“Viager with a View, Part I”

The View from the Terrace

“Viager” with a View, Part I


Part I: The Terrace

It started before I owned the apartment I live in when a flood of water came pouring in the bedroom window thanks to the clogged gutters from the foliage on the terrace of the apartment above mine. The “Syndic” (manager of the home owner’s association), Monsieur de L., and I paid a visit on the elderly gentleman who occupied the studio apartment, an invalid in a wheelchair who didn’t seem to pay him much mind. The damages were paid by the “copropriété” (home owner’s association) because the terrace was not owned by the occupant, Monsieur N., even though he had certainly appropriated it with a forest of plants.
Years past and there were no further issues to speak of until early 2006, when Monsieur de L. called in a committee of residents to discuss the “illegal” terraces on the 4th floor of building A (the only building with an elevator), I being one of them. Why, I don’t know, except that he had taken a liking to me as an American, a single woman with experience in Paris real estate.
The two terraces (including the adjacent terrace belonging to another apartment), each about 14 square meters, overlooking rue de Saintonge with a perfect southeast orientation, continued to cause him problems, as they had never been written into the deeds of the apartments and therefore were the responsibility of the copropriété. This committee was recruited to make a presentation at a future “assemblée générale” (meeting) where a vote would be put tothe owners to decide if the terraces should be destroyed or not!
When I saw the apartment, now for the second time, without the clutter of Monsieur N.’s belongings and the terrace perfectly clean, my heart pounded and I had what the French call a “coup de coeur” (love-struck)! The main room was only about 20 square meters, with two French-paned doors leading to the terrace on either side of a picture window. It was unusually striped with exposed 17th-century wood beams set between two panes. The ceiling had been opened enabling a small mezzanine, one part containing a large skylight, and the “poutres” (beams) were obscured by folds of fabric acting as a false ceiling. One wall had been painted with a “trompe l’oeil” (optical illusion, or ‘fool the eye’) scene of the Mediterranean and another wall had an enormous working fireplace, molded of stucco. An archway led to a small kitchen with a window on the stairwell, and another to a minuscule bathroom. Another archway had a small flight of stairs inside it that led to nowhere (!). One corner housed a rounded structure, filled with shelves, enclosed by carved wooden doors, rounded at the tops. Everywhere there were nooks and crannies, in rounded shapes of stucco and on all the flat surfaces were inlaid small tiles in blues and yellows.
Whispering to Monsieur de L., “I want to buy this apartment!” he replied, “Shush, don’t tell anyone! Everyone will want it!” And so I shut my mouth, attended the meeting and prayed like hell the owners would vote to leave it in tact. The meeting itself could fill volumes, so you’ll have to use your imagination to know that there was quite a heated discussion, but in the end, the terraces won, and secretly, so had I.
This is just the beginning of the story and what has now taken almost two years to accomplish. Yes, I am now the owner, having signed the final deed this past Friday, but not without much pain and effort. Regardless, even as owner, I still don’t have the rights of usage — I don’t even have the keys!
So, now you ask: “Are you nuts?” And can you see the huge grin on my face?

I will unfold the rest of the amazing story later…including some interesting characters integral in making it happen — a Notaire, a government “fonctionnaire,” a banker, a neighbor, a previous owner (deceased!), Monsieur N. of course and soon to enter the scene, his nephew…not to mention some new facets — an elevator, two cellars, a storage closet and a “chambre de bonne” (servant’s quarters).

Adrian Leeds

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