Fixing a Leak in Paris Takes Only 18 Months


Well, it’s done. (I think.) The leak that leaked all over my Paris apartment has finally been repaired.

I’m pretty sure, anyway.

Bubbling from the leak crawls up the wall.

Bubbling from the leak crawls up the wall. What started as a few bubbles in March of 2014, had spread halfway up the wall by July.

You can’t blame me for feeling dubious. This has been carrying on since March of 2014. Actually, I noticed the first bubbles in my entryway in November of 2013. Somewhere above me in the building, it seemed a leak was working its way into my perfect little world. By the time my contractor took a look and had his say, and the plumber of the managing agent, or syndic, had his say, it was four months later.

This is how things move in Paris. Preposterous, you say? Honey, you have no idea. This was just the beginning.

It took another month to get ahold of the owner of the apartment above so we could see if the leak was coming from them. Finally, on the cusp of May, the syndic‘s plumber got inside the property, and found the trouble in their shower.

You’re asking: “So, they fixed it, right?”

Oh, you logical, optimistic fool. First, you have to actually want to fix the leak. And no one did—apart from me. Apparently, in damp, old cities like Paris, where living with moisture and centuries-old pipes is just part of life, leaks are seen as minor nuisances. No one seems particularly concerned that all that unabated dripping might be causing damage—structurally or otherwise—or that the ensuing mold is a health hazard. Eh, pas grave, c’est la vie. [Cue Gallic shrug.]

Things start to crumble after a few months.

Things start to crumble by November 2014.

Instead, the syndic and the owner of the apartment with the leaky shower decided it would be much more productive to argue over who was responsible to fix the leak. And they did that for months. My pleas of urgency, sent repeatedly by email, were shrugged off, Gallic-ly. Meanwhile, my parquet buckled so badly I could no longer open my front door, my wall deteriorated and crumbled, and my mold-filled apartment became uninhabitable.

But that’s insane, you say? No, no, that’s Paris.

My lovely parquet bows and separates. In the end, it will all have to go.

My lovely parquet bows and separates. Sadly, it will all have to go.

In the end, it took eighteen months, three hundred and seven emails (in French!), one lawyer, and 15,000 euros of my own money in legal and court fees before the leak would be stopped. But in July, it finally was.

Before you cry huzzah! and pop the champagne cork, remember we’re talking about France. I’m only halfway there, because even though the court expert has determined who the guilty—er, I mean, responsible—party is, my case still has to go to a judge to make the final decision. And that could take yet more months. Then, and only then, can I begin the renovations. If I’m lucky, I’ll be back in my apartment in June of 2016. If I’m lucky.

Can I get a huzzah? No? I didn’t think so.

Court expert measures humidity levels of the water damage just outside my door.

The court expert measures humidity levels of the water damage just outside my door. That discoloration is from water seeping out from under my parquet into the hallway. Humidity level: 100%

If you’re keeping score, a small leak that would have cost a mere 500 euros to fix had it been addressed in March of last year, will now cost an estimated 35,000 euros—fees and damages all told—and the loss of use of my apartment for two out of the four years I will have owned it.

Yes, there have been tears. And stress. Rage. But by now, all these months later, I’ve learned to be more zen about it. If you’re going to live in Paris, you have to be able to roll with things, or else you’ll go mad. Because any concept you might have of logical processes, efficiency—and, yes, sometimes personal accountability—don’t always exist here. You’re just wasting your energy trying to fight it, or make sense of it. You can roll up in a ball and let them beat you back and forth, or you can relax and flow with it. I’m choosing the latter. Best I can. Such is life acclimating to a foreign culture.

Water damage creeps into my kitchen a year later.

Water damage creeps into my kitchen a year later.

But it’s all good. I still love Paris. Sure, I want to slap people from time to time, but all in all, my other city still ranks pretty high, despite the fact it’s quite literally pissed all over my dream apartment. But if you see everything as a classroom, in many ways, this leak has been a gift—thrusting me fully into Parisian life, challenging me, stretching me in every direction. For example: I got to live as a nomad in the city via all those temporary rentals around town, which exposed me to different neighborhoods, and taught me to stay flexible. And thanks to the leak, I now not only have a lawyer in Paris, I’ve also learned a bit about the legal process in France. Best of all, my French has been greatly improved by this experience—particularly in the area of building parts and structure, legalese, and most importantly, in the ability to discern when I am being hornswoggled, bamboozled, flim-flammed, or otherwise bullshitted in the most charming and agreeable manner possible. Something I’m learning is very Parisian, indeed.

Extensive water damage in the common areas from my floor all the way down to the ground floor.

