Riders on the storm

November 2016

"Riders on the Storm" is a song by The Doors from their 1971 album, L.A. Woman. Foreigners living in a new country often feel as though the waves are pushing them in a different direction from where they would like to go.

For such a short issue, the October 2016 installment triggered many more responses than I had expected, mainly about living conditions in Paris but also about banking in France. Therefore, I have decided to use several of them to show the diversity of the responses I got – especially the ones dealing with maids’ rooms. I get the feeling people living in them are feeling the crunch; even though they are not complaining about it, and are happy to have found a home, one can read between the lines how hard their lives in Paris are.

I am happy to be able to let their voices be heard, and I thank them for sending their reactions to me.

GETTING FINED IN SWITZERLAND FOR OVERSTAYING IN THE EU
A reader writes:
“In 2013, I was leaving France, on my way to Tel Aviv, having stayed 20 days beyond the 90 days allowed me as a tourist. I had a scheduled stop in Switzerland, where I was sent to the immigration office to be questioned about the reason for my overstaying in Europe; then I was fined 350 euros. Good thing I had a valid credit card! There was also a lengthy talk concerning the seriousness of my offense, which was way before the recent terrorist attacks in the EU; I can't imagine what it would cost me now.”
MY ANSWER
I have been stating for years that many European countries issue fines to non-Europeans overstaying in the EU. This policy was being implemented gradually until the most recent terrorist attacks, but since then its evolution has been swift throughout the EU. Anyone planning on traveling extensively in Europe without an immigration status is bound to be fined or worse. One client with a spouse and daughter has a carte de séjour visiteur. Since they are Americans and travel a lot, they chose France for their residency because, after doing considerable homework, they concluded that the process of getting immigration status was easier in France than anywhere else in the EU. This says a lot about the laws and procedures in the other EU countries.

THE PARIS PREFECTURE HAS MADE PICKING UP CARDS A LOT MORE DIFFICULT
The Paris prefecture has changed its procedure for delivering the plastic carte de séjour ID card. It used to be possible to pick it up any time during the two months starting from the date specified on the notification letter. Some of my American clients were able to pick it up at or near the expiration date of the card itself. This leeway was very useful.

About two months ago, the prefecture changed its procedure. It now sends a text message giving an appointment about two to three weeks later. That appointment is a window of about two hours on the date the card will be ready. Clearly the system is not working well, however, since the card sometimes is not there or cannot be picked up at the designated appointment time.

Therefore I asked if it was possible to come at another time: would the prefecture send another text message? Can the foreigner show up anytime? For the moment, no new appointment is made but the card can be picked up any day starting at 2PM. However, I also learned that the system will eventually evolve into very strict observance of the following procedure: If the foreigner cannot make the initial appointment, the prefecture will send a second message for an appointment three months later. If that appointment is missed, the card will be destroyed.

Implementation of a new policy takes a long time, and often changes are made during that time. In any case, it is obvious that this text message policy is here to stay and the prefecture wants much better control, making sure that people who hold the carte de séjour actually live in France.

The immediate consequence is that foreigners living in France must plan trips and vacations accordingly. There are two ways of dealing with this new rule. The first one is to make sure you are back in France no later than one month after your appointment to request the renewal of your card at the prefecture. If you are planning a long absence from France, do not leave until you pick up the card, which means scheduling your departure at least two months after the said appointment at the prefecture. It is clear that this will have an impact on when and how you book your appointment, especially around Christmas time, summer vacation and other prime travel seasons.

For example, if the card expires on Dec 5th and you plan on spending Christmas in the USA and returning to France on January 15th, I can see two possible solutions:

With the first scenario, the first thing to do is to secure an appointment at the prefecture to ask for the renewal of the carte de séjour as close as possible to Dec 15th or your departure date. That makes it very likely that you will receive the text message at about the time of your return flight, making it possible for you to pick up the card. If you have the appointment before the expiration date, you run a risk of missing the meeting to pick up the card unless you shorten your trip.

