’s need is more pressing than ours. So, we decided to drop off our two youngest family members to start the pet/house sit, Tom and I then planned to travel down to the Cantal to engage in this year’s inevitable battle with the bureaucrats! From there, Tom would drop me back at the pet/house sit to join our lads, and he would continue down to the Gers, returning to Civray to collect our lads and me in a couple of weeks. 

Good planning – not! Temperatures on the Atlantic coast barely crawled out of single figures; other than on the Tuesday afternoon, the weather was persistently cold and wet, biting winds chewed through our lightweight clothing, it was a really damp, icy, miserable week! The highlights were super lunches with Gilly and Dave, and with our lovely friends, Sue, Tchica and Elmo aka El Nino! At least we felt normal, not at all like hobos! In fact, all round, we were pampered – we appreciated that more than words can ever say.

Sadly, Tom’s breathing became more laboured as the days passed, and we knew he was fighting yet another severe chest infection come the day that we travelled to collect our son. Despite the many inhalers, the antibiotics, the steroids, the nebuliser that provides a limited period of time pumping oxygen into his lungs, Tom really does need better medical care and a stable lifestyle. We are so hopeful that 2012 will see an end to our years as hobos living in France. But, we fear we still have more mountains to climb before we even get a sniff of justice!

So, tomorrow, Tom will visit a local doctor and, once again, will be put back on his feet – for a little while at least, Bless him. The Cantal bureaucrats will just have to wait. Voila!

However, while we were off-line, an email came in from our friend and former neighbour, Madame ZC, I picked it up yesterday. It appears that the cadastre has been true to the word he gave in November 2010 – our hairdressing locataire (who is, and always has been, without a tenancy contract) has submitted her Notice of intention to quit our house that’s not our home!

To recap – after continuously querying the annual Tax Foncier cost, we were advised by letter sent from the Cadastral in 2010 that the property has always been, and will always be, residential only, due to it’s proximity to the village Church. The cadastre further advised us that both locataires, ie Monsieur C and the hairdresser, must find alternative accommodation/business premises, and the Cadastral would, as a matter of legal necessity, enforce that requirement.

Well, it has taken sixteen months, but, it appears that it’s now ‘one virtually down, one more to go’!

Do we envisage problems? Yes, we do, this is France! The hairdresser owes just under €4,000 for unpaid water bills. The Tresor Public has demanded that we must pay the unpaid bills, we have refused to pay; we advised the Tresor Public to cut off the water supply if the bills remained outstanding. The situation has been at a stalemate level for some considerable time.

If the hairdresser moves out of the property without paying her unpaid water rates, the onus of responsibility for payment of those unpaid bills legally falls on Tom and me – despite the fact that the hairdresser should not have been operating her business in our property, she has never had a rental lease or any kind of contract with us. We didn’t even know she existed until months after we purchased the property – the sellers, the notaire, the Immobilier, the former hairdresser, all had been aware of her impending takeover of the hairdressing business. Nobody informed us, we were told, by the Immobilier, the notaire and the original hairdresser, that the hairdressing business would be closed at the end of the 9 years commercial lease period in December 2007. We were given copy of an Attestation that confirmed what we were told. 

Madame ZC has advised us that the hairdresser actually had her Notice delivered by l’huissier (a French bailiff), a service for which she would have been required to pay. In fact, all the hairdresser needed to do was to send a Registered letter to Tom and me, and sending the letter to our house that’s not a home would have been legally considered as good enough! Tenants have virtually all the rights here in France, landlords (willing or not!) have very few rights. Certainly, a tenant who does not give Notice is very unlikely to be pursued, it is too costly in both time, effort and money!

Why has the hairdresser gone to time, trouble and expense to notify us, via l’huissier, that she is vacating? Well, we may be exhibiting classic signs of paranoia – that wouldn’t surprise me, but we honestly believe the hairdresser’s action heralds more trouble to come! I will be speaking with l’huissier tomorrow, for as long as my mobile credit lasts, after Tom has been seen by a doctor.

