A House with a ‘Benefit’ — a Saga of Dealing with Henri-Louis Maunoir, a Genevan Real-Estate ‘Celebrity’. Part 1 — ‘A Warm Welcome’
Between February 2014 and March 2020, we lived in Geneva, Switzerland. This was not the first foreign country that we had resided in. There was also London, Moscow, New York, Dubai, Helsinki. As usual with relocating, in each city we had to rent an accommodation that would become our home for a while. The accommodation ranged from apartments in converted period houses to ones in newly built high scrapers. With one thing in common — the landlords we had were very agreeable, respectful, easy to communicate to and deal with. That is until we came to Geneva.
At the time of our arrival the city rental market was booming, with majority of residents, the local ones included, renting. Especially when it came to expats. Although foreign to Geneva, we were not expats in a usual sense of it. We did not have a contract with a big firm or any firm at all for that matter. We moved as independent professionals on our own terms, thinking we could start a new chapter in our professional lives in Geneva and even make it our home one day. What we did not expect, however, that we would have the most horrible experience of our life with the accommodation we were about to rent.
The accommodation that we had found seemed to us affordable in the otherwise rather unaffordable Geneva. It was a ‘two-bedroom’ flat or ‘5 pieces’ as they call it in Geneva. It included a small kitchen, a toilet and bathroom, a bedroom, a study room, more of a walk-in changing room, and an open plan sitting-living room. The apartment was located in a house on Plateau de Champel, in Champel district of the city. The position of the house was very favourable, not far from the centre. So, we could easily walk to the Old Town. Another attractive element of the location was the Park Bertrand — an estate that once belonged to Alfred Bertrand (1856–1924), a Swiss explorer and traveller, and was given to the city by his widowed wife. The park was visible from our bedroom windows and in our case later offered some sort of consolation. The windows of the sitting-living room where we would sit with our laptops looked out onto the CEVA construction site, which before 2011 was a charming park, but was wiped off for the sake of building a CEVA metro station.
Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, we never experienced the view onto this park, as we moved into our apartment on 14 February 2014 when the construction of the CEVA station had already began but was somewhat in the beginning stage of it. Fortunately, because we did not have anything to compare our view with. If we did, we would have been even more distressed.
Due to the year of the construction — it was built some time in 1921, — the house on Plateau de Champel is a listed property, one of several similar ones owned and managed by Henri-Louis Maunoir — a local real-estate ‘celebrity’.
As the story goes, the building was built in 1921 and originally served as an apartment hotel, one of many in Champel area at the time, for it was the area close to Champel hot springs that were frequented by those desiring to improve their health. At the end of 1920s, the building became residential and offered long term rental apartments. At some point between 1940s and 1960s, the building was acquired by the father of Henri-Louis Maunoir and was taken care of and managed by him up until mid of 1990s. The ‘golden’ time, as some residents call it. The Maunoir senior knew his business well and also got along with his tenants. Perhaps him being a resident in the same building helped him in achieving the success he did. For letting business is a very much people’s business. And it seems the father of Henri-Louis Maunoir was a people’s person. Unlike his son.
One of the reasons for such a change was the passing of the real-estate business to Henri-Louis Maunoir. This was done by his father sometime in the beginning on 1990s. At that time Henri-Louis Maunoir was still residing in the building and could be seen by the tenants. But he did not stay long. Not being too much interested in the maintenance side of the business but liking very much the money it brought, he moved out and focused on racing cars, handing over the maintenance of his father’s legacy to the real-estate agency, Bory Regie, of which he also owns a part, in other words being a shareholder. It would all be very well and fine, should the agency run the property honestly, and should Henri-Louis Maunoir care for his business, but he cared more about racing his sports cars.
We moved to our apartment on Plateau de Champel 20 on 14 February 2014 — St Valentine’s day — and naively thought that living in the flat in the beautiful historical building will be the beginning of a happy life. But we were very much mistaken.