The alternative is to wait until Dec 1st or thereabouts to book the renewal appointment, which could be as late as four months later, April 1st. This would then mean getting a récépissé before the card expires. It should last at least three months and cover the entire Christmas vacation. The latter solution may seem a lot more daring, as it pushes back the appointment, but it could be safer, since it allows one to renew and pick up the card without any worries regarding the vacation.

This situation puts a huge twist in the titre de séjour renewal and should not be taken lightly. Indeed, missing the first appointment could mean coming back to France or the Schengen area without a valid immigration document, and we now know the consequences can be very serious, even when returning to France, though it seems France remains more lenient than many other European countries.

I will make sure to keep my readers informed as the situation evolves. I recently had to redo my French passport and French national ID card, and both times I received a text message. It appears this method is here to stay. Some of my clients who do not have a French cellular phone have given my number so they would be informed. The system assumes that everybody has such a phone, which is not true. So it creates a new insecurity in this procedure for people who are already in precarious situations. I hope that the text message system for the carte de séjour becomes as reliable as the one for the French ID documents. I also hope the system for retrieving the card remains reasonable, even though unfortunately this does not seem to be the case right now.

NEW COMMENTS ABOUT DEPOSITING CASH IN A FRENCH BANK ACCOUNT
A reader writes:
“A short note to let you know I have had the same experience … regarding cash deposits. My bank, HSBC, Auteuil branch, accepted cash deposits until July 2016. Then they completely refurbished the place, and now there is an automatic teller where cash has to be deposited. To activate it, you need to use your bank card.

“Same situation at Banque Palatine (where I have my professional account and where I need to be able to deposit cash). My branch at Auteuil never accepted cash, so I used to go to Doumer branch to deposit cash. Now they do not accept cash anymore. Banque Palatine has what they call a mur d'argent at the Matignon branch where you need to use your bank card to do the transaction.

“It's becoming more and more difficult to make cash deposits. My bank understands that the cash deposits are related to my work, but they do not accept cash in my branch. So I have to take an hour of my time to go to the branch that accepts cash.”

Now I understand better why there is a need for a bank card to deposit cash. Each bank is different! Also, I see a trend of French banks closing branches in Paris as well as reducing the services offered by leaving fewer machines on the premises. The idea behind this is that clients increasingly being urged OR encouraged to bank by internet.

ANOTHER COMMENT ABOUT FRENCH BANKS
On this topic, another reader says:
“I have been spending three summer months a year in France for a while now, and I have often withdrawn $3,000 in euros from an ATM in France only to deposit it in the French bank account, using the same ATM, for living expenses. Other friends of mine have done the same thing. I guess that is now out the door.

“I have been declaring my French account on my US tax declaration, since my balance exceeded $10,000 during the 2015 year. I have been wiring multiple $10,000 sums at exchange rates of 1.12, 1.10 and last at 1.08. I am now set for my expenses here, including all automatic payments for taxe d’habitation and the like. Never has anyone questioned the wires at either end.

“Back to the Carte Bleue. As expected, I had to file US tax form W9 supplying the BNP with my tax ID (SS#) last year. But this year my life partner’s Carte Bleue expired? Was canceled?. The bank demanded she stop at the branch and fill out a W9 form before they would give her a replacement card. I was very surprised and told them so, given that she is NOT on the account but is simply an authorized user. I lost the argument and we did as they requested despite not thinking it proper.”

MY ANSWER
I have had an American social security number since I was 21, so the IRS demanded that I sign the US W9 tax form, stating that I was not an American. Since I did it right away, there were no negative consequences regarding the services offered by the bank.

The wire transfers are probably accepted since they come every month at about the same time and therefore it looks like you are moving money to pay your bills. The pattern that is a red flag is several wire transfers of about 1,000 euros from a foreign source, made daily or thereabouts, which clearly indicate that someone wants to receive a larger sum of money while bypassing the declaration both sides are asking for.

