Renting in France: Being “Robbed” of the Security Deposit

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QUESTION

I signed a three-year lease for an unfurnished apartment starting 15 May 2012 and I provided a 3,000-euro security deposit. On 28 February 2013, I informed my landlord that I was returning to the USA for professional reasons, and would have to terminate my rental agreement at the end of May (three-months notice). On 24 May 2013, my final day in the apartment, we conducted the last walk-through, at which time the landlord noted that there were several holes in the wall (where I had hung pictures) and that the apartment would need to be repainted. He said he would get an estimate from a painter and would send me the bill. I have only limited proficiency in French and am unfamiliar with the laws regarding rental properties in France, so I signed the statement of the last walk-through without completely understanding its importance.

Two weeks ago, I received a bill from my landlord with the estimate from the painters. The bill was for 3,990 euros, so in addition to keeping my 3,000 euro security deposit, he was charging me another 990 euros. I have not responded to this letter yet.

I understand that I am responsible for the holes in the wall (although in the States this is considered normal usage and is not the tenant’s liability). However, the paint in the apartment when we moved in was old – it had not been painted in several years – and there was a significant amount of dust and debris from construction in the apartment right before we moved in, which we cleaned up ourselves. Further, the paint on several walls was peeling off due to leaky pipes inside the walls, and the landlord was aware of this issue (he fixed the leaks but not the walls).

Therefore, I do not think I should have to pay for having the entire apartment repainted and put into better condition than when we moved in.

I also have my copy of the statement of the last walk-through – unfortunately, however, this is not an exact copy of what my landlord has, since I was trying to write everything he was but I could not understand it all, and I think he was trying to take advantage of my poor French and my unfamiliarity with the law.

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ANSWER

Your situation perfectly illustrates how a French landlord can easily keep the entire security deposit (“dépôt de garantie” in French) on a rental without giving the tenant a chance to remedy the situation. The legal logic in France is that the tenant is responsible for EVERYTHING that happens in the apartment and has the needed homeowner insurance to cover the risk this entails. Therefore, the two walk-throughs (in French: “état des lieux”) must produce the exact same result in order for the tenant to obtain a full reimbursement of the security deposit.

Your liability is measured by the difference between those two documents. Every time the landlord or rental agency identifies a difference, you owe money for the repair or you prove that someone else is liable, providing documentation. What usually happens is that the initial walk-through is quickly done. The tenant is very happy to finally have found the right place and to have been accepted as a tenant, so he/she does not pay attention to the real condition of the apartment. The landlord describes everything as either new or in good condition, even if it is not. Once the tenant signs the document drafted this way, the trap is set up. The landlord knows that he can use the security deposit to fix the problems that existed when the tenant moved in. All he needs to do is to wait until the end of the lease to collect the money. Indeed, Parisian apartments are very rarely rented in truly NEW condition.

Furthermore, the landlord has two months after the tenant moves out, to return the money that is owed to the tenant from the security deposit. There may in fact be more bills after that time, which means some costs may appear after the tenant is gone and the landlord has to pay them in order to be able to rent the place again.

As the tenant, you never sent a registered letter to the landlord summoning him to reimburse the money at the end of this two-month period. Without this letter, the tenant cannot prove the landlord’s negligence. And, in your case, the landlord wrote to you to ask for more money!

There is really very little you can do if the landlord has the two documents and both are well drafted, describing in detail all the damage done, including the holes you put in the walls.

You should carefully review the second document that you signed with the landlord, but you cannot, since your copy is not identical to the landlord’s. Therefore you have no way of proving the extant of the damage or whether something was added to the document after the meeting. The latter would render the document null and void, but you are not in a position to prove it.

I can only see one thing you can do to dispute this situation based on your description. French law does not consider the tenant liable for the cost of repairs until after the landlord has paid for them. As this point, you have only received the estimate from the contractor indicating the cost of the repairs. So you are not liable yet. But your landlord can easily get an invoice marked PAID, and then you have no grounds for fighting. Furthermore, you are no longer in the country to check if the work has been done.

You are the victim of someone I consider to be a “crook” who is using the law in such a way that it is twisted in his favor and against yours. To follow his logic, if there was a least one hole in each room, depending on the way the walk-through statements are written, there is nothing you can do about it. Of course, you do not have to pay the extra money, which would add insult to injury. I wish this landlord good luck in collecting such a small amount from someone living in the USA.

My advice, considering the situation – since you have nothing to lose – is to dispute the amount owed, since this was just an estimate as well, arguing that the condition of the apartment as it appears in the second document does not reflect a need to have the entire apartment repainted. If it is well written enough, it could scare the landlord somewhat and you might get something as a result.

6 comments

  1. Ashima Bansal

    Hi Jean, I have a similar problem. I was renting a place in Paris with my boyfriend and took over from our college friends. We are indians and no familiarity with French language as well. The landlord was apparently from our college only ages ago, so we had a kind of credibility with him and professionally at a very good position in an investment bank. We have a deposit of 1325euros stuck with him.

    We did the etat de lieux while entering but did not do it while exiting (which turned out to be our mistake). Though in the final run through he asked for painting for the kitchen and changing the kitchen cupboards. As the painting is not at all damaged just normal degradation and the cupboard is completely irrelevant and has no proof of damage. He sent us a cost estimation of 7000euros for the painting of entire house and furniture, basically the refurbishment of entire flat. We are ready to pay for any cleaning and agreed for a cost of 200euros. We send him several emails but he does not reply. We don’t agree to pay our entire deposit to fund his refurbishment. The 2 month period is reaching to end.

