Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Etat des lieux

Etat des lieux.

The very phrase strikes fear in the heart of those who rent apartments in Paris.

"The state of the place." It is the official walk-through of the apartment chronicled in a boilerplate tri-fold document which will ultimately decide, when you exit your apartment, whether your caution [security deposit] is refunded in full, in part, or not at all. There is 1) the état des lieux d'entree and 2) the état des lieux du depart, and if there is any difference between Thing One and Thing Two, you might be out a euro or two -- or thousand.

For my moving-in état des lieux three years ago I was all Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, so thrilled to have my dream apartment that I hadn't wanted to fuss about minor paint issues or sticking doors. The very next day a seasoned Paris expat reacted in complete horror when I told her how trusting I'd been in the walk-through with the landlady and the management company.

"Oh My God," she'd said. "You should have checked every prise [electrical outlet] to make sure they work, checked every tiny little detail and written it down on the damned document. Otherwise, when you move out they'll blame it all on you. Trust me. I've done it a dozen times."

Oh, great. Typical Polly naiveté. So ever since I'd been living with this dread, this sword of Damocles over my head: that I had been a trusting fool to have been so agreeable and say the apartment was mostly in fine shape when I moved in. The Seasoned Expat had told me tragic tales of woe about persnickety, tightwad apartment-owners who withheld the lion's share of the deposit due to trivial blemishes that most of us would consider normal wear and tear.

As my état des lieux du depart approached, I tried to reassure myself that I'd been a model tenant for 2-1/2 years. Nevertheless, I was scared spitless. I had made only three nail holes in the entire apartment, having mostly hung large-format posters with scotch tape. I had improved much of the apartment, polished all the brass fixtures. I had covered the parquet floors with rugs.

But, paranoid to the hilt, prior to the final état des lieux I had nightmares akin to Tom Hanks' antics in The Money Pit. In my bad dreams, my feeble attempts to patch plaster pin-holes resulted instead in gaping three-foot holes between the studs, with the landlady peering at me from the other side.

In preparation for filling my three minuscule nail-holes, I had gone to the trusty neighborhood bricolage/quincaillerie to fetch an equivalent to Spackle. Ah, Spackle: another brand-name product for which I didn't know the proper word in French. "Bonjour, Monsieur. I need the product for filling in nail holes before un état des lieux," I asked, hoping for his complicity and understanding of my predicament. I was not disappointed.
"Oh, vous voulez de l'enduit," he said, pointing to a 5€ tube of white stuff.

Hurrah. I learned yet another French household term just prior to the moment where I wouldn't ever need it again. Of course, my friends had recommended using tried-and-true toothpaste to fill plaster holes. But I happened to possess only a tube of inappropriately bubble-gum pink Irish toothpaste, which wouldn't do. I came home and applied the enduit, with only three hours to spare before the troops arrived for inspection.

The real estate guy showed up first. Then my landlady arrived. With a hint of forced cheeriness in my voice, I greeted them in the echoing apartment, and realized that -- heh, heh -- it was dark outside and there were only a few overhead lights.

We chatted amiably, took a spin around the apartment. The real estate man asked, "Do you have anything to point out?" "Non, rien," I replied in all honesty, "though you might want to fix the shower before the new tenant moves in next week."
They looked around, smiled, and said, "You have really maintained this apartment so well. It's been such a pleasure to have you here and we're so sorry to see you go." I nearly fainted.
Without blinking, my landlady wrote me a check for the full caution, and added, "I may owe you more; let me know. " Something to do with extra rent from moving in late and leaving early. We both signed the tri-fold déclaration d'état des lieux, and she laughed, "How lucky we are that it's so simple in France. When I lived in Belgium, the état des lieux form was a 20-page tome and the landlord inspected every square centimeter with a magnifying glass! It was awful!"

We laughed again and said au revoir; and for the first time since I'd known her, we exchanged bisous.
"And keep in touch when you come back to Paris," she said. She really meant it.


Autolycus said...

Well done! and I want that apartment, by the way, though I doubt if I could afford it..

PS: word verification= "fatimp". The cheek of it.

Evelyn said...

Look at that floor! Absolutely beautiful!

Caffienated Cowgirl said...

I wish I could live there just for a day or two...

Maria said...

i loved the crown molding...i'm sure you will miss it. where are you heading next?

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Polly-Vous Francais said...

It was a wonderful apartment and I was lucky to find it. Like me, the next tenant was the first one to see the apartment and agreed to rent it on the spot! A reasonable price for a great place.

I think it's true that the good apartments are snapped up quickly. Mine never was advertised; I saw it by chance the day it came on the market, because I happened to have stopped by the agency that day.

Starman said...

That's a gorgeous apartment. You were lucky to get such a nice landlady. Maybe it was her experience in Belgium that saved the day?

Polly-Vous Francais said...


I don't know, but I think I never realized just how lucky I was to have not only a great apartment but a wonderful landlady (and her sainted husband who rescued me when i lockced myself out of the apartment on a holiday.)

coolfash said...

Being an American francophile living in Paris, I very much enjoy reading your blog and learning about your experiences in the citdy.

I am renting and currently looking for a more correct apartment elsewhere in the city.

I am naively hoping that my upcoming état des lieux de sortie will be as amicable as what you went through!

Parisbreakfasts said...

Lovely story with a happy ending!
wonderful appartment too...

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