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Truth Will Out, But Who Will Benefit?

During the past few weeks I have spent a lot of time writing letters, and translating them to the best of my ability, to the three main governing bodies that are reputed to exercise some form of control over the real estate agents, the solicitors, and the notaires of France, predominantly, in the Cantal Department, for obvious reasons.

Just for the Hell of it, I copied our six years long tale of woe to the Cantal Ombudsman who also determines the facts and solutions when Human Rights appear to have been breached. Well, what the heck, in for a cent…in for a euro!

Between the composing, all verifiable and well documented facts of course, the writing, the translating and researching to ascertain the correct governing bodies and relevant addresses, I have been battling with the return of chronic and, often, acute bouts of asthma! Unfortunately, I have discovered that I am still allergic to birds – just as I was 60+ years ago when the allergy was initially determined by the medical profession in Germany. Actually, I am highly allergic to the powder found in the feathers of birds, a parrot in this case!

There is a wonderful, highly intelligent, very verbal parrot in the household of our good friend who has provided family and me with a home since last summer, between pet/house sits. My allergy is not Tommy’s fault, Bless him, in fact, he is possibly just as sensitive to this Golden Oldie as I am to his feather dust! Yet, he doesn’t complain!

Anyway, onward, the letters were received by each of the four intended recipients. Well, the LRAR envelopes were received, one can’t assume that the envelopes contained anything when they were delivered – not according to the Cour de Cassation Bureau d’Aide, anyway!

To the great surprise of my menfolk and me, we received swift responses from two of the governing bodies at these offices:

Conseil Régional des Notaires d’Auvergne

10 rue Maréchal Foch

63000 CLERMONT-FERRAND

and………..

Conseil National des Barreaux

French bar Association

22 rue de Londres

75009 PARIS

The response letter we received concerning our complaints about the notaire (Maitre CB) who administrated our property purchase and the fraudulent sale of our sellers contained empathy, a clearly defined level of shock, plus the undertaking to secure our file and thoroughly investigate the complaints we have laid down before them.

The response letter received from the National French Bar Association contained the information that they would not investigate our complaints about our first and third avocats, but, they signposted us to the correct overseeing body in Toulouse. Fair enough, they even gave us the full postal address. No problem, I copied everything directly to the Regional Conseil that oversees all Toulouse avocats – sent LRAR, of course.

We’re currently pet/house sitting in our favourite mountains in the Auvergne, so, we will find out early next week, when we return to the Haute-Vienne, if FNAIM (insurers/overseeing body for French Immobiliers aka real estate agents) and the Cantal Ombudsman have responded to our complaints.

I am not accepting bets, not yet!

Having saved the best part of this particular blog page until the end of my musings for today, I must first thank my wonderful HIFF colleagues, specifically, Tracey and Pip (ladies first!), for keeping everything Hobos In France together in my absence. The HIF Forum, the Hobos Facebook Group, both of the Hobos Facebook advertising Pages, HIF Twitter Page and the Hobos brand new, just launched Google Group – Tracey and Pip, thank you both from the bottom of my heart, you are Hobo champions and the best friends anybody could ever hope for, truly.

Monsieur C, our remaining tenant, has, at long last, revealed his reason for playing his part in our six years of living as hobos in France. His revelation came in his written response to our formal letter offering him first refusal regarding the purchase of the property that is our house but can never be our home.

That offer of first refusal to existing tenants is standard law in France. It is an absolute must when selling a rented property in this country that remains firmly under the thumb of Napoleon and his centuries old Civil Codes! Whatever we think of the archaic legal system, however much we strive to persuade France that she needs to struggle and scrape herself into the 21st Century, Napoleon retains his grip and there’s little to nothing that we can do about it!

So, be aware, all or any who believe they can purchase a rental property in France, make a fortune – or, merely a living – then sell on when the novelty wears off, or the going gets tough when fortunes or world economy change, or simply because they want to move on. Luck never supercedes law in France and Napoleon’s Civil Codes are the ultimate sky-high solid wall that simply can’t be scaled or toppled!

However, it appears to be a simple matter for a law-breaker to pass on legal responsibility to an unsuspecting property buyer and walk away from the mess that ensues!

That’s what happened to us, as we have learned from Monsieur C in very recent weeks.

In reply to our offer of first refusal regarding the purchase of our property at the 2007 price, with no agency fees and only 50% of the notaire’s fee to pay, Monsieur C had until the end of November to respond, but he responded very quickly with his (seemingly sincere) thanks to us for recognising his tenancy rights. He also congratulated us on ‘knowing, acknowledging and applying French law, unlike Monsieur and Madame T’, aka our fraudulent sellers and his former landlords.