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The National Debt

February 2011 on the outskirts of Chateaubriant in Brittany wasn’t too bad, weather-wise, and March was even better, spring had sprung! So, Tom and I decided to take a chance and travel to the house in Champagnac to collect some summer clothing. The four of us only carry three changes of clothing each plus wash-bags; our tent, cooking equipment and sleeping gear virtually fill the boot of our ‘old girl’. So, other than when we replace with new any clothing and shoes that are outgrown or beyond needle and cotton, we transfer hot and cold weather clothing twice each year to and from the house. We really do have that off pat now!

We telephoned our friend, Madame ZC, to let her know we would be visiting and collecting our mail, and she invited us to stay overnight in her house to break the long journey. I suggested to Tom that we should perhaps try once again to sort out the hairdresser’s water rates issue with the Tresor Public in Saignes, as we could not persuade the hairdresser to take responsibility for her debt without our intervention. Tom agreed and I put all relevant documents into the car. Before doing that, however, I calculated the rental payments that had been made to the Tresor Public by Monsieur C and Mademoiselle S (the hairdresser), added to the amount that we had paid because Monsieur MA (our first avocat) had done a runner with our designated money, and I balanced the total against the taxes foncier and d’habitation that had been due for payment since 2008. The bottom line was an amount of +€1000. Tom and I decided to suggest to the Tresor Public that they clear the hairdresser’s outstanding water rates bill with that excess, we refuse to accept the rent payments, as advised by Monsieur MA right from the beginning. Off we set the following day, before sunrise.

We arrived at the Tresor Public just after 11am and were relieved to see the duty clerk was not our sellers’ relative. The relief was short-lived! Within seconds of approaching the clerk’s desk and laying our neatly printed paperwork in front of her, she just glanced at it and, without a word, walked into a back office. Tom and I were at a loss! What should we do? Stay or leave? People can be so rude, sometimes.

Just as we were walking towards the exit door, the clerk returned and literally slammed a jotter pad onto the counter, we just looked at her quite shocked. Then, she beckoned us over and started copying figures from a print-off. Eventually, the clerk turned the jotter around so that we could see the figures, and she pointed to the bottom line, it was nearly €2,000 less than my calculations and gave us a deficit, but I immediately saw the reason. I told the clerk she had miscalculated three years tax d’habitation, it had not been payable because my husband and I are both pensioners, and Tom was over 60 years old when we moved to France in 2007.

The clerk looked me squarely in the eye and said, “The house in Champagnac is your second home, you live more often in a tent, that is your primary home. You must pay taxe d’habitation for the house. You must also pay the water rates bill if you don’t sign the hairdresser’s Lease.” I calmly asked the clerk to put the details in writing, and I assured her that we would wait, she shook her head and said nothing further.

We walked out of the office and have not returned, we feel a return trip would be a wasted journey. We have never received a written receipt for, or a written breakdown of, the payments made by the locataires directly to the Tresor Public. We do know the annual rent payments made total €3,234:24, and the tax foncier last year was €806, after €200 was deducted due to changes at the Cadastre.

We’re quite surprised that France still has a National Debt!

 

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Red Letter Day – Which Address Is Ours?

Once again, I have been burning the candle at both ends, so I took a couple of days out of ‘cyber circulation’ to catch up with myself!

Two days ago, we had what is to us a red letter day, our forwarded mail finally caught up with us, ie mail delivered to our house that can never be a home between October 2011 and January 2012. Our sincere thanks, as always, to our friend and former neighbour, Madame ZC.

In the large brown package, we found a birthday card sent to me by my daughter and her family, for my birthday last October. There was also a Christmas card sent to us by my sister and brother-in-Law, our first contact for three years. So, two envelopes opened, and we were jumping with joy, a brilliant start. Then, the opening of two more envelopes revealed our Carte Vitale French health insurance cards! We have only waited two years for them to arrive! Unfortunately, because they have been issued to us in the Auvergne, where we are registered as being resident, and we travel all around France, we only have basic cover outside the Auvergne. So, the ALD (Affection de Longue Durée) status of my health issues will warrant 70% refund, not the normal 100% refund. Nevertheless, that’s a vast improvement on having 0% refund, despite having paid in to the system for years!

