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The Never-Ending Niçois Property Saga

Volume XX, Issue 7

The building facade of Adrian Leeds apartment in Nice showing her single balcony

My Nice apartment (“Le Matisse”) is a never-ending saga. Over the years, I have written about the lawsuit I instituted against the seller (a “marchand de bien” or developer) for non-disclosure of the “sanibroyeur” toilet (an adaptable crusher that is designed to grind the toilet waste and evacuates the waste solution to the main drain via small pipes) that lasted almost eight years and cost me an arm and a leg in legal fees that were barely recovered; the lawsuit against myself and my next door neighbors (Americans) for the short-term rentals that were not in compliance with the building rules (that we lost for the obvious reason); and the law suit by the downstairs neighbors on the second floor still in progress more than five years against me to install a real toilet, but without giving me permission to plumb it (I swear, this is true).

So, not only did I pay way more than I should have for a property without a real toilet (not my fault), and not only did I overcapitalize it by spending double what a normal person might have spent on the renovation (yes, my fault because I want what I want), as well as forking out fees to the attorneys over the years to maintain all these lawsuits that take way more time in France than normal thanks to the heavy French legal system, plus Covid-19 delays (mostly not my fault)…I am now faced with a new dilemma and big expense.

I am not complaining, mind you. I LOVE my apartment in Nice and am spending almost half the year there, so I get out as much as I have put in, and happily. If and when I ever sell it (which might be never since it’s tough to sell a property that is involved in a legal entanglement, much less a property without a real toilet), it may never return the investment I’ve made into it.

C’est la vie. I’m resolved about this. In real estate, you can win some and lose some. All of my other property ventures have been very rewarding, but this one is the thorn in the paw that keeps infecting an otherwise perfect extremity.

The building was slapped on the wrist by the City of Nice to finally do the “ravalement.” The ravalement is the restoration of the facade of the building, which by French law (Articles L132-1 to L132-5 of the Code de la construction et de l’habitation) require the owner of a building to maintain the facade of the property in a clean condition, and in certain municipalities (such as Paris and Nice), it is mandatory every 10 years. Our building hadn’t been touched in at least three times as many years, although it didn’t look too bad!

The ravalement is expensive. The price varies according to various criteria: the size of the building, its ease of access for scaffolding, its number of floors, etc., the type of wall to be renovated (stone and brick, wood, concrete, paint, etc.), and the extent of the work, which can go from simple cleaning to the resumption of masonry. Then, factor in possible additional work such as insulation from the outside or renovation of balconies/terraces.

Depending on these elements, the facade renovation could cost on average from 20€ to 120€ per square meter of walls to be renovated. The amount paid by each owner is calculated according to the property’s share—what is known as the “tantièmes” or “millièmes.” Co-ownership implies that each owner has exclusive use of his or her private portion. However, a condominium is also composed of common areas. The co-owners share the use of these common areas, but also the expenses related to them. The related expenses are calculated on the basis of the quotas or share that each owner owns. These quotas are defined as tantièmes or millièmes. For example, if your Paris or Nice apartment’s share is indicated as 100/10,000, then for every 10,000€ spent on the building, you will pay 100€.

I couldn’t complain too much considering I had owned the apartment 10 years and this was the first assessment. And it wasn’t hugely expensive. This is the price of property ownership, of which we must all be aware. But then came a new wrinkle. My upstairs neighbors on the fourth floor (who happen to be the daughter and son-in-law of my downstairs neighbors, sandwiching me between them) had the good foresight to realize that this was their opportunity to add a balcony to their apartment, of which there was none. They hired architects to do the plans, submitted them to the city and got permission to build on a triple balcony, which greatly adds to the value of their property. (In Nice, properties without balconies sell for a whole lot less than those that do, and certainly don’t sell as quickly!)

The second floor of the building has a triple balcony. My third floor level has one single balcony. When I saw the plans and approval by the city, I exclaimed during one of our homeowner association meetings, “I want a triple balcony, too!” This would mean that I would have a balcony accessible from two living room doors and my next door neighbors would gain a balcony from one door that they currently don’t have, also greatly adding value to their property.

