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.
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.