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Two Plus Two Equals Five!

During the past month, Tom and I have wished we were both at least twenty years younger! That’s a first for both of us, we are normally quite content with our ages, life experience, mental and physical capacity, achievements, and our levels of life skills learning and knowledge. So, why the change? It’s simple, we both wish we could walk further than we can, carrying our home on our backs! When our ‘old girl’, aka our long-suffering Citroen Picasso Xsara, flipped her clutch, she left us in a real quandary. Scrap her and walk, or have her repaired and break the Bank to pay for the repairs? We chose the latter because we truly can’t manage without her. She has carried the four of us over 130,000 kilometres during the past four years; Tom and I can’t do that sort of ‘motoring’ on our aging ‘pins’. Simples!

So, we were already somewhat stressed and distressed (and broke!) when we travelled to Champagnac and Mauriac to collect documents from our friend, Madame ZC, and from l’Huissier. We knew the documents would be relevant to the illegal tenant hairdresser’s written Notice to quit our house that can’t be our home, following intervention by the Cadastre (Department Land Registry). But, our immediate concerns were about how Monsieur C might be responding, or reacting! As things turned out, we didn’t need to concern ourselves about Monsieur C, he is definitely a happy bunny! More about that next time.

The documents we received were a revelation! Confirmed within the text, Tom and I were definitely stitched up on 6 July 2007 by the female half of our sellers, and, we strongly suspect she wasn’t on her own! On that day, according to the notaire’s statement, she acted on notification received some time earlier (no date given) from Madame T that Tom and I had agreed to allow the hairdresser to sell on her Rental Lease. Now, why the notaire didn’t demand documentary verification, we have no idea! But, the fact of the matter is that she didn’t demand such evidence. Had she done so, she would have had no doubt that we hadn’t agreed, because we knew nothing about it, and there is no documentary evidence because Tom and I didn’t sign any such document!

On 6 July 2007, several weeks after we signed the compromis (‘promise to buy’ pre-Contract), and three weeks before our purchase was completed, Madame T and the notaire completed their own transaction, and they effectively landed my menfolk and me in the judicial mire that is the French legal system where the hairdresser is involved! Although, of course, Madame T already knew at the time that she was defrauding us by withholding evidence of Monsieur C’s tenancy!

Tom and I now believe the 6 July transaction was the reason why the notaire withheld €2000+ from our sellers on the day of completion. After all financial business was concluded on that day, Madame T looked at her cheque and announced that the cheque was ‘more than €2000 short’. I understood what she said and I looked at the notaire – our Immobilier was trying to hurry us out of the office. The notaire’s face reddened and she told Madame T to telephone her later at her office. Well, that would not ring bells if Tom and I hadn’t been informed, later the same day, that the notaire apparently left her office to go off on holiday immediately after we all left her office!

Strange? Not if the notaire had deducted €2000+ for other services rendered during the sale/purchase proceedings!

The documents contain a number of peculiarities and ambiguities. We know a commercial Tenancy Lease is for a period of 9 years; a residential Tenancy Lease is for 3 years. The original hairdresser’s contract started in December 1998, according to the copy of the Attestation we were given. Therefore, her tenancy period was due to expire on 31 December 2007; she confirmed to us that she had not applied to renew for a further period of nine years because she was closing down to concentrate on extending and raising her family. We wished her good luck, and everything was confirmed in writing between us and the Immo. He confirmed that the hairdresser’s tenancy period had not been extended beyond December 2007. That was further verified in the pre-Contract, and it states that we would have ‘sole use and enjoyment’ of the property.

Of course, that was never going to happen, Monsieur C was skulking in the shadows. But, we were absolutely shattered when Mademoiselle S suddenly appeared in November 2007, and we were informed that she would be with us for nine years!

However, according to the documents handed to us by l’Huissier, the notaire confirms that Mademoiselle S was given a ‘three years commercial Tenancy Lease’, and that it would run from when the previous contract ‘expired in October 2008’. Confused? No more than we are!

Even if we’re wrong about the December 2007 date (we know we’re not wrong, but never mind that!), a 3 years contract would expire in 2011 if it began in 2008. In that case, why is Mademoiselle S still running her business now, in April 2012?

