Hardships Of Being A Rental Agent

“After our most recent stay in our Paris duplex apartment in August, our local English-speaking agent came round with the cleaning woman (I think, I hope, not her regular one), and they discovered a leak in the kitchen plumbing that had emerged after we’d left. The agent turned the water off and called in a plumber who may not have turned the water on again before repairing the leak.

“Turning off the water was not a good idea. Ms. W. loves to turn off water and gas pipes protectively, but it makes it hard when you arrive at the apartment. And there are other issues. More on this in a minute.

“Then, a day before an elderly couple who had been lured into taking the place despite its being up one flight of stairs with no elevator, the water and gas were turned back on. Nobody seems to have stayed around to make sure the plumbing repair had been done properly.

“France has incredibly expensive plumbers, and I am not sure if our Anglo-French manager in fact had a licensed plumber check the apartment at all. The European Union Lisbon Treaty was voted down by the French in a referendum that, among other issues, focused on stopping Polish plumbers from practicing their craft in France. (My own view is that I would rather have a qualified Pole dealing with my drains than an incompetent Frenchman. But I don’t get to vote in France. Another problem with being an absentee owner.) The situation is not much better for locksmiths and electricians.

“We have to change the locks on our front door periodically because Paris thieves figure that with a 5-point lock there must be something of value behind our door in a building without a concierge. In fact, there is nothing much left, since they stole my son’s bike and the TV. The house computer is a very cheap Dell laptop with keyboard keys that come off; I only wish someone would steal it.

“Living in a NYC co-op I have the maddening habit of using only licensed plumbers, central heating technicians, and electricians. I don’t mind Irish painters and plasterers off the books. But not for the essential services. This has long been a bone of contention between me and Ms. W.

“Anyway, on Labor Day, this poor old couple arrived. They staggered up the stairs to discover total disaster. Water all over the ground floor of the duplex and the floorboards coming up. Luckily, the floorboards are not wood, which would never be reparable, but bamboo (more environmentally sound and chosen to integrate the kitchen, dining area, and living room). They also discovered that the maid had not emptied the tea leaves out of the teapot we had left behind. (Though she did empty the refrigerator and freezer, essentially stealing the staples.)

“The oldsters didn’t use the computer, I think. They sat at a desk upstairs and wrote with quill pens a complaint about the cracks in the wall in our 17th-century building. They complained that a light bulb went out on the stairs. Once things go wrong, you can find a lot to complain about.

“We had to give them back much of the rent they’d paid because, of course, their vacation was ruined. We also had to advance to our agent’s friend (and I suspect lover; these Anglo-Frenchwoman!) cash to relay the floor he had laid in the first place. I am not sure of the state of the carpets we placed around the sitting room part of the house, which we just put down ourselves in August. Ms. W. has never been fond of carpets and likes to roll them up behind the sofa to cut down on the cleaning.

“There now ensues a period of insurance buck-passing. Ms. W, our agent, says our insurance company says the leak is the responsibility of the building, a co-propriete, or co-op. Naturally, the co-op’s insurance company will say it is our fault.

“Turning off the gas is another issue we have with Ms. W. She loves to turn the gas off so the French firemen will not say it is our fault if we have a fire. The trouble is that you have to be very careful turning the gas back on. In another apartment she looks after (which was not modernized as well or as recently as ours), she managed to blow herself up with the gas and suffered burns. A rental agent’s life is not an easy one.”


— Myra L., United States

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