From the Vault
Viager With A View Part IV
If you want a quick reminder to get you up to speed and for those who haven’t, you may want to read Parts I, II and III.
“La Paris Plage” is the name affectionately given the studio apartment that sits on the 4th floor of my own rue de Saintonge 17th-century “hôtel particulier,” with an elevator, fireplace and a 14 square meter terrace overlooking the street and the rooftops of Le Marais. It took two years to purchase having fallen into the hands of the state after a previous owner died and defaulted on back taxes. (This part alone is a long, complicated and fascinating story you can read in Part I!)
Even though it had changed hands twice, it remained a “viager” — a life annuity property with an 88 year-old man holding the rights of usage till his death. I took it on knowing full well the trials and tribulations of what might ensue, as the cost was roughly half of what it’s worth on today’s market, but counting on either his willingness to relinquish his rights in exchange for an equitable sum of money or his death, whichever should come first.
Yes, its sadly the case with owners of viager properties, who are basically betting on the death of their inhabitants. Have you heard about the case of Jeanne Calment? She was the oldest living human, who lived to the age of 122 and outlived her Notaire, Andre-Francois Raffray, who purchased her apartment, promising to pay $500 per month until Jeanne died. He paid twice the market value for the apartment before dying himself in December of 1995. I am obviously hoping not to have the same bad luck!
In September, when the purchase was final, you may recall from Part III of the story that the “Syndic” (manager of the homeowner’s association), Monsieur de L. , had provided the contact information for Monsieur N., the elderly gentleman who holds the rights of usage. He actually now lives elsewhere — with relatives in another part of France, leaving the apartment for occasional usage by friends and family, but mostly it sits idle.
I promptly sent a registered letter to Monsieur N. in my best French, with the help of a French friend and Monsieur de L. requesting that he entertain the idea of relinquishing his rights of usage. Before long, a response came from him politely confirming that yes, he would be happy to consider a cash settlement.
I was thrilled! As quickly as possible, another letter went into the mail, registered of course (nothing is official in France unless the receipt of the document is signed for), offering what seemed like a fairly healthy sum of money, at least to start.
Time passed and no answer. Another letter was sent out. Time passed and again, no answer. The Notaire with whom we work closely tried phoning the nephew with whom he was living, and again, no response.
Thinking perhaps he had died and we had not been informed, the Notaire did a search to find a death certificate, but instead, only came up with a birth certificate. We now hold this document in our file, showing he was born on the 28th of September, 1919. We then agreed that perhaps a letter from the Notaire would look more official and would have a better chance of getting to him. And so he crafted a letter and off it went, registered, of course. Time passed and still, no answer.
We can only guess the reasons for no response. Mine is that the nephew will not reap the rewards of the cash settlement, but does enjoy using the apartment and therefore is stalling the ultimate relinquishment of the property, so perhaps Monsieur N. has never seen any of the letters while the nephew secretly hordes them.
Meanwhile, Monsieur de L. claims that as owner, I am responsible for laying a “caillebotis” (or duckboard — a slatted board) on the terrace to protect it. According to a General Assembly of the homeowner’s association in February of 2006, of which I was present, the owners of the apartments who have easement to the two terraces, both of which are NOT owned by apartment owners, but by the building itself, are responsible for maintaining them properly. If not, they risk being destroyed!
I recall the meeting like it was yesterday. It was before purchasing the apartment, but while I was dreaming of purchasing the apartment, yet of course, none of the neighbors knew it. (It was all very hush-hush until the final title was acquired.) I sat listening intently, perspiring from anxiety, praying they would not vote to destroy the beautiful outdoor spaces. The woman who owns the adjacent terrace was doing the same and actually pleaded, “I’ll do anything, pay anything…just don’t destroy my beautiful terrace!” And so they didn’t, but insisted on the owners to take a certain level of responsibility.
Okay fine. I agree. But remember, I have no keys to the apartment, no access, no rights to be in it! So, you tell me, how am I supposed to have workmen come lay a “caillebotis” on a terrace to which I have no rights? This argument continues to go in circles with Monsieur de L.
Yesterday I visited our Notaire, of which I have the utmost respect. It is very important to acquire the rights of usage, to satisfy the Syndic’s request and to turn the property into a profitable rental, rather than an expense and burden, particularly since Monsieur N. is not living there. His advice was to first, assess all the bills I’ve paid to the homeowner’s association as owner and charge Monsieur N. with “les charges locatives” — the expenses an owner can legally recuperate from the tenant, which are normally for such things as maintenance of the carpets, elevator, fireplace, etc.; utilities expenses; fees for a guardian or concierge; certain taxes, etc. And in this case, it could easily include the laying of the “caillebotis!”
We must serve Monsieur N. with this bill by using a “huissier,” or bailiff, to remove any interference in reaching him. And we can offer him the relinquishment of his rights of usage in exchange for the payment. This will be a lot less expensive than the generous offer made in the beginning…but hey…I tried!
That will bring you up to date. This weekend, I’ll be scouring through all the documents to come up with the assessment to provide to the Notaire, so stay tuned for Part V, when perhaps, mission will be accomplished!
• Part V, Wednesday, April 22, 2009
• Part VI, Monday, July 6, 2009
• Part VII, Thursday, September 24, 2009
• Part VIII, Monday, November 16, 2009
• Part IX, Monday, March 15, 2010
• Part X, Monday, May 17, 2010