The Sound of Music

July/August 2018

 

I would like to wish all of you a great summer
and a very nice vacation;
I will start mine in about three weeks

 

From Wikipedia
“The Sound of Music is a 1965 American musical drama film produced and directed by Robert Wise, and starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer, with Richard Haydn and Eleanor Parker. Based on the memoir The Story of the Trapp Family Singers by Maria von Trapp, the film is about a young Austrian woman studying to become a nun in Salzburg in 1938 who is sent to the villa of a retired naval officer and widower to be governess to his seven children. After bringing and teaching love and music into the lives of the family through kindness and patience, she marries the officer and together with the children they find a way to survive the loss of their homeland through courage and faith.

Maria Augusta von Trapp (January 26th 1905 – March 28th 1987), also known as Baroness von Trapp, was the stepmother and matriarch of the Trapp Family Singers. She wrote The Story of the Trapp Family Singers, which was published in 1949.

After performing at a festival in 1935, they became a popular touring act. They experienced life under the Nazis after the Anschluss, i.e., the annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany, which took place on March 12, 1938. Life became increasingly difficult as they witnessed hostility towards Jewish children by their classmates, the use of children against their parents, and finally by the induction of Georg into the German Navy. They visited Munich in the summer of 1938 and encountered Hitler at a restaurant. In September, the family left Austria and traveled to Italy, then to England and finally the United States. The Nazis made use of their abandoned home as Heinrich Himmler's headquarters.”

The American media is buzzing and it feels like every hour there is a new tweet, a new statement. Comparisons are made, and the people offended express their indignation.

I use comparison to explain things, to help people understand foreign concepts and so on. It is now common to hear comparisons of what is happening in the USA to the period mentioned above.

From a technical and historical point of view, I find these comparisons inaccurate, even though I believe asylum seekers are by definition covered by the Geneva Convention and therefore can exercise their rights to ask for asylum in whatever country they choose. Considering such people criminals is wrong from a legal point of view, and it is wrong to persecute them.

The Trapp family’s final destination was the USA. They ended up living in Morrisville, Vermont. My wife and daughter can sing the soundtrack of this movie from beginning to end. I know the movie quite well and like everybody else I enjoy the sweet and/or comic scenes which constitute the vast majority of it. One character often overlooked is the father, Georg von Trapp. He is part of the Austrian aristocracy, a senior officer in the Austrian armed forces. He is as strict and stiff as an old-fashioned father can be, even according to the standards of that time. When he is told to go along with the flow and remain quiet, he rebels, and he publicly denounces the loss of Austrian sovereignty. The consequence is that the entire family has to flee the country to seek asylum elsewhere. The movie is not 100% accurate as to how the family sought asylum, but it is a fact that they managed and settled in the USA with this status.

FEELING UNSAFE IN THE USA WITH TEENAGERS
I have been in business for over 20 years. When George Bush Junior was elected, I noticed a surge of people who wanted to move to France. The reality is that most of them had already been thinking about it for a while and the presidential election just accelerated the process. Lately, I have seen Americans deciding to move to France because they refuse to live in the USA while President Trump remains in office.”

A few weeks ago, I received a call from a woman living in the USA with her 12-year-old daughter. She had decided to send her daughter to live with her father, who lives near Montpellier, France. They have been divorced for many years and yet the father has never paid any child support. The court awarded her full custody of the child with visiting rights for the father, who rarely exercised them. I asked about her motivation, saying “Why do you want your pre-teen daughter to live in France with a father she barely knows?” Her answer chilled me to the bone. She first mentioned school shootings and said she thought they were living where these incidents usually happened. She added that life in the United States today is more dangerous than in Montpellier. Her ex-husband lives in a small village on the outskirts of town, where there is less danger than in a big town, and she felt her daughter would be safer living with him. I believe that a significant part of feeling scared lies in perceptions, and rarely is it an accurate reflection of the danger. I am convinced that her fears do not reflect the reality of the situation, even though she lives in a dangerous area.

It is undeniable that school shootings occur and it could appear that nothing is being done to stop them. Similarly, even though the #metoo movement has opened up the topic of sexual harassment, which makes for a safer environment, it can lead to the impression of an epidemic of harassment since so many stories are becoming public. Bullying is being discussed with more fervor, while schools take more positive action. I conclude the fear is real here, and since I do not have all the details of her life, I can only assume that her plan is not a hasty decision. It is true that attending French middle school for several years would enrich this young girl’s life and there are clear benefits to the idea. In fact, the woman did put the benefits first when she called.

