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Friendly Meeting of Marais Minds

Every February, my “copropriété (homeowners association) meets for the annual “assemblée generale” (assembly meeting) that they lovingly call an “Amicale du 43 rue de Saintonge.” I find this in itself amusing, since “amicale” means “friendly” and has the second meaning of “club” or “association,” but I wouldn’t call this particular meeting very “friendly.”

At the end of the session, which lasted 2.5 hours, I whispered to our volunteer “Syndic” (managing agent, or president of the association), that he was “un ange” (an angel) — and he understood the meaning — to have patiently presided over such a collection of individuals as French property owners.

A “bénévole” syndic is already a blessing for an association, that is, if he does a proper job, as it saves the owners agency management fees. Ours happens to be very much in that category and there isn’t a single owner who’d be willing to take over his thankless job.

I was the only American among them, although not the only American owner in the building of about 30 units. When I first began coming five years ago, my level of French was poor and I understood only a smattering, which, looking back on it, may have been to my benefit! Now, I understand just about every word and am much more a part of the process, although I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut for good reason.

The first order of business last night was a discussion about the few owners who refuse to have their bi-annual “charges” (fees) automatically debited from their bank accounts and are therefore usually delinquent on payment, causing a deficit on the books. There was a vote to assess all the owners a small amount each semester to act as a cushion (70 euros) and a very unpleasant argument ensued between the owners who were themselves at fault, the syndic and the rest of the owners. A few people came to the rescue of the syndic, whose services save much more than cost of the assessment. There was another vote to increase the interest penalty on late payments from 1% to 2% and I spoke up (for once) that it should be 5%! That got a big laugh — I guess they thought it funny coming from the money-minded American!

In the end, the guilty owners wrote a check to the copropriété right there and then — and for one euro more as a gesture of generosity!

From this auspicious beginning, I began chuckling to myself…then it got worse. One owner sitting next to me came in reeking of alcohol and tore every tissue into three before using one tiny portion of it. She became the center of attention when an offer to purchase the WC on her floor (in this 18th-century building, there were communal toilets on each floor, now being transformed into storage spaces or incorporated into apartments) was put before the assembly by an American owner currently in the States in the form of a letter and “pouvoir” (power) given to a neighbor. The owner next to me quickly upped the offer by 200 euros and then the neighbor with power of attorney increased it again and the bidding war started. When the letter was shown, she had given power to offer a large sum, at which point the owner next to me realized she would surely lose and flatly refused to engage any further in the discussion at all. No, the answer was no!

Madness broke out when the neighbor’s cell phone rang with the American owner at the other end of the line from the States, hoping they could speak and settle it at that moment. A suggestion was made by another owner to simply make copies of the key to the WC and allow everyone to share it, as we do on my floor. In the end, nothing was accomplished and another year would pass before a second attempt could be made, as it’s a function of the assembly to make these kinds of decisions on the common areas.

In another issue of primary importance, the owners almost voted the destruction of two large balconies which existed, but were never assessed for fees, because they were never legally included in the sales deeds — even though the owners clearly paid for them richly! I thought the one owner present would cry if they had denied her the “pleasure” of paying the fees and keeping her beautiful terrace. I was rooting for her.

W

hen you’re a property owner in Paris, it’s not only your right, but your responsibility to participate in the collective decision-making process. Owners who can’t attend can give power of attorney to someone else to vote on their behalf. I’ve done this on several occasions myself for absent property clients. Memories of these meetings are vivid and become very much a part of one’s natural life in France.

By the end of the lengthy session, with no dinner in my belly at 10 p.m., my amusement was spilling over and thought to myself, “I wouldn’t have missed this for anything.”

A la prochaine…

Adrian Leeds
Editor, Parler Paris
Email [email protected]

P.S. Learn all about the ins and outs of property ownership in France plus much more at the Living and Investing in France Conferences coming soon — Paris and New Orleans! Visit /frenchproperty/conference/index.html for details.

P.P.S. What a great way to meet other Parler Paris readers! Be sure to join us Tuesday, February 14th (Valentine’s Day!) from 3 to 5 p.m. for our free coffee gathering, Parler Paris Après Midi — at La Pierre du Marais. Visit /parlerparis/calendar.html for more information.

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