That was the end of the good news!

Digressing to our ongoing, three years old battle with the local Tresor Public in Saignes, over the hairdresser’s unpaid water rates bills. This is the hairdresser who has no Lease, no Rental Contract, no permission whatsoever from us to be operating a hairdressing business from our property, a property that legally can’t be used as a commercial establishment. The same hairdresser who we had not known about, had not met, before November 2007, ie four months after we purchased the house in July 2007. The same hairdresser who had purchased the previous hairdresser’s Lease as it was coming to its 9 years completion date, before we purchased; a purchase that was agreed by our sellers, and by the notaire, a purchase that the Immobilier had known about since June 2007, In short, everybody knew about it before we purchased, except us!

A commercial Lease extends for 9 years in France, and it is virtually impossible to prematurely end that Lease. Indeed, it is extremely difficult to refuse to extend such a Lease for as long as the Lessee wishes to continue business operations, for 100 years and more, if required by the Lessee!

Well, anyway, that’s the hairdresser who refuses to pay her business water rates bills! The Tresor Public insist that we must pay the hairdresser’s unpaid bills. That outstanding bill stood at just under €2,000 when we received our previous, forwarded post package in November 2011. However, the new unpaid bill stands at €3357:49, according to the facture we received in our brown package two days ago. There is a further water rates bill for €508:72, the 2012 water rates facture that the hairdresser will obviously not pay! The reality in France for us!

It appears that our house that can never be our home has one front door, but it has three addresses! Our address proper is one of only four properties in the village that is simply Place de l’Eglise, due to the connections between those four properties and Church grounds. There can be no commercial enterprises on the Church Square, aka Place de l’Eglise. So says the nice guy at the Cadastre.

Obviously, our sellers boxed clever several years before we arrived in France. The resident locataire, Monsieur C, has a different address to us, his address is Place de l’Eglise, Le Bourg. The hairdresser is right out of the frame where the Church rules are concerned, her address is simply Le Bourg, no mention of the Church Square.

As I say, we have one front door between all of us, even the nice guy at the Cadastre was rather bemused at our sellers’ manipulative stroke of genius!

 

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On A Roller-coaster!

As the wheels of 2010 slowly turned, I began to feel quite depressed and bogged down with the sheer volume of paperwork, obstacles and worry that seemed to be never-ending. I was burning the midnight oil, writing letters, collating information, honouring my commitment to the forum moderating team, and putting together the facts of our house Case to create the main points for writing a book.

Never a big eater, and hating the texture of meat, I was by then living on cereals, cheese and crackers, and tea; I never seemed to have the time to eat a meal! In truth, I probably didn’t make the time! I lost a terrific amount of weight, there was more fat on a chip, and I started to feel quite unwell at times. Having Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and an historically ‘dicky ticker’, were obviously at the root of my general malaise. But, I had stopped taking medication for the diabetes and cardiac issues when we were becoming so short of funds towards the end of 2009, and I was so busy all the time during 2010, I begrudged the time to see a doctor.

Tom and I have both been seriously ill during our nearly 5 years of residency in France; living in a tent has certainly not been helpful, but, unlike Tom, I received the best medical care I could have had, although we had to pay for it all – but, that’s another story! However, in 2010, I really did begin to wonder if either of us would see the house Case through to the end. Tom and I were feeling very tired, but we were all feeling as though we were on a roller-coaster!

Something had to give, and family and I needed a positive boost to keep us focused!