Monsieur C went on to tell us that he was interested in purchasing the property from Monsieur and Madame T in 2007, but he was not offered the opportunity and they sold to us, despite the objections that he apparently lodged with the administrating notaire. Yes, the notaire who we know as Maitre CB! Hence, the forming of the bone of contention that has dominated the lives of my menfolk and me throughout the past six long years.

However, Monsieur C then confirmed in his letter that he might still be interested in purchasing the property – from us. He requested time to “sleep on it”, asked us for details of the notaire we will be using to administrate a sale and requested copies of relevant documentation. By return of post, we sent all requested details and documentation (including the necessary Energy Report etc) to Monsieur C – via LRAR, of course! We also included copies of our letters of complaint sent to the overseeing bodies and the Ombudsman. Why? No stand-alone reason, it just seemed to be the right thing to do at the time – Monsieur C has long complained about his treatment at the hands of our fraudulent sellers and the equally guilty notaire, Immobilier and our first avocat.

En route to the Puy-de-Dome to start our current pet/house sit, we called in to our house that’s not our home in the Cantal – both Departments are in the breathtakingly beautiful and as yet unspoiled Auvergne Region. We spoke with Monsieur C, he was open and friendly – and seemed to be somewhat relieved and happy! He told us he would be in touch about purchasing the property very soon, he would be attending a relevant rendez-vous the following day.

On this aspect, I am taking bets!

I’m thinking along the lines of world recession, France still teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, property prices in the Auvergne in 2007 and now, our lifestyle and our need for a settled home, Monsieur C’s knowledge of our circumstances……………my bet is that Monsieur C will offer us a pittance! He knows all about Napoleon’s Civil Codes, too, and if in doubt, one of his sons is an avocat! He will know that if we refuse his offer, we will not be able to sell at a higher price than he offers without a legal wrangle and clear evidence that his offer is unreasonable!

Bets – any takers? Or, do you think I’m being rather cynical and a tad paranoid?

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Posted by on October 22, 2013 in World

 

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Monsieur C Is A Very Happy Bunny!

So, the hairdresser will be moving out on 30 September 2012, but what about Monsieur C? No! He will not be moving out any time soon! In fact, he’ll possibly only need to move out in a box! Then, we would have more problems as one of his children could step into his tenancy shoes. French law is marvellous, it is very protective, but not if you’re an existing victim of fraud!

As a starter, it appears that his tenancy has the highest level of legal protection in France, I will explain, and he is further opposing eviction on grounds that he is a resident in the property, his tenancy is not commercial.

To clarify Monsieur C’s tenancy protection. It was revealed during our recent visit to Champagnac that Monsieur C was ‘placed’ in the property by the Social Services. We have no more details as that would ‘breach his human rights’, but the fact was confirmed by the former village Mayor, Monsieur G. It appears that our sellers were not given opportunity to refuse Monsieur C a tenancy agreement, the Social Services rule the roost in such cases.

No wonder our sellers felt the need to resort to fraud to sell the property, Monsieur C had apparently informed them that he would not move out to permit them to sell the house without a sitting tenant comfortably in situ.

Where can we go from here, regarding Monsieur C? The short answer is ‘nowhere’! The Cadastre can’t evict him, it was made clear to us that the Church will not object to Monsieur C remaining a sitting tenant in our house that truly cannot ever be our home.

In addition to the above shock, we also received a letter from the local Trésor Public to say they will no longer be able or willing to receive the rents directly from Monsieur C and the hairdresser. We must receive the rental payments directly, and pay our building taxes directly. If we refuse to accept the rental payments (as advised by our first avocat), we are “…breaking the law, Madame, and you can both go to prison.’

Do French prisons have central heating? If so, that just might be an option!

Just before we left the house, Tom and I heard Monsieur C walking down the stairs. Then, less than 30 seconds later, he walked back up the stairs to his apartment and quietly closed his door. He was obviously aware that we were in the building, Tom has great difficulty getting up the stairs to the first floor, he doesn’t climb stairs quietly as his breathing difficulties render him sounding like a traction engine, Bless.

As we left the property, we noticed an envelope in ‘our’ mailbox. Inside the envelope, addressed to us, we found a cheque made out to us and the following note (exact words):

“Bonjour! Cheque pour le loyer d’avril 2012 plus 0,38€, ci joint pour solde de 2011. Bien le bonjour à tous.”

For those without French language knowledge, here’s the translation:

“Hello! Cheque for the April 2012 rent plus 38 cents to balance the 2011 rent payments. Good day to you all.”

Monsieur C is, indeed, a very happy bunny.

That’s not all, it appears that the hairdresser needed to move home a few weeks ago; she is now a tenant in the same Public Housing apartment that the former Mayor was going to offer to us, before he was ousted by the current Mayor. I suppose looking after one’s own is normal, in any country.

