I’d say about every second person who’s participated in a study abroad program (or any sort of long-term travel) has a story about a shady landlord. I, too, can raise my hand. It was recently the two-year anniversary of my personal saga, so I finally feel ready to recount the experience with distance and clarity.
I won’t publish the name of my former landlord publicly, so let’s just call her Liar.
Liar seemed nice at first. She showed my flatmate and I the beautiful, clean apartment with great enthusiasm, helped us obtain our transport passes from the closest metro station, and even pointed out a bakery that won an award for ‘Best Chocolate Éclair in Paris 2015.’ Not sure if this was also a lie, but the eclairs were very good there (I ate a lot of them.)
There were no major dramas throughout our stay of six months, but a small incident did occur part way through that made me re-evaluate my landlord’s character. One night, my flatmate and I were returning home from our weekly trip to the supermarket, tote bags full of Petit Beurre biscuits, a variety of cheese snacks, weird custards, etc., (suddenly I understand why I was so iron deficient throughout the entirety of 2016…) We sent the shopping up in our tiny elevator and took the stairs to meet it on our floor, then proceeded to our apartment as per usual. Only this time, when we inserted our key into the lock, the door didn’t open.
After 50-or-so further attempts, we called our landlord. She seemed doubtful that the lock was broken but said she would send her brother over, who just so happened to be a locksmith.
Locksmith Frère arrived an hour later. He took the key, approached the door and then stopped, turning around to look at us. His expression said: “Watch closely, Dumb Women. This is how you open a door.”
My friend and I exchanged a look.
Was this guy… mansplaining us… through body language?
He inserted the key before pausing again, presumably to make sure we were following along. I stared at him like Miranda Priestly stares at anyone in any scene of The Devil Wears Prada.
Finally, he turned the key, and – lo and behold – nothing happened. His eyebrows flew up and he exclaimed ‘Oh! Ça marche pas!’ (Oh! It doesn’t work!)
He called our landlord to inform her of the enormous plot twist: the key wouldn’t turn because the lock was faulty, not because the Dumb Women didn’t know how to open a door. Wild!
This was when the real red flag appeared. I heard my landlord on the phone, because she was talking very loudly, and sounded very furious. She didn’t seem upset because we’d been greatly inconvenienced, but because she had to pay for the repair. The snippets I caught from her and the responses I heard from her brother were concerning, and my flatmate decided to call our rental agency, just to… you know… go over our rights.
It all turned out ok; the lock was repaired and our landlord never asked us to pay. We had, however, gotten bad vibes from the manner with which the issue was handled. Sometimes you just know, you know?
The memory of these bad vibes came in handy later, on the day of our departure. Our landlord was to conduct an inspection of the apartment, after which she would be contractually obligated to reimburse us with our security bond (providing no major issues were discovered.) My friend and I hadn’t caused any substantial damage during our stay – a couple of shattered plates here and there. We had also broken the lid of the trash can in our kitchen – not the bin itself, just the lid. Shouldn’t be a problem, we told ourselves – typical wear and tear. But something told me we should take a photo of the label, just in case. The trash can was from Monoprix – a standard French supermarket chain, and the price tag read 19.99 euros. My flatmate took a photo of it, and that was that.
When Liar came to inspect the apartment, we proudly watched her tour take place. We’d spent two days cleaning every nook and cranny – it had taken me hours to clean the kitchen alone: the microwave oven, the fridge. Heck – I even wiped every window sill!
But it all appeared to be worth it. Liar was satisfied… until we hit a small hurdle.
Our landlord agreed to reimburse our deposits, but only once she’d had our outstanding electricity fees calculated by a professional (it was the only charge not included in our monthly rent.)
This is when my boss mode kicked in. Armed with my much-improved post-Study Abroad level of French, I told Liar, politely but firmly, that if there were no other issues with the apartment, she should reimburse our security bond the following day. We knew we were obligated to pay the electricity charge, but it had always been listed as a separate payment to the security bond, so… Liar had to pay up.
She agreed to my proposal, and the next day, en route to England, my friend and I had our respective deposits back in our accounts. Liar had even had the electricity charges properly calculated; everything was tied up.
A happy ending, then. Flowers and sunshine and rainbows and….
Not so fast.
Two weeks later, my friend and I were in the English countryside, staying with one of her relatives. I was spending leisurely days walking through fields and eating steak pasties. Life was good.
Then, one morning, I woke up to find an email from our landlord. That’s odd, I thought. Does she miss us already? Hahahaa.
I couldn’t believe my eyes when I began reading. Liar had sent a 900-word message accusing the two of us of having left the apartment in a ‘deplorable’ state, having broken a bunch of crap we hadn’t broken, and demanding we pay her over 500 euros for repairs and cleaning.
It. Was. InSANE. She said her housekeeper had been shocked upon arriving to the apartment – the apartment she had already inspected – because it was so filthy. She sent us a photo of a broken ice scooper we had never seen in our lives (she must have planted it there for the photo…iconic), told us the fridge I had scrubbed for an hour was disgusting… she even accused us of having washed the bath towels at a temperature higher than the one recommended on the label (?????????). They were now stiff and ruined, she said (they weren’t) and needed to be replaced (they didn’t) – for 50 bucks a towel …. sEeMs LeGiT.
The stickler was – you guessed it – the bin. There was a photo of the broken lid, and a complaint from our landlord that she’d spent over an hour cleaning it because it was so dirty. She said we should send her 89 euros to replace the whole thing. It was an expensive bin, you see – Brabantia brand. Très fancy.
Only it wasn’t. Because she’d bought it from the supermarket for 19 euros. And we had the photo of the label to prove it.
I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to describe what it felt like to send our reply message. Something like a combination of ice cream for breakfast, girl bands ruling a world government, rain made out of potato gnocchi and Troy Bolton successfully juggling both basketball and singing for the rest of his life.
My friend and I attached the photo of the bin label with the spirit of a thousand witch’s cackles. We informed Liar that she was… a liar, scolded her for trying to take advantage of us, and reminded her that she’d already reimbursed our deposits anyway (thank g00dness I’d stuck to my guns earlier.) I was so proud of the sass we sent with “Frankly, we don’t understand why you cleaned a broken bin lid that you intended to throw out,” and “With respect, we’ve never seen the ‘shower gloves’ you accuse us of having ruined.”
The moral of the story, for anyone still reading (u a real one), is to always know your rights, know your contract (if you’re engaging in an under-the-table-esque deal that doesn’t involve a contract, make one up), and stand your ground with confidence.
But this isn’t really about us tenants. The real moral here is for all those shady landlords out there: Don’t mess with us. (*flicks hair, files nails, rides around Paris in a chariot*)
My friend and I were sorely underestimated by our lying landlord. Who knows how many others she’d successfully manipulated in the past. This time, at least, she failed. Victory was ours.
Not bad for a couple of dumb-dumb women who didn’t know how to open a door.
Bonus footage of me throughout the entire saga: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i5xSShK1QqA