We hadn’t heard further from the Bureau d’Aide about our legal aid application since we had received notice that we were “out of time”. However, in August 2010, we received a letter from the ECHR. We were advised to send copy of our forthcoming 2009 French Income Tax Assessment directly to the President of the Bureau d’Aide, in order that we could be considered for legal aid funding. That was the breakthrough we needed. In November, we posted the required copy document to the President of the Bureau d’Aide, our income tax liability was zero, we were below the threshold, as we knew we would be. By return, we received a demand to know how many French Benefits we were receiving, and how much money in total. It gave us quite a lot of pleasure to reply that we were not receiving any Benefits from the State, and we had not ever claimed any Benefits from France. Voila!

We have not heard since from the Bureau d’Aide, but the ECHR periodically sends letters to enquire if we have received communication from the legal aid office. Apparently, once we receive a legal aid award notice, our Case will be heard at the Cour de Cassation, in Paris, within six months to one year, at latest.

As that was going on, Madame Cosson at the Tresor Public in Mauriac, who had written to us earlier in the year, was making some headway on our behalf with the Cadastre in Aurillac; she was also ensuring that ‘historical’ income tax matters were being guided in the right direction towards full clarity! Two rooms, a garage, a part of the rear courtyard and a section of loft, that once belonged to the property we had bought, had been sold to the next-door neighbours, but the sale was never declared by our sellers, not to the tax man, not to the Cadastre. The property that we bought no longer has the dimensions for which we paid! On the plus side, our annual tax foncier has decreased by one-fifth! Sadly, there is no refund payable for the previous years! France doesn’t ‘do’ refunds further in arrears than twelve months.

In addition to that startling revelation, the (several) residential locataires who had apparently paid rent to our sellers had also not been declared to the tax man. Monsieur C, being the last of those residential locataires had, in fact, provided all necessary hard evidence of the tax evasion to the Appeal Tribunal in Riom, in December 2009. Even more of a surprise to us was the fact that another previous locataire of our sellers, a retired postman who still lives in Champagnac, had also given evidence against our sellers! That evidence was  presented to the Appeal Tribunal in Riom in December 2009.

By Christmas 2010, all the fresh evidence of fraud and tax evasion against our sellers had been filed at the two Courts, ie the Cour de Cassation in Paris, and the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

2010 was a very long year for us all, and Madame Cosson certainly ensured the end of that year was looking much more positive for us than the beginning of the year.

 

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Taxes And More Fraud

We spent all of 2010 pet/house sitting, camping around France, and fighting various battles with French tax officers and the Cadastre (Land Registry) in Aurillac. It went on throughout the year until we received a letter from a senior tax officer called Madame Regine Cosson, she is based in Mauriac (15). What a wonderful person she is, and we have much for which to thank her.

We had received an unexpected taxes foncier and d’habitation facture from the main Tresor Public in Mauriac, a facture for a total of over €3,000, relevant to the years 2008 and 2009. It was a ludicrous situation, there was no rhyme and no reason to the figures, and I immediately replied to say so. I also requested a full breakdown of the payments made by Monsieur MA, on our behalf, and of the payments made directly by the two locataires. To this day, we have never received a breakdown, not even a bottom line figure!

Every time I wrote asking for the same information, we received yet another facture – with different figures! Eventually, after receiving a third facture with different figures, I took the bull by the horns and I phoned the Tresor Public in Mauriac. I find it much easier to speak French face-to-face, and to write French, than I do to speak with a French person on the telephone. But, the situation was really getting us down. We had estimated that we were actually in advance with our property taxes, very much so because we should not have been paying taxe d’habitation.

A young man answered the phone and I managed to explain my enquiry. He asked me for my telephone number and said he would investigate and phone me back. I thought that was that, yet another Gallic Shrug! So, Tom and I decided to drive to Mauriac the following day, to sort it out over the desk. Ten minutes later, the clerk at the Mauriac Tresor Public office phoned me back! I almost collapsed with shock! Very pleasantly, he told me the local Tresor Public office, in Saignes, had clawed back everything paid since 2007 to cover an outstanding water rates bill.