The building facade of Adrian Leeds apartment in Nice showing the tripple balcony below her single balcony

Adrian’s apartment building in Nice showing the triple balcony below her single balcony

The upstairs neighbor, who happens to be the volunteer “Syndic” (manager), was kind enough to arrange for new architectural drawings and new city permissions, for which we were granted. The original estimate to create the balcony was about 10,000€. My next door neighbors gladly agreed to fork out one-third while I agreed to fork out two-thirds of the cost. Everyone was happy until the final estimates came in from three different contractors to do the ravalement and add the balconies. That’s when all hell broke loose, because the cost of doing ours turned out to be double any of the others!

Why? Because, according to the contractors, there is cost to destroying the balcony of mine that exists before they can add the new longer one. Yikes! That didn’t sit well with my next door neighbors.

The view down the street from Adrian Leeds' Nice apartment balcony

The emails began flying around like bats out of hell. If we didn’t agree to the cost, then they would have no balcony like they have now, I’d have my single balcony like I have now and the building would look rather strange and inconsistent with a long balcony at the top, a long balcony at the bottom and a small balcony in the middle. Meanwhile, the chance to do this again wouldn’t come up for the next 30 years or until the next ravalement.

I offered a few options to my next door neighbors as possible solutions:

1. Take over the task of getting estimates to see if they can find a contractor willing to do it for a lower price,
2. Let me pay for the entire balcony, but not give them access to it (a sort of joke),
3. Sell their apartment to me! (I’d really love this! It’s 70 square meters, two bedrooms and perfect for me!)

They didn’t like any of the options (although I really don’t understand why they won’t consider selling it to me, since they hardly use it and can’t generate any revenues) and they didn’t see the value of spending a small amount more money to create their balcony. So, what choice did I have? What would you have done?

 

In the end, I agreed to pay for the portion of the work to destroy my existing balcony so that their costs were roughly the same as to what they originally agreed. That made them happy enough and here I go, forking out a more money on my Nice apartment. Last week, I transferred over my full share of the cost to create the triple balcony, adding it to the spreadsheet I keep detailing all the costs of ownership and wincing. Ugh.

And here’s the biggest dilemma of all: the work starts April 4th and is scheduled to be completed July 25th. The compressor that runs my apartment’s heat and air conditioning sits on the balcony. The question is: while the ravalement is taking place, and the balcony is gone, how will I live in the apartment for four months without it? And without opening the windows which will let in the dust and potential thievery?

A pigeon on the railing of Adrian Leeds' balcony of her apartment in Nice

I hope to find out this week while I’m in Nice as to just what to expect. I’ll keep you posted!

Special note: This week in France there are two big Covid-related changes…the second phase in the relaxation of health rules and changes to the vaccine pass validity.

Here’s what has changed as of yesterday: A number of Covid rules have been scrapped. Nightclubs have re-opened and cafés and bars will no longer be limited to table-service, meaning you will be able to drink at the bar. Concerts and music gigs can also take place once again. People will once again be allowed to eat in cinemas and sports grounds, as well as on trains and planes. The health ministry sent a memo to vaccination centers on Monday instructing them to allow people using fake health passes to wipe the record clean and initiate a real vaccination cycle.

A bientôt,

Adrian Leeds in a flower print dress sitting on her balcony in NiceAdrian Leeds
The Adrian Leeds Group®

Adrian on her balcony in Nice

Publictity photo of David A. AndelmanP.S. David A. Andelman just launched a SubStack page, “Andelman Unleashed!” It’s free and is chronicling the entire French election campaign and putting it all into context, plus other related issues!

Andelman is the Executive Director of The RedLines Project, a columnist on CNNOpinion and NBCNewsThink, author of “A Red Line in the Sand: Diplomacy, Strategy & the History of Wars That Might Still Happen,” a Chevalier/Légion d’Honneur of France, President Emeritus of The Silurians Press Club and a member of the Overseas Press Club of America. With these credential, his voice carries a lot of authority. Don’t miss an issue.

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