I am still wrestling with this choice, however. How can a mother send her daughter to France, with all the uncertainties and potential risks involved? It is bound to be quite traumatic for all. It feels to me like a desperate decision, choosing between two evils.

DEVELOPMENTS ON SHORT-TERM LODGING IN FRANCE
The new administration in France is more conservative than expected at the time of the election. Nevertheless, the fight to restrict very short-term rentals continues pretty much the same way. One recent change is that the current administration has figured out that French fiscal residents are involved in this activity and they can be caught because of the tax implications. It has always been true that the easiest way to nail someone involved in an illegal activity is often through tax laws concerning the income they generate.

I would like to address three principal issues here:

First, in mid-June URSSAF sent out a memo about how to declare the income generated from short-term rentals. If the annual gross income thus produced is less than 23,000 euros, all one needs to do is mention it on the standard income declaration form. Such rentals cannot be what is called location de chambres d’hôtes et de meublé de tourisme, although I have a hard time coming up with what else to calls such rentals.

If the annual gross income is between 23,000 and 70,000 euros, the owner must declare this as a professional activity. This means obtaining a SIRET number (tax ID number) and paying social charges on the profit made. But the activity can be done under auto-entrepreneur status.

The above concerns purely the fiscal side and says nothing about registering the activity at City Hall.

Second, on June 9th the Assemblée Nationale (lower house of parliament) voted to start the legislative process on a bill dealing with, among many other things, Airbnb-type rentals. As a result, several provisions will now be better enforced, and there are also new regulations. A primary residence can only be rented 120 days per year. The owner must make an annual declaration to City Hall on how many nights the place was rented out. Fines for non-compliance will be between 5,000 and 10,000 euros. Websites such as Airbnb must verify that every ad is legal, i.e., that the owner has registered the activity with City Hall. The companies managing Airbnb-type rentals can now be fined between 10,000 and 50,000 euros if there are ads without such registration.

“Our targets are individuals who buy apartments dedicated to short-term rental” (Notre cible, c’est ceux qui achètent des appartements pour faire de la location à court terme), said Sylvain Maillard, an elected official at Paris City Hall who belongs to President Macron’s party.

One last thing: city employees will have the authority to monitor the concerned websites and apartments.

Just to show the diversity of the topics covered by the bill, victims of domestic violence will not be liable to pay rent once they decide to move out to seek safety. The law states that the spouses are legally obliged to pay the rent unless a formal notice has been given to the landlord. In the case of domestic violence, the process that terminates the lease is respected, for obvious reasons. This is common sense, but a provision needs to be voted in to make it possible.

Owners renting out slums risk having their property confiscated and being prevented by law for five years from buying any real estate in France.

https://abonnes.lemonde.fr/politique/article/2018/06/08/locations-type-airbnb-l-assemblee-vote-des-sanctions-accrues_5311995_823448.html

Third, on June 23rd Le Monde published an article about landlords getting out of Airbnb-type rentals, even when it is done 100% legally.

There are several reasons. The main one seems to be the very high maintenance needed. Because guests stay for short periods, the wear and tear is much higher than with a normal rental. Furniture and appliances need to be repaired and/or changed frequently, as does the bedding. Paying for the cleaning lady, handyman and perhaps a manager to keep the place ready to rent is quite costly.

Also mentioned was the ever-present risk of one tenant destroying the place. Often the apartments used for short-term rentals are inherited, or the owners used to live there. Hence there may be considerable emotional attachment involved, in which the place is not an investment or a revenue source, but is loaded with memories. During the walk-through one might hear about three decades of family history!

Another complaint is one that I find very symptomatic of the French apartment rental sector: French owners do not want to satisfy guests’ wishes to the extent needed to get a good grade on the site and thus maintain good referrals. The French tend instead to feel that guests should be happy with what they get as long as the place is good enough for sleeping.

This shift is not yet obvious, as so many people still do Airbnb-type rentals. But for people who need a place to stay when they arrive with their immigration visa in hand, it helps to know that there are likely to be more and more apartments available for longer-term rental, three to six months at a time. Such places are vital for new arrivals, enabling them to take care of immediate needs such as securing the immigration status related to their long-stay visa, and being able to open a bank account with a stable address, to mention the most obvious ones.

https://abonnes.lemonde.fr/argent/article/2018/06/23/logement-les-limites-de-la-location-de-courte-duree_5320031_1657007.html

SUMMER VACATION: PERIOD THE OFFICE IS CLOSED THIS SUMMER
The office will be closed for less than a month, starting Friday, July 23rd. It will reopen on Monday, August 20th. 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. Prefecture appointments already scheduled will not be affected – I will be there.