 

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The Start To An Annus Horribilis

January 2010, the beginning of what was to be our worst year as hobos in France. As we waited for news about Tom’s progress in the UK, I received an email from Alexandra to say the Bureau d’Aide had not accepted our 2008 income tax assessment that consisted mainly of capital realised before we moved to France. The Bureau insisted on having our 2009 assessment. I quickly replied, reminding Alexandra that the 2009 figures would not be declared until May 2010, in accordance with the French income tax system, and the 2009 assessment would not be with us until August 2010. She telephoned me and became quite upset that I didn’t have a 2010 tax declaration form on which to record our 2009 income, telling me to “go to Aurillac and get one”!

Eventually, and after much logical persuasion, Alexandra realised that I was physically unable to provide the Bureau d’Aide with our 2009 income tax assessment form. So, she advised me to write to the Bureau d’Aide, and to send all the evidence I could find to prove our income and any savings for 2009. A taller order than she could ever have envisaged, bearing in mind that we could not carry our household filing cabinet – but, we did it, with a struggle!

However, everything was bounced back at us a few weeks later, the Bureau d’Aide bureaucrats did not believe that four of us had survived the year on a total income of just over €8,000, net of taxes, bank charges, and the last of the EDF and telephone bills relevant to the house in Champagnac. Of course, that €8,000 didn’t include the cost of running the car all over France, but I had sent receipts for all vehicle repairs, fuel, insurance and toll charges. But, the €8,000 did cover the cost of camping site fees and a couple of B&B bills, receipts also sent to the Bureau d’Aide. It’s amazing what one can do when somebody says, ‘You’ll never be able to do that.’ Hobo Stew is a favourite dish in our household!

Tom was discharged from hospital after five days, but he was readmitted a couple of days later, another toe was infected, more surgery was necessary, Tom’s right leg was infected from toes to groin. Tom now has three and a half toes on his right foot, and he responds with a grin to being called ‘Tommy Hobbit’, Bless him. His brother, Martin, came through his medical emergency and has since undergone surgery to implant an ICD (Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator).

Alexandra was at a loss as to what to do next, we had received a letter from the Bureau d’Aide telling us we were out of time to apply for Legal Aid. We spoke on the telephone and I asked her to help me to apply to the European Court of Human Rights, we could not let this go. Alexandra was clearly horrified at my suggestion, and she told me we had no Case to take to the ECHR at that time, but it would be a consideration after the Cour de Cassation judgement was made. Catch-22. We couldn’t file at the Cour de Cassation without paying the cost, up front, of two avocats. Paying those fees would have left us with no money on which to live. We had to secure that Legal Aid, but Alexandra had backed away, that was the last contact we had with her. Although, we did receive an emailed new year message for 2011, and again for 2012, with a brief assurance that she remains at our disposal.

As Tom was heading back to France from the UK in February, I was hand-writing our nineteen pages of application to the European Court of Human Rights, Strasbourg. Computers and printers don’t work in a tent, the plugs drop out of the holes in the walls!

 

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Lots Of Gallic Shrugs!

Christmas 2009 and New Year’s Eve 2010 was a rather depressing festive season for the four of us. We found it difficult to muster any level of enthusiasm, but we realised that we had to do something positive, if we were to survive this major setback and fight another day, another battle, in the same war.

Tom and I travelled to Champagnac to collect accumulated mail, also the Income Tax documents required to support our Legal Aid application. The front of the house, the entrance hall, and the stairways, were in a dreadful mess when we arrived. The front entrance door-lock had been broken, there were boxes and cartons strewn up the stairs to the first floor landing, and there had obviously been a very wet period recently, evidenced by thick mud on stairs and up walls. The beautifully made double-glazed windows and doors, fitted in November 2007, because we were bound by law to honour the order we had placed with the Artisan via our architect, were draped with spiders’ webs and sticky with cooking grease. Tom just focused on where we needed to go to locate the tax documents, I just felt sickened as I followed. Neither of us turned around to take a backward glance as we left the village as quietly as we had arrived. Our friend, Madame ZC, had left our mail in our mailbox that morning, before she left for her son’s house in Paris.

A couple of days into January 2010, I duly wrote a cover letter to accompany the necessary documents to the Bureau d’Aide in Paris, the centre of all French Legal Aid administrations. Then, with nothing better left for us to do, except wait, we started putting our lives back together again, insofar as we could, picking each other up, brushing each other down, starting all over again, as the song goes! At that time, we were pet/house sitting, once again, for Sue and Rick in the Dordogne.