At the moment of us spotting the apartment on the market it was offered with a discounted rent — 15% — due to the CEVA metro construction. The works that at the time did not mean much to us for we did not know the story behind it. The rental price of 3,400 CHF plus 200 CHF for services was within our budget and we visited the house and viewed the apartment. It turned out to be a bright and elegant one, although not very well taken care of. There was a fresh coat of paint on the walls but the rest of it, including the kitchen, the toilet, and the bathroom dated 1990s. But we did not mind, as the colours used in decorating these rooms gave a jolly feeling — the floor and the walls were covered in apricot colour tiles. The 15% discount on the price of 4,000 CHF sounded all right at that moment. Especially so, that we were assured that the CEVA metro construction would end in two years and we could benefit from living so close to it.
After a second visit to the apartment we received our contract which was shown to a lawyer and she spotted first ‘red flag’ in it. According to the rental contract, we agreed to pay a full year rent for the first year — 2014 — and then a full year rent again for 2015. Although, the first-year condition was mutually agreed on, since we did not yet possess a permit B and therefore had to somehow secure the flat, the second full year rent payment was an utter surprise for us. Thinking back, I wish we would turn the apartment down there and then. But at the time we simply thought that it was a misunderstanding on the side of the Bory Regie and asked them to correct the clause in the contract. They did, but this was just the beginning of our ordeal.
We signed the contract middle of January 2014, a week or so after viewing the apartment and were eager to move in. Our things arrived to Geneva and we did not want to keep them at customs paying high fees for that. But as eager as we were, we were told that we could not yet move in. Instead, the move would be possible only middle of February 2014. After pressing on, we found out from the reluctant to share anything real estate agent that the Bory Regie started a renovation of the kitchen and bathroom in the apartment. At hearing this, we were rather startled. For, when we visited the apartment, there was not a word about any renovation planned. The whole business sounded dodgy and was a second warning for us that there was something amiss with the Bory Regie and the way they conducted business. But we had no choice, since we had already signed the contract and paid for a year ahead.
On the 14th of February 2014 we finally moved into the apartment and found many things to be fixed, the ones that are hard to spot while visiting the apartment, but very apparent when you live in it.
Having lived in the flat for two years, we realised that the CEVA metro construction site was an enormous disturbance to our daily life, especially so that we both worked from home, and that the 15% discount on the rent was really more of a joke than a gesture of good will from the landlord and his agency. What is more, now knowing more about the CEVA construction and the Swiss rental laws, and also possessing information on how much the previous tenant — a certain Hans Ulriksen of Societe Generale Private Banking — SGPB at the time, — paid with absence of the construction site and with the benefit of the park present in front of the building, we realised that we had fall into a trap set for us by the Bory Regie.
Meanwhile, the Bory Regie duly informed us that the rent ‘goes back’ or rather goes up to 4,000 CHF plus 200 CHF service. Astonished, we wrote to the agency informing that the CEVA construction site was still going on and in consideration of this we would like the rent to be kept at the current level, for according to the rental law we are entitled to the reduction while the construction is still ongoing. The Bory Regie agreed but only for a year and yet again stated that the construction works would be finished by the end of 2016, as if they ran the construction works themselves. Holding their response in our hands and looking down at the construction site before us, we thought of how it was really possible, but still hoped that perhaps the Bory Regie and the landlord knew something we did not and maybe, just maybe, the disturbance created by the construction works would be less in 2016. But we were wrong.
Come end of 2016 and the construction works were still there, looming before us every day. As we had learnt by then, the CEVA metro construction was running two years late. But the Bory Regie was back on its profiting track — they wanted us to pay 4,000 CHF plus 200 CHF for services starting January 2017. Infuriated, we wrote to them saying that the construction works were still ongoing and yet again asked to keep the rent as originally agreed until the works were completely finished. Sensing that this go-merry-round with the Bory Regie would not end by the end of 2017, we decided to go to ASLOCA — an organisation that was established in 1942 in order to protect the rights of tenants. ‘Perhaps, they would be able to help us in this game of raising and reducing of our rent’, we thought. But we were in for another astonishing discovery. This time, concerning the justice system of Ville de Genève.