I would like to remind everyone that there will be no August issue.

Best regards,

CHOSING BETWEEN A CARTE BLEUE EUROPEENNE AND SELF-EMPLOYED IMMIGRATION STATUS

QUESTION

I am an American, working and living in Paris, who has been living and working in France with a carte bleue européenne visa (I have lived in France for 2 years). However, I am considering switching to the self-employed status, which will I think require a visa change to something like profession libérale or another visa.
Is this possible?

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ANSWER

First, as you hold a carte de séjour, and your concern is whether you need to change this card, you are way past the visa step. The requirements for obtaining a carte bleue européenne mainly concern the high salary that must be earned in France – 53,836.50 euros a year or 4,486 euros a month.
There are two key things to remember about this immigration status:
1 – It lasts four years.
2 – The prefecture is the only authority reviewing the request, so no specific right to work as an employee is being sought from DIRECCTE.

The carte bleue européenne is granted to applicants in reasonably high management positions. Among the benefits it confers is the right to work as an employee in other European countries.

It is clear that you wish to change careers halfway through the duration of your immigration status. But in my view, you should reconsider your plans, because the solution you have in mind is probably the worst one you can choose. You want to work as an independent and quit your current job. You do not go into detail, but I assume you would be a consultant, which means selling services, possibly to French and international clients.

Portage salarial companies enable consultants to have a career as an independent while still technically being an employee. The major drawback of this solution is that it is very expensive because taxation and the social charges in France are so high. The major advantage for you is that it would give you an employee position. You would then need to see how you can retain your current carte bleue européenne in this case

I see three possible scenarios. From the best to the worst, based on the goal mentioned above, they are as follows:

1 – You already have a good clientele waiting for you and therefore you know that your sales will exceed the minimum needed to comply with the salary the carte bleue européenne requires. You sign up with a portage company and start working. Now, it depends on the prefectures whether they either want to be informed of the change of employer or not. So you delay until you have your first pay slip. Since your salary qualifies you for the same card, you are ready to give the related documents to the prefecture if they are required. The bottom line is once you give them the pertinent documents, the prefecture might spend some extra time reviewing your situation since it is unusual for a carte bleue européenne, but should be the extent of what is required.

2 – Your consulting business gets off to a slow start and therefore your salary does not meet the minimum required. In this case it is certain that the prefecture will call you in, since they now have direct access to nearly all the major databases of the French administration and thus can easily see how much you make via the tax office or URSSAF computer system. At the appointment with the prefecture, they take your card away from you and start the procedure for a carte de séjour mention salarié by sending the file to DIRECCTE. Chances are if you have a good income by French standards the request will be accepted. In other words, this is an acceptable risk if you know that within a couple of months your monthly gross salary will be at least 2,200 euros, which requires a very good business plan.

3 – You do not have a clientele waiting for you and therefore you know that your compensation cannot match the minimum salary required for either type of carte de séjour. Common sense says it would be premature to change your professional situation in this case. But if you have compelling reasons to start your consulting business and you cannot wait, ask the prefecture for an appointment to change your carte de séjour for the one called profession libérale classique.

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WHEN RENOVATIONS VOTED BY THE OWNERS’ COUNCIL GO WRONG
QUESTION

I bought an apartment in Paris about 15 years ago as I thought I would be relocated in Germany. This did not happen but I still have it and am making the best of the situation. All these years the building has been more or less reasonably managed. A couple of years ago, the general meeting voted the renovation of the courtyard facade. The initial work started about a year later, to be stopped almost right away.
The property manager, i.e. the syndic, is now telling us it has JUST! discovered (as if this could be believable) that the structure of these walls is made of wooden beams and all of them are rotten. So, a new and now extraordinary general meeting has been called to approve the investigation of the condition of these walls, and there will be a need for another one to approve the renovation of the beams. In short, they have scheduled one year of work instead of four months and doubled the budget from 140,000€ to 300,000€.

What incompetent crooks! As a co-owner can I sue the syndic by myself? For sure they are not going to get my money just because they are incompetent.

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ANSWER

Allow me to explain, step by step, what most likely led up to this situation.

Haussmann-style buildings from the second half of the 19th century are almost always based on a framework of wooden beams, although the beams never show on the courtyard side. Hence the fact that they need to be restored is only to be expected. The scope of the work needed sounds excessive, however; the walls would be on the verge of crumbling and nobody would live in the building anymore if 100% of the beams were rotten. The city would have condemned your building if it were true.