Two weeks later, Tom was looking and feeling very unwell due to dreadful pain in his toes, in fact, most of his foot had turned purple-black by then, although he had been treated for an infection at Sarlat Hospital some weeks before; he was actually treated for infections in his foot several times, by different doctors, in different towns and Departments, throughout a period in excess of a year. Tom was also suffering from a chest infection that just would not respond to antibiotics. I telephoned our private health insurance company to find out if we needed to be in the Cantal for Tom to have hospital treatment. The agent was very unhelpful, and I got quite sharp with him after fifteen minutes of listening to opening and closing files, papers rustling, heavy breathing, and a series of very audible Gallic shrugs. Eventually, the agent returned to the phone to tell me our health insurance had been stopped, and it would not be renewed. Just like that! We have never discovered why that happened, despite writing several times to the company’s Head Office in Paris. We will leave that little conundrum for the legal powers-that-be to unravel, in due course.

Fortunately – and, it will become clear why I say ‘fortunately’ – we received a call from Tom’s youngest brother, Pete, in London, to tell us their middle brother, Martin, was undergoing serious heart surgery possibly that week. Tom didn’t hesitate, he left France for the UK within hours, heading for my eldest son, Iam, and his lovely wife, Tracy, in Northumberland, planning to be with his younger brothers two days later.

Within hours of arriving in Northumberland, Tom had been admitted into hospital for emergency surgery to remove at least one toe that was beyond saving, due to gangrene in the small bones, as far as could be ascertained at that point. Iam had immediately contacted me to let me know what was happening, and the following two weeks consisted of endless days filled with anxiety as we waited to find out what else might need to be amputated.

I believe those two weeks were probably the very worst that we, certainly that I, have endured throughout this entire, disastrous chapter in our lives.

 

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Heading For Paris

So, where did we go wrong this time? Well, to answer that question, we first needed to know what had taken place in that Appeal Court, in Riom. Alexandra didn’t bother with the preambles, she gave us the bottom line in a series of telephone calls and emails, question and answer format. The judiciary “recognised the sellers’ fraud.” But, they decided, the sellers are elderly, they are retired. Yes, that’s true, and so are we. The judiciary commented that the sellers were “arrogant”. But, it was added, they are elderly. We’re not arrogant, but, to reiterate, we’re elderly too.

The judiciary did not agree that the garage was important to the purchase of the property. But, had the garage not been important, we would not have spent thousands on an architect and Plans; we would not have  submitted documentation to the Tribunal, including formal medical information, to prove how important that garage space was to us, to our health. The Tribunal ruled that our health issues were not for the judiciary to consider, our health issues were of no importance to the Tribunal.

The judiciary recognised that the sellers had ‘hidden the truth about Monsieur C, the locataire.’ But, they added, Monsieur C had (has!) an assured tenancy, a protected tenancy, and he can’t be forced to leave the property. But, where does that leave us? That question is not for the judiciary to answer.

The judiciary recognised the fraud committed by the sellers where the selling on of the hairdresser’s Lease was concerned. But, the sellers are elderly. Yes, we’re elderly too. The judiciary recognised the fact that the notaire had not divulged to us the selling on of the hairdresser’s Lease. But, they added, the notaire was “young and inexperienced”, and the justices had correctly ‘smacked the notaire’s wrist’ during the first Tribunal.

The Appeal Tribunal President concluded by saying the Court recognised the fraud (again!), but the judiciary did not have a law in place by which to find in our favour. Vice caché laws have been in place since the late 1990’s, 1997 or 1998, depending on which avocat one speaks with! The Tribunal President went on to add that we could take the Case to the Cour de Cassation in Paris, to Appeal. The Cour de Cassation is the French Supreme Court. Presentation of an Appeal to the Cour de Cassation requires the services of a ‘specialist’ barrister who acts accordingly with instructions given directly by the main avocat, ie in our case, Alexandra. There are approximately a dozen specialist Cour de Cassation barristers who are reputed to be the best in France; apparently, they really know their onions where the laws of France are concerned! A Cour de Cassation barrister will, apparently, only take a Case that has the highest possible chance of succeeding!

Cost? Too much! By that time, we were running on fumes! I was honest with Alexandra, and she responded, ‘You must apply for Legal Aid. You can obtain it within six weeks, your Case can be heard at the Cour de Cassation within 6 to 8 months. We will start the processes at the beginning of January (2010). The Appeal Judge did not consider your human rights.’

That conversation took place two or three days before Christmas Day 2009. It took us until November 2010 to get the Legal Aid. We are still waiting for a hearing date to be set by the Cour de Cassation in Paris. The only way we managed to obtain French Legal Aid was through intervention by the European Court of Human Rights, Strasbourg. But, that’s another story!

 

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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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