I decided I needed to write about our recent rental experience in detail even though I am sure no one will believe it – why would you, when I lived through it and don’t believe it myself? But it feels like this ordeal has taken up residence in my thoughts, and I hope that writing about it will be cathartic enough to clear out this valuable real estate (ha ha) in my head. So here goes.
It all started in June 2010, when my husband and I left Hyères, where we’d been living for more than two years. We’d decided to move to Menton, but we took the long way around: we spent the summer visiting the six corners of the Hexagon before arriving, exhausted, in Menton in October. The plan was to stay in a vacation rental for a week while we looked for a long-term rental, but in the end it took more than 4 months. By the time we found our apartment, we’d been in various temporary quarters for more than 7 months and were desperate to get settled.
The vieille ville of Menton is lovely for wandering around but not, in my opinion, for living: it gets very little sunlight and can be pretty windy, thus cold. One of the main reasons we left Hyères was to live in a warmer place, so Menton’s vieille ville and the valleys north of it were out. The best place to live is in Garavan, the eastern part of the town that abuts the Italian border, both because it’s warmer and because it looks back at the beautiful, colorful town. So when we found an apartment at La Grande Palmeraie, with its 180-degree view that stretched from Italy’s mountains, across the Mediterranean Sea, and over to Menton, we had to have it, despite a number of issues.
We first visited the apartment with two women from the rental agency, but there was no electricity – the owners had turned it off to save money, even though they were trying to rent it. So we saw it only by the light of cell phones, and couldn’t even raise the (electric) window shade to see the magnificent view the ad promised. My husband went back for the second visit a few days later and assured me that the apartment – especially thanks to the view – was worth the rather high rent.
Another weird thing was that the apartment was completely empty. In France, "unfurnished" doesn’t just mean no couch or bed, but also no refrigerator and no stove. We were used to that. But this place had nothing: no curtain rods, no closet bars, no shelves anywhere. The kitchen consisted of a sink and absolutely nothing else, so it was up to us to furnish it at our expense and then either leave those improvements for the owners to benefit from or tear them out. My husband is pretty handy so building the kitchen was no problem, and we decided to worry later about what to do when we moved out.
And then of course there was the caution bancaire. This is the craziest part, and I know that most of you will wonder what on Earth possessed us, but again, we were desperate, and we loved the apartment, and we were assured… let me start over. The caution bancaire is a way to make sure that owners don’t get shafted on the rent. We were obliged to place 14,400 euros, the equivalent of one year of rent and utilities, into a compte bloqué, a locked account, which was then invested on our behalf. We could not access the money, nor could the landlords, but only they had the power to unblock it. The rental agent assured us that as soon as we relinquished the apartment, assuming that all of the rent had been paid, the owners were legally bound to immediately release the account back to us. It was a tough requirement, but as we had no other possibilities, we did it.
Once we’d finally withdrawn all the money for the caution bancaire, plus the first month’s rent, the dépôt de garantie (the regular security deposit, another month’s rent), and the agency fee (nearly another month’s rent) – close to 20,000 euros in all ($25,000) – we went to the bank to open the compte bloqué. It was 29 January and our moving date was the 31st, but for some reason the agency had put 6 February on the application. When I pointed this out to the banker, he said not to worry about it – once the money was locked away, the owners had all the power, so the date didn’t matter. So we signed all the paperwork and took it over to the agency. Everything looked good and we spent the weekend packing.
On 31 January, literally 20 minutes before we were supposed to meet the landlords for the first time in order to sign the contracts and get the keys, the agency called: because the caution bancaire was dated 6 February – even though our money was already locked away – the owners refused to let us move in until 6 February or rather, since that was a Sunday, 7 February. So there we were with a rental truck and everything we owned packed and ready to go, but we were stuck waiting for another week.
It was at this point that I nearly lost it. If we’d had any other option – even one only half as good – we would have taken it. But we’d already given notice on our temporary rental and were just so desperate, and therefore we had no choice but to wait another week to move.
When 7 February finally rolled around, we walked over to the apartment to do the état des lieux d’entrée (moving-in walkthrough). I was already feeling less than charitable toward our soon-to-be landlords, and they did not fail to live down to my expectations. They were arrogant and stingy, arguing over everything we wanted noted in the état des lieux, such as the fact that the sliding door in the kitchen did not slide properly. At one point, when the rental agent and I happened to be away from them, she discreetly rolled her eyes at me, letting me know that she too found them exasperating. But then it was finally over and we were able to move in to our lovely, new, completely empty apartment.