Friday, June 24, 2011

Shocked and awed

Long & dramatic post ahead! You may recall that I hated my last flat, specifically being rendered miserable by a flatmate I couldn't stand. So it was a great relief to quickly find a nice flat in Tours with someone around my age, in a good area, for a reasonable albeit not cheap cheap rent, and as time went on, we became friends and hang out together often. Well, well, this week brought a lesson that things are not always as they seem...

On Wednesday evening I went round to my friend Liz's place, feeling a tiny bit hungover after la Fete de la Musique the night before, to help her move flats, where we were joined by my flatmate & Liz's boyfriend. After a couple of hours, we had her moved in, and decided to go straight home as I was pretty tired & my flatmate GĂ©raldine was intending to meet up with her sister to celebrate the end of her exams.

Liz's new place is only about 5-10 minutes away on foot, but G had her bike and thus made it back to our place faster than I did. I had my key in the front (street) door when suddenly it flew open, G ran out and slammed it behind her, and she rapidly said to me "I'm not GĂ©raldine, you're not Gwan, we don't live here, we're here to feed the cats for our friends". No sooner were the words out of her mouth than the door opened again, and there stood a businessy-looking woman who I'd never seen before. She immediately started asking if I was G or someone else, who I now know was G's old flatmate. I said no, and then she started asking who I was and if I lived there. I sort of gaped at her and looked at G, standing next to her, who shook her head. I sort of half shook my head as well, but the woman responded something along the lines of "I think you do".

It's a bit blurry, but I think the next thing she said was that we were in serious trouble and if we didn't 'fess up and talk to her, she'd be calling the police. Bear in mind that at this stage, I still had no idea who this woman was and what she was doing in my house. She asked to see my ID, and I said I didn't have any on me, at which stage she realised I wasn't French. Somehow I think this helped convince her that I had no clue what was going on - the ignorant foreign type, I suppose. I think it's about now that she revealed that she was there because my flatmate had not been paying rent for more than a year. I presumably gaped even more at this news, and as we made our way upstairs, the threats of calling the police having convinced G to come clean, I said to her that I had no idea, and she replied that she was pretty sure where the blame lay in the situation.

Anyway, to cut the rest of a long story short(er), up we went and I had to show this woman ID, my chequebook, bank account, payslips etc. to back up that I had indeed been paying rent. It's complicated, but it turns out that G had not only not been paying rent, but that recently she'd been living off my money to boot. Eventually, the woman had me write an 'attestation' that she dictated, declaring that I had been paying rent in good faith, and G and I both signed it.

She threatened to pretty much kick us out, but G asked whether, if she could pay back the money, we could start at zero and stay in the flat. She agreed to set a deadline of the 11th July to receive all the back rent, around 8000 euros, took a lot of her details and set a meeting the next day, when they were to ring her parents together to check whether the money would be coming. I wasn't saying much through all this, but the woman wasn't holding back about how G had defrauded me & put me in a bad situation, plus of course the landlords (she was some sort of agent I suppose, I never did get her name or job title) etc. etc.

After she finally left, G apologised and explained that she had been unable to cope with her student loan debt and said she hadn't meant for any of it to happen, and she was sorry she had been lying me (this whole time, I may add). She said that she expected her rent guarantee deposit would be covering the rent, which neither I nor the woman believed. I believe that she probably started out thinking that she could let it slide for a couple of months, the deposit would kick in, and she would somehow be able to get back on track. Then as time went on, of course she just got further behind with everything, quit her job, and started taking my money as well (at first she wasn't cashing my cheques, as they were made out to the agency - long story). But she's a smart girl, and I don't believe she thought her guarantee would cover the rent for an entire year with nary a peep, she just closed her eyes to the situation and hoped it would go away.

At the moment, it looks like she is going to be lent the money from her family. But of course that doesn't make the situation go away. I'm really hurt that someone I consider(ed) to be a friend would treat me like that - even if I don't think she had a grand plan to defraud me, she lied to me this whole year, and actually escalated the whole affair by taking my money after I was no longer just a stranger to her. Then there's the issue of whether I can trust her from now on. Even if I think, intellectually, she's unlikely to do the same thing again, I imagine this probably would cause tension and awkwardness every month - would I be always wondering if the rent's been paid? Even beyond that, I don't know how, given the problems she already had, she can add on a debt to her parents and suddenly be magically able to cope and pay the rent in the future.

On the other hand, I'm in a bad situation because, not only do I like where I live, I can't afford to move. I didn't pay a deposit here, because I'm not on the lease, so I don't have money aside to pay for rent in advance and a deposit elsewhere, which would probably run to over 1000 euros. I also have a reasonable amount of furniture in my bedroom, but nothing else - washing machine, microwave, pots and pans, etc. etc. So I have too much for a furnished place and not enough for an unfurnished one. And of course furnishing a flat with all that kind of stuff would be thousands more, a particularly significant investment when I only have a one-year contract guaranteed. I've had a look at available flats, but haven't seen any where it's not either sharing with about 4-5 others and/or living with young students, neither of which I want to do. But if she moved out - which I think, regardless of my own situation, she probably really should, since she obviously can't afford this flat and there are definitely cheaper options - and I stayed here, I might end up having to cover all of the rent while finding a flatmate, which I can't afford to do either (plus I would still be left with the furniture problem). Tours is a student town, so summer is not the ideal time to try and fill a vacancy - I don't want to live with a student anyway, but that means the market is flooded with options and would likely make finding a flatmate at this time difficult.

So right now I don't know what to do. Obviously we have to have a proper conversation, but I was too shocked on Wednesday, yesterday I went round to Liz's until late at night because I didn't want to deal with it, and today I'm here shut up in my room, because I still don't know how to respond to this situation. I don't want to 'punish' her, despite what she did, and I do sympathise despite everything. At this stage, I do still wish that we could somehow work things out, but I just don't know if we can. I also feel really stupid, like I've been duped. Looking back I can think maybe there were some signs I should have paid attention to (I wondered how she was managing financially after she stopped working, but didn't like to ask; the whole deal with my cheques being 'sent back' by the agency etc.) but I suppose there's no point beating myself up about it. Perhaps it isn't such a good idea to trust a stranger, but I definitely didn't think she was lying to me a year in, you know?

On a happier note, I am going to Strasbourg from tomorrow morning till Monday evening, which is an even more welcome break after the stress of this week. I'm hoping I can just put these anxieties to one side and enjoy some flammekueche and try sauerkraut and see the famous cathedral clock and people-watch in Petite France and all the rest of it. (And I got return tickets for only 60 euros, thanks to a friend of a friend who works for SNCF - saving about 120 euros on what it would otherwise have been, at least at this short notice).

6 comments:

  1. Wow... just wow. I don't even know what to say. That's crazy! I really hope you figure out the situation soon.

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  2. Oh no that is horrible.. good luck with everything and enjoy your break away, you deserve a nice time out from the shock you've just endured.

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  3. Oh wow! That is crazy indeed. Maybe you could find another coloc somewhere?

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  4. That is crazy! Wow, I don't even know what to say. Enjoy your weekend, and I hope things work out soon.

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  5. Thanks guys, it's great to know even complete strangers are sympathising with me! Chilling out and stuffing myself with flammekueche is working for the moment :)

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  6. I am just plain shocked.. You are a better person than I am. It sounds like you reacted with such a level-head. She probably doesn't realize it, but she's lucky to have such an understanding friend.

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