June 15th, at the Scotch Tea House (4 avenue Suède)
3 to 5:30 p.m.
* Lisa Anselmo: My (Part-Time) Paris Life * Jorge Armenteros: The Roar of the River, The Book of I, AIR * Craig Carlson: Pancakes in Paris, and soon to come, Let Them Eat Pancakes * Mike Colquhoun: Returning * Cathie Fidler: Hereng * Margo Lestz: Berets, Baguettes, Beyond * M.D. Poole: Dogs Never Lie * T.J. Riley: Ladies Invited * Debby Woods: Girl Lost Found
Participation is free (but we ask that you purchase at least one drink to show the host venue how much we appreciate their hospitality).
Homeownership in a multi-family residence in France is just like it is in the U.S. With it comes the burden of cooperating with the other owners.
Last night I attended our annual "Assemblée Générale" (known as an "AG") of our "Copropriété" (homeowner association) of my Paris apartment building. It's an event with which I have a love-hate relationship, because the meeting can be torturous, but at the same time amusing, and ultimately important if I want to have a vote about the operations of the building. Tomorrow night I will be attending the AG for my apartment in Nice, so it's a double whammy this week of which I will surely need to recover.
The meetings happen annually and can take place at any time of year. By law, the homeowners must be notified three weeks in advance, by registered mail (post or electronically), with a document known as the "Convocation" that outlines the agenda along with all the supporting documents. Ours was 186 pages!
I've attended lots of these meetings in the past, not only for my own properties, but on behalf of clients, too. There is ALWAYS at least one person who is unreasonable and creates a contentious situation. This person is usually the same person every year and clearly revels in their contention. Ours in Paris is a woman (with her husband who was not in attendance this time) who can't help themselves by being contrary to every single motion, either voting "contre" (opposed) or "abstention" (a refusal to vote). At the very moment the meeting began, even before any item on the agenda was addressed, this particular "propriétaire" (owner) voiced her opinion of the current president of the "conseil syndical" (board of directors) because in the past, he had had a dispute with the copropriété and refused to pay his dues until it was resolved. There was a unanimous giggle among the other owners, largely because she fulfilled our expectations of her — I think we would have been disappointed if she hadn't been in "character."
With each meeting and with each vote for which she wastes our time arguing about, with no positive outcome for herself since no one ever agrees with her, I wonder how it's possible she can't see the futility of her attitude, nor realize that her contrarianism serves no purpose. This is not the sort of person who outwardly seeks attention, as she is generally meek in appearance, but put her at the conference table in a meeting such as this and she seems to need more recognition than anyone else. She even argues against herself from time to time, and one instance last night elicited another giggle from the entire body.
One of the main topics at last night's meeting was the installation of elevators in two of the four stairwells of the building. One stairwell already has one, mine is rendered impossible because of its configuration, but the other two are possible. Installation of an elevator is very expensive, but immediately increases the value of the property. Normally, those who benefit the most (the upper floors), pay the most, for good reason. And those who need it and benefit from it the least (the lower floors), tend to vote against it for the obvious reason. This is entirely short-sighted, since the installation of an elevator in an old building is a huge advantage for the residents and for resale of their properties. For those who never intend on selling their properties (of which there are many), they don't want to spend the money since they may never realize the reward.
You can see how this can become a huge debate. It took much more time than I was willing to devote to the meeting, so I hightailed it out of there before I had a chance to bring up the humidity in the cellars and what we could do to alleviate that. (I may have to address my concerns to the "Syndic" [manager] and the Conseil Syndical independently from the meeting.)
Rue Massena, in Nice
The Sanibroyeur toilet
Tomorrow's meeting in Nice is sure to be the worst kind of torture. In this case, we have owners in one apartment (out of only four in the building) who aren't necessarily contrarians, but who are determined to make the lives of my American next door neighbors and me as miserable as possible. They will stop at nothing to mercilessly harass us. We're not completely sure why — if this is anti-American sentiment or if the woman of the couple is jealous now that she's not the only "Queen Bee" in the building! (This seems more likely!)
She and her husband, who is a retired lawyer and on the Nice city council, who clearly carry a lot of weight not only in the building, but in the city, know they have the upper hand and use it. First, they sued us (the Americans) for renting our property "furnished," which is against the regulations of the building. We were wrong offering our properties on the open market, so we lost the case and stopped the rentals by removing any trace of the website pages or promotions. We confirmed that we could still allow our friends and relatives to use our apartments as we like, and that's what we now do. The two of us had big legal bills and fines to pay. It hurt, but we acquiesced.
This past year, they sued me to install a real toilet in my own apartment to replace the "Sanibroyeur" I inherited when I bought the apartment, unknowingly. (A Sanibroyeur is an adaptable crusher that connects to a toilet. It is designed to grind the toilet waste and evacuates the waste solution to the main drain via small pipes.) They are fully aware that I sued the seller of the property for a "vice caché" (hidden defect) and won the case against him, yet, it didn't stop them from not only filing a law-suit against me, but lying on the complaint by accusing me of having installed it myself, illegally, against building regulations. Here I go, spending more money on legal fees to defend myself.
The Syndic (who is a volunteer and lives in the building), agrees with my plumber on how to install a real toilet, by running evacuation pipes down the stairwell of the building, out the back and over to the sewage drain pipes, but these neighbors don't agree with that. They would like the pipes to run under the floor of my next door neighbor's apartment (the other Americans), but the neighbors have denied me permission to do so, for good reason. (I wouldn't want to give them any responsibility should there be a problem, and there is even greater risk of leakage to the neighbors below, too.) Therefore, these downstairs lawsuit-happy neighbors are suing me to do something that they are not permitting me to do! Crazy, I know, but I swear this is true.
Attending with me tomorrow will be the plumber who has provided the solution and an estimate. I have very little hope they will accept his proposal and that I'll be back at square one, but we'll see how that plays out. I am prepared for just about anything and my lawyer is arming me with the legal knowledge I need.
In addition to this issue, these same owners are now accusing both my American next door neighbors and myself of continuing to rent our properties on the open market, adding their accusal to the agenda of the meeting and citing fines of 1,000€ per infraction. To discover the possible infractions, they want the copropriété to agree to hire a bailiff to inspect our properties and question any guests we might have in the future.
This time, I'm not giggling and we both got really, really angry. We've complied with the court order and now this is pure harassment. We will vote against it, of course, but since they carry a lot of weight, it is possible we will be battling yet another suit, for no reason other than to satisfy their over-inflated egos and need to show their muscle. I hope to stay calm, cool, collected and strong in the meeting, but I can't promise I will. I can promise, however, that I will not take their provocations lightly.
What's the moral of the story? Well, I wish it were "love they neighbor," but at this moment, that's a tough request to fulfill. For now, we have to find a way to make this stop, once and for all. And you can bet, I have a few ideas...
P.S. I've been involved in French real estate for many, many years and have been through many, many situations both good and bad — for myself and our clients. Consequently, we have developed a network of professionals to help in any situation. Contact us to discuss your situation and we'll get to work for you. Do it today!
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