    Could you advise what would be our best step either legally or settling ourselves?

    Thanks!

    Reply
  2. Ardelia Adair

    Good commentary ! I learned a lot from the information – Does anyone know where my company would be able to get ahold of a fillable IRS 1099-MISC document to use ?

    Reply
  3. Jean Taquet

    I am the author of the Q/A used here. You are reacting somewhat out of context. I strongly advise you to visit my website where you can read a complete issue of the column. I intent to keep the Q/A format which has a lot of benefits for a few drawbacks. You illustrated a few of them.
    In any case, thank you for your contribution. As for mine, with my help the owner accepted a settlement of charging 10€ per hole and the cost of the repair of another acknowledge degradation. We were fortunate that the landlord got scared because we could not prove anything in a court of law as such. This was a real case, and the balance of the deposit was received this past September. Conclusion, it is worth disputing illegal conducts, in any case, as long as you are not incriminating yourself of course.

    Reply
  4. Fred

    Hi guys 😉

    I read, with attention, your (bad) story and i’m sorry for happened to you. This landlord is clearly a F*****G CROOK! I will just giving you some legal website and few explanations about the law on UNFURNISHED rental properties (some others laws apply for furnished properties) and few other informations.

    The most important thing is the law for unfurnished properties, named LOI N° 89-462 du 6 JUILLET 1989, it is the same law for all the french territory, all rental agreement (for individuals) are based on it and all District Court (Tribunal d’Instance) use and refer to this one in case of legal action against the tenant and/or the landlord. You can find it (all in french sorry) at: http://www.legifrance.gouv.fr/affichTexte.do?cidTexte=LEGITEXT000006069108
    click on “masquer le panneau de navigation” (hide the navigation) under the full title of the law to see it.

    1) About the security deposit: 3000€ is a very very high amount and due to this amount i can say your monthly rent was more than 3000€ (maybe you were living in Paris). How can i say that? According to article n°22 of the law n°89-462, since the 25 of march 2009, the security deposit CANNOT EXCEED ONE MONTH’S RENT, EXCLUDING RENTAL CHARGES. For example your monthly rent is 3000€ including 500€ of rental charges, when you sign the rental agreement with the landlord or the broker the security deposit CANNOT EXCEED 2500€ (rental charges are electricity of the common parts of the building, elevator, maintains public areas, concierge, fees for garbage collection, etc. etc. each lease is different about rental charges to pay).

    As said in the previous answer, the security deposit MUST be returned to the tenant MAXIMUM 2 MONTHS after the refunds keys. However, the law allows the owner to retain all or part of the security deposit to cover unpaid rent or charges, and expenses necessary for the rehabilitation of housing following the damage committed by the tenant. However, the amount withheld by the owner of the deposit must be justified by comparing the inventory inbound and outbound. More informations on http://vosdroits.service-public.fr/particuliers/F31269.xhtml (in french again).

    About the holes in the wall IT IS NOT considered normal usage in France and it’s the tenant’s liability to fix it before moving the housing. But for painting, unless you have degraded housing (which i don’t think you do), it is part of the normal usage of the housing and the tenant does not have to pay for the landlord’s whims. In your case, this landlord has clearly abused you to earn a little more money. In addition, about the rental charges, the law provides that the annual statement is sent at least one month prior to the regularization. In case of dispute the amount of rent expense the landlord or broker shall make available to the tenant all supporting. Decree n° 87-712 of 26 August 1987 defined very clearly what way are the tenant’s repairs. Apart from these cases, any reason retaining the security deposit is ILLEGAL. To find this decree go to ( again again in french) http://www.legifrance.gouv.fr/affichTexte.do?cidTexte=LEGITEXT000006066148. and read “Article annexe n°III parties interieures a) plafonds, murs interieurs, cloison”.

    ***Good to know: regardless of the nationality of tenants. There is no legal obligation to draft the lease in the language of the foreign tenant if the property is located in France and if the landlord is French. If there is a translation ONLY THE COPY DRAFTED IN FRENCH WILL PREVAIL IN COURT. In case of dispute, if the contract is not translated when the tenant does not speak French, the judge will certainly be more severe with the landlord. Indeed, the tenant can excuse that he did not understand all points of the lease.***

    YOU CAN CLEARLY SUIT THE LANDLORD TO THE COURT, a lawyer will charge between 800€ and 1500€ for this case, note if the landlord lose the case french law will force him to pay ALL LEGAL fees and your lawyer’s fees 😉

    To finish, i’m sorry (again) for this long, very long post but it seemed to me necessary to properly develop this subject.

    I apologize for mistakes in English. I’m french and try to do my best to write it all in english.

    Fred.

    Reply
    • sangitha shetty

      Hello Fred

      I have a similar problem. my daughter ( a student ) recently moved out. Because of the inclement weather this year in paris( heavy rains with flood alerts, heavy snowfall in jan/feb 2018) the apartment that she was staying on ground floor delevoped molds on the walls near the windows. The landlord is cooly asking us to pay for it which is unfair. he first said she was keeping windows open so water came in. Then he said it was due to humidity..however it happened in winter months and there was just one heater in the apartment.Further since i made the electricity connection in her name , i sent proof of consumption as per EDF schedule and payments made to which he said she was using too little electricity !!!
      she is out at college all day and returns pretty late each night as she has too many assignments being in fashion design. so where is question of keeping windows open in a ground floor apartment or using to much heater ??

      what can we do . should i write to Dalo or CDC Commission Department of Conciliation?

      Reply

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