From the Vault
Viager With A View Part III
The story continues to unfold, but at least, this will get you up to date and then it can be filled in along the way, weeks or months down the road. After taking Judith Merian’s Scriptwriting Workshop, it is clear that the story has all the elements of a great screenplay…filled with mystery, romance, drama, moral issues and legal questions…all set in the world’s most exciting city — Paris, and in particular, “Le Marais.”
To get you up to speed, in case you are not, read Part I and Part II before continuing.
If you’re already there, pour yourself another glass of wine…
Before the date arrived to sign the final title deed, Monsieur de L., the “Syndic” (manager of the homeowner’s association), requested a meeting with me. I was nervous it had something to do with the illegal terrace, but I couldn’t have been more wrong.
He sat me down and said, “Madame Leeds, vous êtes une femme sage.” (Ms. Leeds, you are a wise woman.) And then proceeded to tell me that when the elevator was installed in the stairwell many years ago, even before I arrived on the scene in 1997, they needed to appropriate the cave belonging to Madame B.
(My neighbor, Madame B., and I have had a strangely synchronistic relationship from the very beginning as we see each other on the streets in the neighborhood regularly and more often than any other neighbors. Each time our paths cross we chuckle while saying, “Bonjour Madame,” knowing we are each thinking the same thing — it’s odd to have so much coincidental contact.)
She handed over the cellar to the copropriété for the elevator installation, but not without requisitioning the one belonging to the studio and Monsieur S. (you remember, the man who had purchased the apartment 18 years ago and had died eight years later?). I’ve heard rumors that there is some past and interesting relationship between them, but this is purely speculation and time will tell as more facts unfold. (At one of our per-chance meetings, she promised to tell me at some future point in time.)
The Syndic continued to explain. His request was for me to give her title to one of the two cellars (the smaller of the two) as a good-will gesture, in light of the fact that I had a wonderful terrace (free) and elevator (free), both so treasured in “Le Marais. ”
At first, it seemed a bit silly to give away the property I had worked so hard to achieve, but in being the “femme sage” (I’d like to think I am!), I agreed it was well worth the exchange, especially to keep peace in the rue de Saintonge family, of which I was fast becoming a solid member.
The morning of September 7th, Monsieur de L. allowed me to enter the apartment, now for only the 4th time. You remember, the first time was when the terrace caused a flood into my apartment. The second time was when the committee was called in to discuss the illegal terraces. The third time was when first beginning the process to make an offer to the State to purchase it and now, just prior to signing the final deed. My memory of it had not registered much of the details and was surprised to find it twice as charming as the faded images left in these old brain cells.
I hadn’t remembered the picture window with the exposed beams, the working fireplace or the extra room under the eaves (which may make a perfect closet), nor the archways that led to the kitchen, another to the bath and one with a small staircase that leads to nowhere. The rounded cupboard with the carved doors opened to a large space filled with shelves and the closet space in the corner will easily allow for constructing a larger bathroom. The nooks and crannies carved from stucco were countless, and the hand painted wall mural screamed “Saint Tropez.” I couldn’t wait to show the photos to the Notaire who had been driven nuts by the year-and-a-half long project to closing.
There was no key to the closet in the hall, nor the chambre de bonne that both belonged to the purchase so I have still not seen either one. No visit was made to the two cellars, as there is no key available to those, either. Unimportant in the grand scheme of things, that morning I signed the final deed, regardless. An appointment was made for two weeks later to sign another Acte de Vente to ‘sell’ the cellar to Madame B. for a whopping one euro. Monsieur de L. was thrilled to finally come to terms with an issue lasting 18 years. Little did we know then there would be a next twist in the saga.
When you purchase a property in France, there are always taxes and fees associated with the transaction. That was also true for the one-euro cellar — but a bit more than the usual 7% to 7.5% of the purchase price (7 to 7.5 cents!). In this case, the total was over 1200 euros just to transfer the title to Madame B.!
Naturally, she refused to pay it. Naturally, I was not expected to pay it. This left the problem back in the hands of Monsieur de L. and the copropriété! When the next “assemblée générale” takes place this coming February, the owners of Stairwell A will vote to share the expense of the Notaire fees, me now being one of them, and obligated to pay a portion of the fees just so that Madame B. can own my cellar!
Seems crazy, huh? But still, the issue of the rights of usage remain, as neither she nor I have the legal right to use either of the cellars, not as long as Monsieur N. still holds the “droits d’usage!” Clearly, that has not stopped her from using the cellar all these years…but me?…I don’t even have a right to have the key! Nor have I seen either one of them!
Now that I was the proper and full owner, Monsieur de L. provided the contact information for Monsieur N., who now actually lives with relatives in another part of France, leaving the apartment for occasional usage by friends and family. He told me there had been a law suit involving the apartment, ‘le monsieur’ and Madame B. many years ago, but that I must not know anything about it…not just yet, as it would be best if I remained a “vierge” (virgin) when approaching Monsieur N. (I laughed at his choice of words, but understood totally!)
Last week I sent a registered letter to Monsieur N. in my best French, with the help of a French friend and Monsieur de L. I requested that he entertain the idea of relinquishing his rights of usage for an equitable sum of money.
I have no word from him to date, but my fingers are crossed for a positive response. Meanwhile, I dream of the little studio I will call “Le Saint Tropez,” its new kitchen and bath in mosaic tiles of blues, greens and sandy tones, with lots of lazy sunny days on the terrace under leafy palms…but I have a feeling it’s a long way away with a lot more “histoire” to unfold. I’ll keep you posted.