According to l’Huissier, nobody was able to give Notice to quit to the hairdresser until the cadastre intervened, so she probably just stayed put! Well, ok, this is France, so that’s feasible. But, also according to l’Huissier, because Tom and I didn’t sign any documents giving permission for the commercial Lease to be sold by the original hairdresser to Mademoiselle S, the notaire had signed in our absence, as we were ‘in default’!

We left Champagnac thoroughly confused, fed up, sick to our hearts, and that was definitely my lowest ebb since this whole fiasco started. Thankfully, Tom was in British Bulldog mode, and by the time we joined our lads I was over the worst of my ‘blues’!

Today, copies of all documents were posted to the Cour de Cassation, and to the ECHR. Tomorrow is another day!

 

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A Good Doctor And A Pleasant Bailiff!

Such a huge relief, Tom’s chest x-ray showed nothing more sinister than congestion and infection, just as the doctor thought would be the current situation. So, armed with a change of inhalers, antibiotics, 5 days worth of Prednisolone pills, and a rather “pleasant fruity decongestant drink” (Tom’s words), he is set to recover from this latest lung infection. Several digits are crossed for that outcome, and Tom will return to the doctor on Thursday morning for an updating examination and assessment. Voila!

So, with a much lighter heart, I telephoned l’Huissier’s office in Mauriac, I was fully prepared to hear news of a less than positive calibre! Almost five years of negative results and lost battles were very much to the fore in my mind, although, nothing could reduce my relief that my wonderful husband will soon be well enough to return to our ‘thought showers’ sessions regarding the house Case. I have used the alternative expression to ‘brainstorming’ because, as a retired teacher, I am aware that the original term is politically incorrect, despite the fact that it is very much more appropriate to what actually happens during the sessions!

The clerk who answered my call struggled with my French language skills, so, I used two of my better stock phrases, told her my name and asked to speak with the English-speaking gentleman with whom I have had several conversations through the years. That gentleman was “out of the office”, but, the phone was passed to the Maitre. Brilliant, straight to the top!

Maitre was very pleasant, extremely reassuring, I really did have the feeling that she is definitely on our side! Using a combination of facts, clear empathy, superbly appropriate humour, and concisely worded phrases that I was able to fully understand without any difficulty, this is what I was told by the Maitre.

Both locataires have been given formal Notice to Quit the property on or before 30th September 2012. If either locataire is still in the property on 30th September, l’Huissier and supporting Gendarmes will carry out eviction processes on 1st October 2012. The Cadastral (Department Land Registry) has been given a Court Order to have the locataires removed, l’Huissier has also been granted a Court Order to ensure the eviction processes are actioned, if necessary. It was l’Huissier Maitre who served the formal Notices to Quit the property.

I tentatively expressed my concerns about the resident locataire, Monsieur C, he is not rational when he feels he is under pressure! Laughing, Maitre immediately agreed with me – she has obviously already had a run-in with him! However, she told me the Court Orders have been issued to a Government Department, ie the Cadastral, and l’Huissier have been granted their enforcement powers as Government representatives upholding the laws of the State. Maitre told me that Monsieur C can object as much as he wants to, nothing will stop the processes being carried through on the dates given. I told Maitre that I felt Monsieur C would not wish to be observed by the neighbours during an enforced eviction, she agreed with my comment and told me his possessions would simply be thrown out via a window, and he would be escorted off the premises by as many Gendarmes as required; that would be explained to Monsieur C by letter before 30th September 2012.

Maitre then explained to me that both locataires will require tenancy references from their former landlords to obtain alternative rental premises. To that effect, the hairdresser has paid l’Huissier to deliver a tenancy reference request letter to Tom and me. Here we go, I thought! I informed Maitre that Tom and I are not qualified or prepared to give references, because the locataires are nothing to do with us. Maitre commented that they require references from us because we are the owners of the property. She then listened, without interrupting, while I briefly clarified to her the facts of our vice caché suit.

When I stopped speaking, Maitre asked, “Did Madame T give the locataires their tenancy contracts?”

