A National Sport: Ratting on Your French Neighbors
French Property Insider Volume XIV, Issue 19 Thursday, May 12, 2016 • Paris, France
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Bonjour French Property Insider Subscriber,
In yesterday's Nouvellettre® you might recall a story about a group of owners in a building in Le Marais who thought nothing of disallowing a small change to accommodate a disabled person living in the building and had the audacity to say, "Madame, rue des Tournelles is not a place for the handicapped."
I was disheartened by their sheer selfishness, lack of understanding and narrow, closed-minded attitudes...not to mention their "anti-fraternité" sentiments in a land that espouses "liberté, égalité, fraternité. As an American coming from a place where the election of a man like Donald Trump who is determined to build a wall between the U.S. and its Mexican neighbors, is becoming more possible with each passing day. Facing such attitudes toward other people on both sides of the pond puts me in a personal conundrum.
Then the news came in that city officials are actually promoting and encouraging their own residents to denounce one another -- those 'criminals' who 'illegally' rent their own properties. Shades of World War II occupation of the city of Paris when residents denounced their Jewish neighbors to the authorities flushes over me like a black cloud.
As it turns out, Madame le Maire Anne Hidalgo has set up a new Web site called Paris Data for a listing of properties which have complied with the city's rental regulations and are fully authorized. This way, a tourist or other renter can favor those that are legal over those that are not. Of course, the Web site is in French and therefore 'unfriendly' to most tourists who do not read and understand the language.
The only properties which are legal in Paris are primary residents' who rent no more than four months a year or those of which the usage has been changed to commercial. It must be noted that the change of usage from residential to commercial is near to impossible for an average apartment in a residential building where commercial status is unlikely to be acceptable (even more so than a small change to accommodate a wheelchair!) and is very expensive, thanks to the city's high cost of licensing such a property. Therefore, very few properties in the city are actually 'legal.'
While the authorities deny that opendata.paris.fr is a way to encourage Parisians to 'rat' on their neighbors, the media is highly criticizing it for being an underhanded tactic to "open the door to informants." The French live by rules and those who don't play by them risk denouncement. I have personally learned the hard way that 'playing by the rules,' regardless of how illogical or unbeneficial they are to the majority, following the rules outweighs all other consideration. Denouncement is considered their right and their duty, while we (Americans) call it "ratting."
In an article in the Telegraph by Henry Samuel in December 2008, "Petty disputes led to Nazi denunciation in WWII France," he wrote "The French language is unique in having two terms for denunciation: 'La delation' is its contemptible form while "la dénonciation" is merely doing one's duty and dates back to the French Revolution. In today's world, is this where their attitudes toward their fellow citizens is headed?
Comments on the opendata.paris.fr are expressing their disgust of the new site and some are calling Madame Hidalgo "a fascist and member of the Gestapo." Others are thrilled at their opportunity to inform on the neighbors they don't like. Berliners were asked to denounce their neighbors earlier this month, even more shocking coming from a country that should have learned something from its history, or is it repeating itself?
City officials don't see it this way. They believe that it's a way of promoting civic consciousness and that it will force all of the "property criminals" into following the rules...which I'd like to remind you that are near to impossible...other than giving up rental of less than one year and any earnings of money from an investment, for which capital gains taxes would be paid.
Airbnb alone hosts more than 40,000 rental properties. This does not include the many more thousands hosted on other sites (such as our own) which operate fully managed properties designed for the tourist who wants higher standard accommodations, or prefers an apartment to a hotel (for many valid reasons). The Web site isn't the only tactic by the city to ferret out the offenders, but has been regularly performing raids on personal properties, which they proudly call "blitzes." The term is reminiscent again of the the military tactic used during World War II known as a "blitzkrieg."
The good news to all this is that the site is getting such bad press and the comments on the site or so negative, that there is hope for Parisians DENOUNCING the city for such tactics. We've waited a long time for the city officials to see how they are turning neighbors against neighbors and destroying the "fraternité" for which they have always been so proud. Perhaps this is the light at the end of our long tunnel.
If this forces them to step back and seek seriously reasonable solutions to their serious housing shortage, rather than hurt their own home-owning residents and foreign investors, nor damage tourism and the image of Paris and France on a more global scale, then I'm all for it. There are so many ways to view the problem differently -- to license, standardize, control and encourage viable rental properties in a way that benefits all and improves their economy, rather than turn 40,000 property owners into criminals, create massive losses in revenue for its citizens and its tax coffers while dampening the spirit of tourists in the world's most visited city.
Madame Hidalgo, it's time you took a good look at yourself and your protégés, It's not a pretty picture and we are not proud of your "anti-fraternité" attitude.
If you agree with me, take a stand. Sign our petition and add your own comments -- in any language!
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