The Six-Year Leak

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Yesterday I took my first shower in my newly repaired bathroom. Ah, what luxury! The day before, two workmen had put the final touches to repairs on the ceilings in both my bathroom and the adjacent closet. These were necessary because of water damage caused by a leak–a six-year leak. When I moved into my current apartment in Paris in 1997, I noticed that the bathroom and closet ceiling paint was flaking a bit. My new landlord told me that this was caused by a leak in the bathroom above mine, but that it had been fixed. She even hired a team of Polish workmen to scrape, re-plaster and repaint. (Since my landlord at that time was Polish, she used what I call the “Polish connection”, a network of undocumented Polish workers who are paid under the table for really top-notch work). We had a special arrangement for the lease, so she paid for the work. You would think that was that. But no, this is Paris where simple things like a leak in the ceiling become sagas. Let us continue. It seemed to me that the ceiling started to look a bit frowsy again soon after the work was completed. Nothing dramatic–just a slow deterioration. Soon after that, my landlord decided to move to Switzerland and sold the apartment. The new landlord presented me with a rental contract and pretty much the same rent as before. One thing you must know is that in France, the landlord is normally not responsible for repairs for water damage. Your insurance company is. Therefore, you are required by law to have homeowner’s insurance when you rent. I took out a policy and thought nothing much more about it. In the meantime, the flaking continued to get worse. But, since I’m renting the place, I can live with it. Suddenly, one evening I hear a clinking sound. By morning, my clothes closet is flooded, including all my sweaters and knit tops. I am no longer a happy camper. What is going on? It’s at this point that I check with the guardiens of my building. They inform me that the water leak comes from beneath the bathtub of the apartment above mine, but, the bathtub is tiled in. The landlord, Mr. Ruggerio, simply does not want to go to the expense of breaking down the tiles in order to fix the leak. He continually says that he will, however, in order to stall. I then find out that since the leak concerns two private apartments, there is nothing anyone can do. Taking him to court would last years and even then, I would not be assured of a positive outcome. It seems that this game had been going on for six years. I wanted to speak directly with the renters above me, a Sri Lankan family, with about seven people living in an apartment the size of mine, a studio for one person. Even this presented a challenge as the wife refused to open the door when her husband wasn’t there. Finally, I managed to march upstairs and knock on the door when he was there. We exchanged insurance information, and he assured me that the leak had been fixed. Then my closet flooded again. By this time, the damage was so great that it was affecting parts of the building between the privately owned apartments (“les parties en commun”). This proved to be the key moment, because at this point the Syndic could finally come into play. The Syndic is the building management company, and at last they were able to contact the landlord directly to insist he repair the leak. They even sent out a plumber, at their expense, with a humidity checker. Yep, it was still wet on the ceiling. It seems that every time someone above took a bath, water dripped into my apartment. Soon after that, I found a handwritten note in my mailbox. It was from a woman, saying that she was the upstairs landlord and had never been informed of the leak (six years, uh huh), and the repairs were being done that very week in the apartment above mine. I phoned her at the number she had written in her note to thank her. While speaking, I couldn’t resist badmouthing Mr. Ruggerio, who after all, had refused to repair the leak for six years. But of course–the villainous Mr. Ruggerio had quickly sold the apartment to this nice lady without telling her about the leak! “Oh yes, Mr. Ruggerio. He’s my father.” Her father? Oh boy! Protecting his daughter? Who knows. What mattered is that in the end, finally, the upstairs leak was repaired. No more drips. No more floods. No more flaking paint and plaster. Voilà, a happy end to one more Paris saga. —Jeanne Feldman is an intercultural specialist working with English speaking expatriates to help them integrate into french life, both professionally and personally. In addition she works with French executives who need to communicate internationally. Jeanne has also written a shopping guide, Best Buys and Bargains in Paris.
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