 

COMMENTS ABOUT LIVING IN THE MAID’S ROOM ON THE LAST FLOOR
1st comment
“I had a friend who lived in a tiny maid’s room on the 6th floor. She paid a lot because she had a beautiful view and was in Paris. I once went to Rue Saint Dominique where an old lady was renting a similar room. You had access to her house for laundry but the room was your home. It is true such rooms are small and sometimes ridiculously priced but people still rent them because the other apartments are too expensive.”
My answer
I find it interesting that people are still offering services such as laundry in their homes, allowing tenants to come in and out of their apartment. As for the general idea that the steep rents are just a result of supply and demand, this is absolutely true. As long as people agree to pay exorbitant amounts for unsafe lodgings, there is not much that can be done to stop it.

2nd comment
“Your last issue reminded me of the numerous moves of my office when I was a lawyer in Paris. Once I had my archives on the 6th floor without an elevator in a maid’s room in the 16th and my secretary refused to help as it was not part of her job description!”
My answer
That is an interesting use of a maid’s room, especially the type that is totally unsuited for living in according to today’s regulations. I am not surprised by your employee’s reaction, although I would have thought that carrying files is part of her job description. Still, she is not supposed to work as a mover. There is a fine line here.

3rd comment
“For a few months, I lived on the 8th and last floor of a building in Place des Ternes. Several chambres de bonne made quite a spacious apartment with a large bathroom equipped with a bathtub and a washing machine. But the tiny spiral staircase was so narrow and the steps too small; I had to tiptoe going up, and coming down was scary as the steps could not accommodate the foot of an adult. One more thing: you get dizzy going up or down this stuffy spiral stairway to hell.”
My answer
This comment is a good illustration of the extreme situations Parisian real estate can present. Given the location and size, the rent must have been quite high, even with the serious drawback that those stairs represented. If ever the demand for Paris rentals significantly decreases, this type of apartment will be the first to take the hit, as its level of comfort is totally out of line with the route one must take to get to it.

4th comment
“A sad part of Paris history – the maid’s room – barely a space to navigate and reminding one of class differentials – not a morale boost. Lucille writes beautifully and [her words are] touching.”
My answer
Baron Haussmann (b. March 27, 1809, d. January 11, 1891), as the préfet de Paris from June 23, 1853, to January 5, 1870, largely designed the Paris we know today. This drastic reshaping occurred during the second half of the 19th century, and therefore it is no surprise that class differences are reflected in the design of the buildings erected then; this occurred into the 20th century. The buildings are a product of their time, and as such, there is nothing sad about them. But the living conditions of their residents, then as now, are too often a sad story.

5th comment
“I love that your daughter, Lucille, helps you with the titles of your columns and sometimes the topics. Also, I really enjoyed her story about her friend’s maid’s quarters or chambre de bonne. Of course, I live in such a room. It is so small I have to go outside to change my mind. 🙂 But each time I climb the 117 stairs, I thank my lucky stars that I have a room here in Paris, dark or otherwise, and shelter from the cold nights. But, really, it is so good of you and Lucille to care about so many of us, especially those who are financially ???? challenged. Thank you!”
My answer
Thank you for your testimony. I like to hear from people who live in chambres de bonne as they are permanent homes for them. You do not see maids’ rooms the same way. You are happy that they exist and you put up with everything so you can live in Paris, often in the same neighborhood as your employers.