I told her, “Yes, and we knew nothing at all about the current hairdresser until months after we purchased the property, despite the conveyancing notaire having presided over the sale of the shop Lease, months before we purchased the property.”

Maitre commented, “Classic vice caché, Madame Baxter. So, Madame T can provide the locataires with their references. I will write to her, today, and I will deliver the letter in person. There are documents here for you to collect, I need your signatures for you to receive them. Documents were also delivered to your property in Champagnac, I understand that you and your husband are happy for your neighbour, Madame ZC, to hold them safely for you, yes?”

I agreed with Maitre and told her we would collect all the documents from her office, towards the end of April, and Madame ZC has already forwarded mail from the house to the address of our friends in the Gers, from where we will collect them when my husband is well enough to travel. Maitre replied that she hoped my husband recovers fully and quickly, and she thanked me for phoning her.

Nothing was mentioned about the hairdresser’s outstanding, unpaid water rates bills!

Well, can’t get more positive than that! Or, should we wait until we have all the documents to hand, translated, read and fully understood, before we celebrate? Family and I have decided the latter is prudent!

Since yesterday, I have received many very kind messages of support, and several comments about us being able to move into our house that’s not our home on 1st October 2012. That can’t happen! Our vice caché lawsuit is designed to return the property to our fraudulent sellers, as though we had never purchased it, to receive a full refund of the purchase costs including all monies spent on improvements prior to the proceedings starting, eg the double-glazing. The vice caché lawsuit was not brought to remove the tenants.

Even if we were to move into the house, we would still have no electricity and no sanitation, and we would still not be able to legally make good the electrical and plumbing installations.

Yes, after 1st October, we could drop our vice caché Case – would you?

 

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The Second Judgement

Throughout 2009, family and I concentrated on pet/house sitting, moving around France with very few breaks whereby we would have needed to return to living in the tent for long periods. We maintained contact with Alexandra, the avocat who had taken on Julia’s case-load whilst that lovely woman fought for her life with her family constantly by her side. During our initial telephone ‘meeting’, Alexandra laughed when I explained to her that I could not guarantee picking up my emails on a set day. She just did not believe that we were living in a tent between ‘sits’.

I’m fairly certain that, at that point, Alexandra considered me to be, either, paranoid, or, totally up the wall! But, she had spoken with Julia before our second telephone ‘meeting’, and Alexandra commenced the call with these words, “I am so very sorry, Christine, I thought you were joking. Julia has explained to me about how you and your family must live until we win the judgement you need.”

Several weeks after that second telephone conversation, we received a credit from the avocats’ offices in Toulouse, we were no longer required to pay the last facture that was sent to us by Monsieur MA before he was dismissed by Julia.

Justice!

However, we did need to find a further payment for the Avoué (barrister). In French law, the presenting avocat must have a Cabinet, or Practice, within the Department where the Case will be heard. Our Case was being heard in Department 15, ie the Cantal. Due to the fact that we could not find an avocat in the Cantal who could speak English, indeed, we were advised by our local l’Huissier (Court Bailiff) that an English-speaking avocat did not exist in the Cantal, we had to look further afield right from the onset. Hence, we had found Julia’s Cabinet in Toulouse in the Haute-Garonne (31), via the Internet, and we were required to fund the cost of an Avoué to present our Case in the Cantal, every time it was heard.

A Case may only need to be heard once by the justices, but, as it was with our Case, the justices required to hear sections of the Case on different days, three days in total! The set-up can add thousands of euros to the costs of the Case, and Monsieur MA should have explained that to us when we first made contact with him. He didn’t do that, but, at the end of the day, it would not have made any difference if he had told us we would be paying for two avocats. I have clarified the processes in the event of anybody else needing to know. It can present as a rather large shock if the set-up comes as a surprise!

Two weeks before Christmas 2009, Alexandra and I spoke on the telephone for the last time prior to our Appeal hearing date, everything was ready. The sellers’ avocat had apparently attempted to stall for more time, but the Court had rejected that request. Alexandra confirmed that Julia had worked very hard on putting all the evidence together, in order that the Judge would see at virtually a glance that we had overwhelming evidence to prove the sellers’ fraud. Alexandra was upbeat, she was confident, we relaxed a little and started to look forward to Christmas.

