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Playing Piano In Paris

Every month, Jean Taquet blesses us with his practical answers for daily life in France questions. Thanksgiving 2003 will be the tenth anniversary of his column as a concept, but the first column was actually published in the March 1994 issue of what was then called the Paris Free Voice.

To celebrate this event, Jean will include testimonies and comments from previous readers in the November 2003 issue. If you have any contributions, click here to send them to him.

The following is an excerpt from Jean Taquet’s October 2003 Column…

QUESTION

We are American and have a 15-year-old boy, who practices the piano for rather short periods of time during the day, on the second floor of an apartment building. The neighbor on the fourth floor, a longtime French resident, complains that the music disturbs him, since he works at home as a lawyer. He complains to us frequently, to the point that our boy is scared to open the door if anyone knocks. The neighbor had requested that he play only from 5-6 p.m. Monday – Friday. This is unacceptable to us for many reasons.

Mr. Fourth Floor claims that other tenants support his complaint, but there is no proof of this. Furthermore, there are fewer and fewer tenants in the building. The owner, a large insurance company, is putting the building up for sale and would clearly prefer to sell the flats empty, rather than occupied. But no representative of the building’s owner has ever come over to see the situation in person; the owner has merely taken the word of the disagreeable neighbor.

What recourse do we have? We do not, obviously, want to be expelled from the apartment. My wife would prefer to mediate with both the neighbor and the owner, rather than embark on a legal battle that we might lose, going up against such a large corporation. Do you think we need a lawyer, a mediator, or just a more aggressive attitude?

The owner sent us a registered letter stating that there had been complaints from many tenants. In fact, there have been no other complaints, and a representative of the owner even said as much, but not in writing. I think we will have to write a letter ourselves shortly, because I honestly don’t think sitting down with this unreasonable man will do much good.

ANSWER

The situation is, indeed, quite complex, because the law defines different types of situations regarding noise nuisance. The legal ground here is that three main levels of noise qualify as criminal conduct: one occurrence and very loud; repeatedly occurring and somewhat loud; and continuous and not loud. Clearly, daily piano playing every day meets the second definition. By the time the sound reaches the fourth floor it will be below the nuisance limit (unless the piano has some unique acoustical quality, or is a concert grand). So there is no legal ground on that issue.

Another ground could be that the boy is playing with the sole intent of ruining this man’s life. But this would never hold up in court. Playing music as a hobby is compatible with residing in an apartment.

So, in a nutshell, this is how I analyze your situation:

1. The claim from the fourth floor is unreasonable.
2. Nonetheless, since Mr. Fourth Floor has seniority in the building, his words count.
3. There is no way a legal/court battle would ever bring any satisfactory solution.
4. It is expensive to prove the level of noise; therefore, everyone’s actions are based on pure assumption.

The solution I envision is to draft a letter to the owner quoting the law, paragraph by paragraph, in such a way that the landlord’s and the neighbor’s legal liability is on the line. The letter should then be sent by registered mail, with a copy to the neighbor. As he is a lawyer, either he’ll comply with the law and stop his complaints, or he will think his expertise will enable him to push the matter much further without risking too much.

The goal of the letter(s) is to shift the landlord’s position in favor of your family. Quoting the law and threatening a harassment lawsuit, but in terms coated with sweetness and honey, should (after a few letters) do the job. If you reach this goal, the neighbor will be faced with a hostile landlord and so your family should be relieved somewhat of the tension. But in any case, it’s likely that the man will continue to be just plain mean, and, unfortunately there is nothing that can be done to stop that.

Of course, there is no guarantee of success; if, indeed, the owner wants to sell the building empty, pushing you to move out could be a good strategy. Under all circumstances, avoid any verbal contact with the neighbor. Just stick to writing impersonal administrative letters. I can only advise you to have all the letters drafted by a French professional. In any case, good luck.

To read the column in its entirety

A la prochaine…

Adrian Leeds
Editor, Parler Paris
E-mail: [email protected]drianLeeds.com

P.S.

ean Taquet will be speaking at the upcoming International Living Working and Living in France Conference in Paris October 24 – 27. He is well known for his informative Q and A columns in past Paris Voice magazines, which can now be purchased in one document as “The Insider Guide to Practical Answers for Living in France” To subscribe to his monthly newsletter or to contact Jean Taquet for a personal consultation, email Jean Taquet

* Further resources:

* There are only a few seats left at the Working and Living in France Conference…register now!

* Make Paris your home next time you’re here…stay in your own pied-à-terre.

* Practice speaking French and English with new friends.

* We can assist you in locating an apartment or home to rent or purchase using our locators and real estate agents.

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