Saturday, May 29, 2010

Apartment hunting horrories

If I had to guess, at this point I'd estimate that I've made about 50 calls pertaining to apartments, about 20 emails, and made about 15 visits. We're getting closer to finding the diamond in the rough, it seems, but the process hasn't been without its share of horror stories (horrories!). Sometimes you can tell in an ad that an apartment is going to be a dud. Take, for example, this real life (translated) ad: "Furnished studio apartment, seventh floor with elevator, well laid out, hot water, kitchenette, no shower. Available immediately."

No shower?!? You know it's a pretty pathetic apartment when the landlord is advertising "hot water" as one of its main selling points. Other automatic deal breakers include bathrooms in the hall (meaning shared with other tenants), basement (no windows) apartments, or the bargain apartments known affectionately as "studettes"--ancient maid's quarters converted into closet-like student residences for the poor and desperate. However, sometimes it takes a visit to discover the dark side of an apartment. Here are a few such experiences.

I spent an hour waiting at the first apartment I ever visited, waiting and trying in vain to call a landlord who never showed. I got in touch with her a few days later, only to discover that I had been waiting outside the wrong apartment. An elderly woman, she had given Tom the wrong number on the phone when he had scheduled the visit. Whoops.

The first apartment Tom and I visited together was in a good location and of a good size, but it needed a little TLC. The aged wood floor had deteriorated in a few places, leaving some noticeable impressions in the living room floor. The lights--lone bulbs hanging on cords from the ceiling--were burnt out and a little bare. The toilet had no seat. Minor fixes, we thought, until we asked when the work on the apartment was to be finished. We were told that no, the apartment was being sold as is, and not even by the landlord, but by the twenty-something cell phoning fiend he had selected to sell it on his behalf.

One apartment I visited was everything we were looking for price, space and furnishings-wise. Unfortunately, the would-be landlord there had been sort of illegally squatting himself for about 10 years. Turns out the apartment was some sort of subsidized housing that was legally rented by his sister, but that he had been using as a home base for his Internet-based, English-language advertising company (he never spoke a word of English with me, however). He was ready to move on to a new city but wanted to keep the apartment for his return in a few years and rake in rent in the meantime--"à l'Américaine", as he put it, which to him meant without demanding the same ridiculous amount of paperwork from us, but without providing us with a contract (and thus depriving us of the CAF, the student housing discount, and offering no guarantee of our status as tenants or of the safe return of our deposit). He was aggressive enough to intimidate me into saying I'd think it over, but I didn't give him my contact information, and as soon as I was back out on the street (free!) I got the hell away from there.

One apartment we visited turned out to be about a fifteen walk beyond the Boulevard Péripherique, and thus no longer even in Paris, but in Montrouge. However, since the size (72m2) seemed amazing for the price, we decided to check it out anyways. The landlord met us groggily at the door on Saturday morning, obviously hungover and still wearing his rumpled suit from the previous workday. Once upstairs, he instructed us to show ourselves around and then out, and to call him later. He wasn't kidding--a simple question evoked a wince and hand clasped to his forehead, along with a "no questions! Call later!" Needless to say, we didn't.

When apartments in Paris seem to cheap to be true, they are. One such apartment turned out to be a pretty ghetto residence, with a bed on stilts, a dilapidated wardrobe that didn't quite cover a molding wall and a bathtub that obviously hadn't been white in years. To top it off, it was being shown by its current tenants--two poor immigrants sharing a bed who were, themselves, grumpy with the state of the apartment and disparaging of the landlord's neglect. We crossed that one off the list.

Finally, there was the apartment I visited today. It, too, was in need of a little TLC (moldy fridge, dirty floor tiles, gross shaggy gray carpet), and the thing that really got to me was that the toilet room is so small that it's impossible to fully open the door without hitting the toilet. However, the price is good considering the size, so we're keeping it on the list for now. The good news: for once, the bohemian landlord is very pro-American and seems eager to have us as tenants. In any case, she said we were much better than the next woman she was showing the apartment to: a Chinoise! (Chinese woman!) et avec les animals! Pas ma tasse de thé... (and with animals! not my cup of tea...)

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