6th comment
“I find your previous issue about the maids’ rooms and the service staircase misleading and offensive. My experience is that the worst violations do not always happen on the last floor where the maids’ rooms are, even when the only access is the gloomiest staircase. Those rooms are small and often have inadequate comfort, but I did finally find peace and safety in one of them. Holding a real lease and having the utilities in my name makes me safe in my home. The room is for sure tiny but it is my kingdom, I am alone and I know that I am safe. “Here are just a few things that happened to me and caused me to feel this way. I had just arrived in France and was living in my employer’s home. Shortly after arriving in France, I found out that I had a serious medical condition and I needed surgery, which required a three-weeks convalescence. When my employer learned that, she told me that I would lose my ‘home’ and my job if I underwent this surgery. The lavish luxury of the place that I also enjoyed did not change the fact that it was a place of death. “When I was discharged from the hospital, I shared a tiny room on the third floor of a residential building in Paris during my recovery. It was the size of a maid’s room. The kitchen was installed underneath a bunkbed, which was almost at the level of the ceiling. There was no available space, just a tiny path. “A few years later, I got a maid’s room in the 16th. I was told I would sign a lease, but I was left instead with a very short note. When I tried to get the electrical meter in my name, I discovered that I was renting from a crook. No electricity had been paid for seven years on that meter. With some help and good guidance, I was able to work with EDF to clear up the situation, since they found the owner responsible. That same day, I received death threats from people banging on my door in the middle of night. The gardienne was extremely angry at me, advised me daily to move out if I wanted to stay out of trouble, and said I should fear for my life. With some good support, I held fast and one day the crook and the threats disappeared completely. “So today I savor the peace and safety I get from being home. Do not speak negatively about those maids’ rooms. They are our homes, and we have come a long way when we can rent by ourselves rooms that comply with the regulations and are put up for rent by law-abiding landlords. You should talk about the awful people who make our life pure hell. The buildings are not the problem, and climbing six flights of stairs is a small price to pay to be safe and have enough space around the bed to move around and feel free. I hope that you get the message.”
MY ANSWER
What can I say? I totally agree with you that the living condition of maids’ rooms might be harsh but that is nothing compared to what you went through, which was a nightmare. Too often you must deal with unscrupulous people for work and for lodging, and if you are an undocumented alien, it is even worse since they know you have hardly any ways to fight for your rights. I agree that, in the grand scheme of things, “the buildings are not the problem.”

OFFICE CLOSED FOR CHRISTMAS
The office will close for three weeks for the Christmas holidays, starting on Friday December 16th, reopening on Monday January 9th. As always, I will be reachable by email for emergencies and important matters. The service I offer of receiving mail for clients will continue while the office is closed. I did not take any vacation time last summer, so now that I am settled in the new office with my new corporation, I have decided to take some time off, close to the normal length of my vacation. Of course, I will honor the prefecture meetings already scheduled, as well as a couple of other engagements.

Best regards,
Jean Taquet

BUYING REAL ESTATE IN FRANCE: THE FLAW MIGHT NOT BE WHERE YOU ARE LOOKING

QUESTION

After living more than a decade in Paris, my husband and I chose to move to the countryside in the southwest of France. After several months of searching we found a wonderful old farm with several buildings, at least two of which are well equipped and easy for us to move into. During what was supposed to be our last trip there, before we made the offer, we had a huge setback. We discovered that a windmill farm is to be installed within a mile of the house. Of course, no one told us about it, and when we asked the real estate agent and the seller about it, they completely denied that this project existed, saying that it had been abandoned a very long time ago. But after further research, we found out that there is a small section of the property that the seller did not put on the market, which corresponds to the location where some of the windmills would be. This is highly suspicious. Now the real estate agent is threatening us, saying we must go on with the sale since during one of our last visits we reached an agreement on the price of the purchase. We refuse to buy in those conditions and they refuse to listen to us. Can they really force the sale on us? I refuse to be the victim of crooks.


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ANSWER

There are a lot of issues here, and I cannot address most of them since nothing has been decided regarding the windmill farm. But the real estate agent is pushing you using a legal argument, which you should be able to successfully contest. There should be two bases on which to dispute what the agent is claiming, but neither is as straightforward as one would think.

1. You have not signed any documents
In theory, this should stop the agent’s claim right away without any discussion. Under French law, however, the situation is a tad more complex. French law states that a contract exists if the parties have agreed on the price and object of the transaction. There was an agreement between the two parties on a price for the purchase of the property, witnessed by a third party. So one could argue that a sales contract came into existence at that moment and therefore the parties should proceed accordingly. In the old days, such reasoning would stick and the deal would be done, as stated in Article 1134 of the Civil Code. Now the wording has undergone considerable change and is found in Article 1103.

