Landlords from hell, part 2

During the 2 years and 8 months that we lived at La Grande Palmeraie, we saw the landlords only a few times, but each one was memorable in its own way.

They’d bragged about the lock on the balcony door that makes it impossible to open from the outside… and I’m sure you can guess what happened. The day after we moved in, my husband and I had what was meant to be a quick lunch out on the balcony. It was pretty chilly, so my husband slid the door closed behind him, and voilà – we were locked out. Of course we didn’t have our keys, though I did have my cell phone, but as it was lunchtime, no one was answering.

Long story short, we eventually got the attention of a neighbor, who called the rental agency, who called the landlord, who came over with a locksmith and let us back in after nearly 2 hours (55 euros to use a skeleton key). Needless to say, my husband immediately removed the lock and tucked it safely away in the closet. As the apartment was on the 6th floor and faced a fairly busy street, we weren’t terribly worried about some "spiderman" climbing up and breaking into our place – unlike the owner, who was visibly upset. But it was our apartment, so tant pis.

About a year in, our elderly downstairs neighbor came to our door and asked to look at our WC, because there was a leak in hers. Our apartment had a regular bathroom with tub, sink, and toilet, as well as a separate room with just a toilet and tiny closet. We didn’t need the latter, so my husband stuck our washing machine in there and rigged it to drain into the toilet. Our neighbor was understandably upset (though not at us) not just about the leak, but particularly about the fact that the water running down her walls was dirty (with what, I’ll leave to your imagination) – and who can blame her? We all examined the WC but there were no signs of water on our floor. She then went to the building manager, who also looked, and then our landlord came and looked, and told our neighbor that it wasn’t a big deal and she should just deal with it.

Fortunately, this tiny woman was able to convince someone higher up that a repair was necessary, and our landlord was obliged to hire a laborer to tear out the floor so that the pipes and everything could be examined. (They never did find the problem, and our neighbor was obliged to build a wall that hid the one with the leak, horrible.) Meanwhile, the laborer retiled our WC floor, and during the two entire days this took, the owner – I kid you not – stood over this poor man, watching and critiquing the placement of every square inch of tile. It was unbelievable. In addition, our neighbor came to the door at one point and the owner insulted her and told her to get lost, even turning to me and winking, as I stood there, gaping and trying to find the words to tell this despicable man that he had no right to talk to my guest that way. Truly unbelievable.

The following winter, we noticed that the big glass door leading to the balcony was extremely difficult to open and close – apparently colder weather makes the track less "slideable." We called the owners, who came over with a big can of something like WD-40, sprayed the track a few times – which made absolutely no difference – and then said it wasn’t difficult to open, and that the rent was very cheap, so if we had a problem with it, we should just move.

After that, when we had other problems, like a clogged drain and a heavy soap dish that got detached from the bathroom wall, my husband just fixed them himself. Dealing with the owners was just too disturbing and stressful, and fortunately my husband can fix just about anything.

In France, you have to give notice three months in advance of the move (unless you meet certain criteria, which we didn’t). Since we were moving on 14 October, we sent the letter in early July to be absolutely certain that the notice was sufficient. A week or so later, the owners came over with two rental agents, who proceeded to hang an enormous "for rent" sign right in the middle of our balcony railing, which completely blocked our view. Meanwhile, Madame owner wandered around the apartment, complaining about the closet doors we’d removed (and stowed safely away) and about the shelves my husband had installed in the kitchen. The agent assured her that all of that would be addressed during the état des lieux de sortie (moving-out walkthrough).

Monsieur owner told us that if anyone had a problem with the for rent sign, that we should not take it down but rather have them call him, because if they had a problem with it, they could pay the utilities while the apartment was unoccupied. (We found out later that they were not allowed to put the sign up while the apartment was occupied, per the building’s rules.) As soon as they left, we adjusted the sign so that it was far to the right and half the size, so the effect on us was greatly minimized.

A couple of months later, my husband called the owners to ask them what the pro-rated rent for our last two weeks (1-14 October) would be. The formula is simple (divide the monthly rent by the number of days in the month, then multiply by days of occupation), but we wanted to hear the words from their mouths so that they couldn’t claim that it was supposed to be some other amount and then fine us for underpayment. Madame happened to answer the phone, and she started going off about the closet doors, and the balcony lock, and how she was going to come over so that she could write up a list of all the work we had to do before leaving the apartment. My husband was surprised and annoyed, and after he hung up, he and I agreed that this was ridiculous: of course we were going to put the doors back up, fix the kitchen, etc., and anyway, that’s the whole point of the état des lieux and the dépôt de garantie – to see what repairs need to be made and have the money to cover them.

A week later, Monsieur called with the pro-rated rent amount we’d asked for (he calculated it down to the penny), and also to inform us that they would be visiting on 7 October to do a preliminary état des lieux (though he refused to admit that’s what it was). I told him that was ridiculous, that we knew exactly what work needed to be done and that we had every intention of doing it, and that his coming a week early would be extremely difficult for us, as we’d be smack in the middle of moving. He gave me a "poor me" speech about how we were leaving and our damage to the apartment would leave him in the lurch, to which I replied that there wasn’t any major damage and besides, that was exactly the point of the dépôt de garantie. Then he said, "we’re coming on Monday and that’s that."

I called the rental agent and explained the whole thing to her. She agreed with me that it seemed like an odd request, but they were so insistent that we had to let them come in. But at least we were able to push it back a few days to Thursday the 10th.

That was also the day before we were to drive all of our things to the shipping company in Marseille, so when the owners arrived that morning, the apartment was total chaos: boxes piled high against the walls, the kitchen partially dismantled,* and detritus all over the floor. The owners were shocked, but come on! We were in the middle of moving; of course the place was going to be a mess. That’s like walking into the operating room during a heart operation and freaking out about the chest cavity and blood.

So they ran back and forth from the kitchen to the living room, into the bedroom and back to the kitchen. They complained about the missing doors (that were stacked nearby, ready to be rehung), the kitchen (in which my husband fully intended to patch the holes), the floors (the once-white grout between the tiles had discolored over the years and no amount of mopping made any difference), and the balcony lock (which was set right beside the door, ready to be reattached once we were no longer at risk of getting locked out). They even complained about the boxes: "you stacked them against the walls on purpose to hide all the holes!" It was in reponse to this absurd accusation, which occurred no more than 10 minutes in, that my husband – already at his breaking point – told them to get out. While they protested that they had every right to be there, and said "you Americans think you can do anything you want," and promised that we’d be sorry, my husband just kept repeating himself, telling them to get out and that it was still our apartment until the 14th, and we were going to fix everything, and JUST GET OUT! They finally left and then we worried for the whole weekend.

*We’d decided to tear it all out. If we’d left the kitchen intact, I have no doubt that they would have somehow charged us for it, even though we built it at our expense.

Part 3

Topics: France

One thought on “Landlords from hell, part 2

  1. Bonnie says:

    Thank goodness you are out of there. Le Monsieur et sa femme sound like very anxious, angry, jeolous people who don’t have a clue about home repair. They probably have financial problems too.

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