Extensive water damage in the common areas of my building—from my floor all the way down to the ground floor.

Those of you who’ve followed me along this journey will forgive the tinge of bitterness in my tone. You know I’ve always tried to find the deeper lesson in every experience. And I am working on finding that. But since the leak took its sweet time before it removed itself from my life, I hope you’ll allow me some time, too—at least until my apartment is fully restored—before I can look back and reflect philosophically. For now, I’m just hanging onto this crazy ride and letting it take me where it will.

Maybe that’s the lesson. Because I started this watery journey white-knuckled and angry. But now, I’ve thrown my hands up and said, “Whatevs.” And it’s when you let go of that safety bar holding you in, and wave your hands in the air even as you plummet downhill, that the roller coaster ride gets good.

Next up: Planning the Re-renovation. (What else do you call the second renovation in three years?)

Get worse before it gets better. My contractor pulls out my dry wall so the court expert can determine if there is structural damage.

Things get worse before they get better. My contractor pulled out my light fixture and dry wall so the court expert can determine if there is structural damage.

After 18 months, the leak is finally repaired in the neighbor's shower. For good measure, the court expert ordered that the old pipes were also replaced.

After 18 months, the leak is finally repaired. To bring things up to code, the court expert ordered the old lead pipes also be replaced.

22 responses to “Fixing a Leak in Paris Takes Only 18 Months

    • The insurance of the guilty—oops! I did it again—responsible party will have to pay all: damages, legal fees, alternative housing, etc. And if they won’t pay, she must. One day, I will get paid. One day.

  1. “Preposterous, you say?” No: I say criminal. My water heater sprung a leak last week. It was fixed two days later. The very idea that you had to shell out that much money to fix a problem caused by someone else is an outrage. I certainly hope you’re planning a lawsuit to recoup those losses, along with the loss of use of your place.

    Good thing it didn’t happen to me; I’m not sure I could have restrained myself from assaulting anyone and everyone who said no to me. Sheesh.

    • All my expenses and losses will be “recompensed” (as my lawyer says), as part of this legal action. There is no need to sue further. Pain and suffering doesn’t get me anything here. It’s not like that in France. My lawyer has all my expenses up to date, including legal and the apartments I have had to rent, in order to have the judge order reimbursement. The process is slow, but fair. The real question is what do people do who cannot pay all the court fees in advance? They would have to live with the leak, or else really push the people to act on their own. The legal system here is not really very accessible to people with little means. That’s disturbing to me.

  2. Lisa, My hat is off to you! I cannot imagine going through all of that and still being able to look at things without beaucoup anger and perhaps even regret. When we lived in Normandy we encountered the bureaucracy in dealing with the French first hand and are still incredulous some 13 years later that things EVER get done! Keep your chin up and keep drinking good wine to help get you through!! Good luck!! PS Will you be in Paris at all in November?

  3. Lisa, I have been following your Paris ventures and ensuing apt leak. I can not believe how well you have handled things. You must have felt so vulnerable. Perhaps you still do. I know it will take more time for your Parisian life to return to normal, but I hope it is everything you have dreamed of when it does.

    In a few years, I hope to follow a similar path as you. I have been taking copious notes!

    Best of luck to you!

    • Thank you, Gretchen. It hasn’t been easy at all, that’s for sure. Lots of stress and tears. Some regrets. But I press on. It’s good fodder for the book!

  4. Hi Lisa,
    Unbelievable!! To live though all that frustration, stress and expense must have been so difficult but hopefully you are heading in a better direction now. Rhetorical question– how do the French deal with such a system ( of disregard/ inefficiency, etc) ??
    BTW, wanted to thank you for the link on apartment buying in Paris. I still have “hell yeahs” on most everything. Even after reading about your experience 😊

    Hope your re-renovations go smoothly.

    Lynn H

    • You’re a hell yeah, girl, are ya? Ok then. When you’re really ready, let me know. I got resources for you!
      BTW, the French are equally frustrated by their own system. Not sure why it doesn’t change.

  5. Hi Lisa – I have also been following your adventures, from the HGTV House Hunters episode through the present. As unfortunate as this experience has been, on the upside you were able to stay in some interesting places during this whole fiasco. It is disturbing to think that those without resources at hand might have their hands tied when it comes to getting resolution; thank goodness you had the patience and some wise counsel to get you through this (I’m sure Adrian lent a helping hand). In Lynn H.’s comment she mentions a nk about apartment buying in Paris – I must have missed this. Can you please provide it? Thank you and I wish you continued good luck in getting your apartment back in order.

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