It really does take an enormous shock to shake the wind out of my sails! I should think most, if not all, of my family and friends would quite happily confirm that I can, without any difficulty, talk the hind legs off a field full of donkeys! I was totally speechless! After a rather long silence, the young man seemed to think out loud, he said, “That does not look correct to me, Madame.” He then told me he would speak with his superior, Madame Cosson, but he advised me to telephone Saignes in the meantime.

Having already had several skirmishes with the Tresor Public staff in Saignes, about the hairdresser’s water rates that she refuses to pay, I decided to have a cup of tea before making the call. How British is that!

But, before I could make the call, the young man at the Mauriac office phoned me again to tell me not to worry about speaking with the Saignes staff, Madame Cosson would be writing to us, the letter would be posted by 5pm that afternoon.

Three days later, our friend, Madame ZC, phoned Tom to let us know a letter from Madame Cosson had arrived at the house in Champagnac; we arranged to travel to the village the following day to collect it. It was a long journey for us to make to collect one letter, ie ten hours round trip, but that letter started the ball rolling that would eventually lead us to the Cadastre, and to evidence of yet more fraud that had been committed by our sellers. Tax evasion.

 

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Water, Water, Everywhere!

With a regular income now under our belts, and our son was still managing to find a little low paid work for a few days each month, as a registered self-employed labourer in the Autoentrepreneur (AE) system, and despite the bite of the recession, we really believed our luck was turning. How foolish of us!

We received mail forwarded from Champagnac by Madame ZC, and we felt like burning the lot, as usual! The resident locataire, Monsieur C, had suffered a burst water-pipe towards the end of the winter. Naturally, he could not be expected to go without fresh, running water, washing and shower facilities, and his wc. So, not knowing how long it would take Madame ZC to contact us, Monsieur C had called an emergency plumber. The repairs were carried out, and Monsieur C had signed the devis (quotation) with Tom’s name! He then gave the devis to Madame ZC to forward to us for payment directly to the plumber, who was approximately 5 hours drive away from our location.

Was Monsieur C legally permitted to do all that? Apparently so, according to the staff at the Tresor Public when I telephoned the water rates section. The young clerk told me, authoritatively, that Monsieur C was responsible for paying his water bills, but we, the property owners, were responsible for paying for repairs to the water-pipes. I asked if Monsieur C was legally enabled to sign formal documents, ie the devis, using Tom’s name. There was a sigh and an audible Gallic Shrug, but no verbal response. I thought about that for a few seconds, then I let the clerk know what Tom and I would do. The clerk laughed – he sounded genuinely amused – then he said, “Madame, you will go to prison for harassment.” I laughed with him and told him that I would then, at least, have a warm bed off the ground. The clerk chuckled and wished me good luck, he sounded as though he meant that, too!

I located the letter, with other documents wrapped in a water-proof bag in the car boot, that Monsieur C had addressed to Tom and me two years before, and in which he had refused, point-blank, to have any repairs or restoration works carried out on any part of the property included in his Rental Contract. I photocopied the letter, and the devis, and I wrote a cover letter. I put the cover letter, copy of Monsieur C’s letter of refusal, and copy of the devis into an envelope, addressed it to Monsieur C, and I posted it to him by registered mail later that day. In the cover letter, I wrote, “This is a well-known saying, you can’t have your cake and eat it. We do hope you are now much more comfortable. Kind regards….” We have never heard any further about that burst water-pipe.

But, the Tresor Public enjoyed a lot of fun and games at the expense of our well-being throughout 2010, and that is ongoing.

The hairdresser, ie the young woman who is a non-resident, commercial locataire who operates from the residential, strictly non-commercial property, without a Lease or a Rental Contract, refuses to pay her water rates unless we sign a 9 years Lease Agreement for her to continue operating. Tom and I have just received an updated water facture from the Tresor Public, they insist that we must pay it, we refuse. The new facture stands at just under €1,900. We had never met that young woman until 4 months after we purchased the house that can never be our home.

 

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