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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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Lies Laid Bare

Until our second avocat, Julia, received our resident locataire’s Attestation (sworn Statement), she seriously doubted we had sufficient hard evidence to win our Appeal. One of our witnesses, Madame B, had responded to Julia’s request for an Attestation with a letter addressed to Tom and me. In the letter, Madame B emphatically refused to give evidence for us, and she concluded by writing that she would consider any further contact from us or our avocat, to be harassment.

Who is Madame B? Madame B is a retired businesswoman who moved into Champagnac during the same month that we completed our property purchase in the village. She is a French national who had spent some 30 years living in the UK with her British husband, they were divorced and she moved back to France to be near her elderly mother. One side of Madame B’s family originated from Russia, the other side from the Champagnac commune. Madame B speaks fluent English as well as her mother tongue, also Russian. When she heard about our immediate concerns, in the village Bar/Café-Tabac-Presse during the evening of the day we had completed our purchase and had discovered the deception, she immediately offered to accompany us to the notaire’s office to translate for us, when the notaire returned from her holiday. Madame B did accompany us to the notaire’s office, and she translated for us. When the notaire telephoned our sellers, putting the telephone in loudspeaker mode to speak with seller, Madame T, and asked her if she or her husband had given Monsieur C a rental Contract, the response was, “Non.” The notaire asked our seller the same question twice, the response was emphatically, “Non”, both times. The notaire then asked Madame T if she or her husband had rented the garage to Monsieur C, the response was shouted, “Non, he is a liar!”. The notaire thanked Madame T, disconnected the call, looked at Tom and me and said she could not help us, but she would “speak with the sellers and persuade them to offer” us “some compensation” for our “inconvenience”. The notaire also advised us to “sue the Immobilier”.

Madame B gave her contact details to us and urged us to pass them to our avocat, We followed through and Monsieur MA said he would contact Madame B and request her Attestation. He had never contacted her. I asked Julia if Madame B could be subpoenaed, or a French equivalent. She shook her head and told us Madame B would probably just say she could not remember, it was two years ago.

Monsieur MA had never contacted the resident locataire, Monsieur C, either! Julia contacted him by post and he replied immediately, telling her he had been waiting for our avocat to contact him since July 2007. Within days of making contact with Monsieur C, Julia telephoned us to say she had received a wonderful Attestation from Monsieur C, via his avocat, plus documentation that included copy of his Rental Contract. The Rental Contract covered Monsieur C’s apartment, sole use of ‘Mon Garage’, sole use of one of the three cellars, sole use of a rear courtyard outbuilding, and sole use of a measured, designated section of the loft. All documents had been endorsed by our sellers, ie Madame T. Included with the documents was a copy of Monsieur C’s Contents Insurance, and copies of every Contents Insurance Policy that he had renewed each year during his tenancy. There was also copy of a letter from the insurance company, it confirmed copies of Monsieur C’s annual contents insurance renewals had been sent to Madame T each January during his long period of tenancy, until 2008 when their client had informed them of the property change of ownership.

Julia told us that was the evidence we needed to prove our Case against our sellers, it was conclusive beyond all doubt. That evidence, together with our pre-Sale Contract, signed by both parties, and which stated that we had sole use and enjoyment of the property, was more than sufficient to prove the sale was fraudulent, in French law and terminology, a vice caché.

That’s when we dared to start hoping we were seeing light at the end of that long, dark tunnel. How very wrong we were!

 

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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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