At the point when there is a vote at a general meeting on a motion authorizing repairs and renovation, choosing a contractor and approving the project budget, any damage cannot be seen because the work has not started. It would be only a slight exaggeration to say that the decision is made completely blindly. Not until the scaffolding is up and the workers start opening the wall do the beams become visible.

Once a fairly large section has been opened – perhaps 10x10 feet or even double that – the supervisor of the work sees that the majority of the beams are in bad shape. The professional thing to do then is to stop the work, since as what is visible largely exceeds what was expected and thus the priorities change. One obvious consequence is that the beams need to be carefully inspected and repaired where needed. Another is that the a project of such scope was not voted on, and nor was the larger budget. If the condition is really bad, the safest thing to do is to have an emergency general meeting to approve an inspection so as to avoid any unpleasant surprises, keeping in mind that it requires a significant amount of work to do 100% of the wall.

After this is done, a second emergency general meeting is called to approve the repair of the beams with a set budget. Keep in mind that if the cost of the work exceeds the amount voted, everything must stop in order for a general meeting to convene and approve the new spending. This is exactly what has happened here. So a good syndic will demand two emergency general meetings since a vote on a definitive budget is necessary. It is when all this is done that the normal ravalement can be done.

As for the timing, I am not sure that this will add eight months to the project, which was originally scheduled to take four months. You say it is now going to take a year. Let's review the new steps it creates. The inspection could take a week or more, then the report will be written and shortly thereafter the management company will receive the report. Only then can the management company call the emergency meeting. Logically, it could take up to one month from the moment a request for an inspection is made until the firm is able to send out the call for an emergency meeting. There must be a quorum at the emergency meeting. Selecting a date when all concerned can attend could take another month or more. The renovation of the beams can take two months or even longer depending on the width of the walls and the amount of work done. Doing this kind of work during fall and winter generally means a lot of rainy days, and possibly snow days, and all of this delays completion of the work. All this easily doubles the time scheduled to do just the ravalement.

You quote 300,000 euros as a final cost when the wall has not been opened. Although it is a reasonable amount, all things considered if the beams need really a lot of work, it is like looking at a crystal ball. At this stage, demanding an accurate estimation is unrealistic since only a tiny section has been scrutinized compared to the size of the wall. So instead of seeing this figure as being the real cost, I would consider it to be the cost of the worst-case scenario.

It is always easy to blame a professional retroactively for not having anticipated and foreseen a problem. But being a professional does not mean having divinatory skills. Calling the syndic a company of “incompetent crooks” is totally uncalled for, as it seems the company is handling the crisis the right way, based on what you say.

As a co-owner you do have the right to start a lawsuit against the condominium association (le syndicat des copropriétaires). However, it is certain that there will be a need for judiciary experts to evaluate what happened, and they are very expensive and slow. Keep in mind that you will be paying your lawyer’s fees and a fraction of the costs of the lawyer representing the condominium as a co-owner, and this will be true for every single court and legal expense. Because of that it becomes horrifically expensive very quickly.

As for not paying the charges owed as a co-owner, I remind you that the majority rules in such situations. This means that as long as the court case goes on, you must pay your charges without delay. Otherwise you will end up in court and the decision will be against you. Of this you can be sure!

Do not get me wrong, I sympathize with what is happening to you. I agree with you that this is a catastrophic situation, and it creates a debt that you are not ready to pay according to the schedule decided by the general meeting. You are angry at all the professionals who did not see it coming. Why were the decayed beams not visible from the outside? I cannot say, as this is totally outside my area of expertise, but it would be a very pertinent question to ask the contractor, architect and property manager.

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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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  1. Hi. Good day. I have read some of your old articles about being an illegal immigrant in france. I know this is completely out of topic but i couldnt find ways how i could ask you about my situation hence, this comment. I have been in france for a year on a tourist visa. I was hired by a call center company but they wanted me to get a student visa and then come back ofcourse so they could hire me the legal way. I never thought that it would be possible to get one so i decided to look for other jobs that wouldnt require me to be on a legal status. I got interviewed for a babysitting job by a hotel general manager and she said she really wanted to hire me but she would help me first find ways on how i could acquire a student visa before I start the job in september. So, the question is, is there any way possible i could get a student visa while staying in paris and being on an expired tourist visa for a year? Thank you so much in advance. Your response would be highly appreciated.

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