Legislation protecting buyers and consumers has brought a lot of fairness into such situations, even though clearly there is still a long way to go before consumers in France are treated fairly as a rule. As far as your case is concerned, buying real estate has been increasingly regulated in recent decades, so much so that today if an offer has been made in writing and signed by the seller, the buyer generally has a seven-day “cooling off” period to reconsider as long as the delay is mentioned in the written offer. Sellers often refuse to sign such offers, as they want to be free to accept a better one. The next step is the signing of a pre-sale contract, called a promesse de vente or compromis de vente. This document is now obligatory and should be drafted and signed with a notaire. The law states that once the pre-sale contract is signed, the buyer has ten days to reconsider. The notaire must explain all the provisions in the contract, including this one.

Therefore, the answer to this pushy real estate agent is very simple: “If you are crazy enough to try to force me into this sale, by all means let’s sign a pre-sale contract, and I’ll renounce it the next morning.” Clearly the person is trying to take advantage of you, assuming that because you are foreign, you will not know about this provision.

2. Le dol – misleading the other party to an agreement
This legal notion dates back to the origin of the Civil Code (Article 1116). The concept is that agreements must be honest and sincere. If one party intentionally creates a situation that misleads the other party into signing an agreement they would not have signed if certain facts had been revealed, the agreement is invalid. This immediately raises the issue of how much can be disclosed to a buyer without going against the seller’s best interests. To keep this very complex legal concept simple, if the seller intentionally did everything possible to conceal information so significant that, had the buyer known it, the sale would have fallen through right away, then it falls under this provision.

What you describe regarding the windmill farm seems very close to this scenario. Clearly, you would never have made an offer if you had known about this project. The seller obviously took measures so that, in case the project does go through, the part of his property that would be used for the project was not part of the sale; this protects him from a liability lawsuit for selling you something that would be later preempted.

The only glitch here is that there is nothing definite, and therefore the transaction is not covered by this concept.

In any case, when buying real estate, you must make every effort to learning whatever you can about everything having to do with the property you propose to buy. Feel free to ask around, ask questions and have your notaire investigate any projects that may be in motion. The earlier you know, the easier it is to get out of the deal.

EMPLOYEE CARTE DE SEJOUR RENEWAL WHEN ONE IS UNEMPLOYED

QUESTION

After having been a student in France I managed to obtain the employee carte de séjour with a one-year labor contract. I am not sure if the prefecture did it on purpose, but the card expires the very day my contract ends. This creates an absolutely impossible situation, since I do not see how I can renew my card as I am really not sure that I will be employed with a new contract the day of the appointment. I am seriously afraid that I will lose my residency for a very stupid reason. This is totally unfair. Do you have a solution?

ANSWER

 

Despite how things may look, your immigration status is less at risk than you think. I see three possible scenarios regarding the renewal, each of them ending well. The first is that you obtain an appointment for renewal before the contract expiration date, let’s say by a month. You submit a complete file, based on your existing employer, and you are still working. Since the decision is based on the situation at the time the decision is made, it is quite possible that your request for renewal will be approved, pure and simple.

The second scenario is that your appointment comes after the expiration date of your contract, again let’s say by a month. You submit a file based either on a new employer or on the fact that you are entitled to unemployment benefits. The prefecture bases your carte de séjour renewal on the proof that you are receiving unemployment benefits.

The third scenario, which in reality is the most likely, is that the prefecture sees the situation and, unless you already have a new employer or have had your contract renewed, gives you another appointment in three months, expecting you either to have a new contract or to have had your situation cleared by Pôle Emploi, the French unemployment agency, and to have started receiving unemployment benefits; in either case, the end result is renewal of your card.

However, I need to caution you about a possible problem. A renewal based on your receiving unemployment benefits is guaranteed. But if you should then be hired, the file regarding the new employer will be sent to DIRECCTE, to the main d’oeuvre étrangère office, which will review the new situation and might refuse to approve it. It is weird and in many ways counterproductive to offer more immigration status security to an unemployed foreigner than to one who has found a new job. Regardless of the legal reasons behind this, it makes no sense from a human point of view.
DISCLAIMER
Please forward this message to all those who would be interested in its contents. The information contained in this newsletter is intended only as general information. I strongly urge readers to seek professional guidance concerning the legal and tax matters mentioned. This newsletter is intended as a general guide and is not to be taken as professional advice.


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