Late in the afternoon, on 18th December 2009, Alexandra telephoned us, we were pet/house sitting for good friends, Diane and Brian, near Les Eyzies in the Dordogne. Alexandra was audibly shocked and angry, but she told us without hesitation, the sellers’ fraud had been recognised by the Tribunal, the Judge had called Monsieur and Madame T “arrogant”, but our Appeal had been rejected.

 

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Mountains And The First Judgement

Following the ‘stolen teaspoons’ fiasco, we headed for Nice and the possibility of a pitch on a site that remained open throughout twelve months of the year. We were thinking about Christmas, wondering how we could celebrate Christmas in a tent with a ‘hobo’ cooker! We were also thinking about our family in the UK. By that time, our youngest grandchild, born in the UK in August 2007, had come through various life-saving treatments, but her condition still gave cause for concern about her future development. Her mum and dad were under constant pressure and, for the first time ever, I could not be there for one of my kids. Nobody will ever know how I felt during that dreadful period, I was torn apart by the need to ‘be there’ with family on both sides of The Pond. When people mention the word ‘compensation’ to me, I know they are referring to money. No amount of money could ever compensate for what we have suffered, that applies to our entire family living in two countries.

Earlier in the year, I had become a member of an on-line Francophile forum. Whenever possible, I would visit an internet café and keep abreast of the news for the British community living in France. Our telephone was still connected at the house, and I would spend a couple of hours on the forum when we went to collect our mail. The forum was ideal for locating camping sites that would remain open the year round. I also made time to offer other forum members information when I was on-line.

Unfortunately, when we arrived at the camping site near Nice, that should have been open, we found it closed with an à vendre (for sale) notice at the entrance. The forum had not been very helpful on that occasion! So, we headed inland. I was the GPS and, usually, my map-reading skills are very good, but, not that day! We headed up-country from Nice, aiming to reach Villars by late afternoon, where we knew we could pitch the tent for one night on a commune camping site that offered space, fresh water and toilet facilities. Somewhere along the route, we took a wrong turning and strayed off course.

The terrain assumed an undulating form, then the hills became very large hills, until they turned into mountains! We were in the foothills of the Alps between France and the Italian border, on a road that was one way only! The road back to the coast, to Monaco, was some 500 metres below us. Solid mountain to the right, a sheer drop to the left, I was mortified, I’m petrified of heights and that was not a wide road! Kilometre after kilometre, every time we rounded a section of jutting cliff face, the road seeming to hang off the edge of the rock, I hoped to see flat land in front of us. Instead, there was just another purple mountain, taller and more heavily snow-laden than the one we were on. Several hours later, a road sign took us away from the Alps and back down-country to Gap. That’s when we added our jerry can of petrol to the tank! That night, we slept in the car in an aire de repos (equivalent to a lay-be with a picnic area and shower facilities). We were shattered, and Tom, our only driver, was exhausted to the point where his face was grey and his eyes were red-rimmed.

We spent the next three weeks moving from camping site to camping site, spending occasional nights in one or another of the many aire de repos facilities that are widespread throughout France. One day, we found ourselves on the outskirts of the village where Brad Pitt and his family lived, I spent at least twenty minutes with my nose pressed against the cold car window, hoping for a glimpse. No such luck!

We returned to the house very early one morning in December, on the day of the Tribunal, to wait for the telephone call giving us the justices’ decision. We waited all day, but that call didn’t arrive. We stayed in the home of a French friend in the village for a week. The house was tiny, and we were obviously over-crowding the home of our friend, although, she never gave any indication of being unhappy about it. On the seventh day, I telephoned Monsieur MA to politely demand the verdict. Taken by surprise, he told me, “The justices did not find in your favour, and you must pay €1,000 compensation to Monsieur and Madame T. There will also be Court fees to pay, and my final bill will be there after Christmas, to give you time to pay. But, I think you should Appeal. I will send the documents to you by post. L’Huissier (the Court Bailiff) will bring you the Tribunal’s Judgement document.”

We couldn’t even cry, we were stunned. We just hugged each other closely together against the cruelty and the injustice of it all.

 

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