A House with a ‘Benefit’ — a Saga of Dealing with Henri-Louis Maunoir, a Genevan Real-Estate ‘Celebrity’.
Part 2 — A Respectful Scammer
This piece is a continuation of the Part 1 — A Warm Welcome.
When in trouble inflicted by your landlord go to ASLOCA. It is a non-for-profit organisation that was established in 1942 in order to protect tenants’ rights and represent their interests. Back in 2017, when we appealed to this organisation with our dilemma, the whole of their website and all the information on it was in French. Rather inconvenient, considering that 40% of the residents in Geneva are foreign nationals working for international corporations and many do not speak French. Nonetheless, nowadays, thanks to Google automatic translation the information on ASLOCA website can be accessible in any language to anyone.
Our meeting with an ASLOCA lawyer brought light not only on the discounts during the presence of the construction works next to the building of our rented accommodation, but helped to piece together a puzzle of our rental contract and clearly see the ‘trap’ that the real-estate agency, Bory Regie, with the approval of Henri-Louis Maunoir — one of the shareholders of the agency — set for us as well as for other unsuspecting new tenants.
In order to not lose any profit but increase it during the CEVA metro construction years, Henri-Louis Maunoir came up with the following scheme.
The Bory Regie agency would show a desired apartment, agree on its rental and when the rental contract is signed start renovation of a kitchen or a bathroom or both. The renovation would be a quick and not too expensive, but would justify the ‘original’ higher price. For it all to look like a gesture of good will and not a scam, a discount of 15% would be offered on the increased price, but just for couple of years, no longer. If the tenant would stay after the two years, he/she would pay a higher price regardless whether there was still the CEVA metro construction present or not. If after two years, the tenant would move out — some expatriate contracts are signed for just two years — then the Bory Regie would find a new tenant with the same conditions. In this way, Henri-Louis Maunoir would not lose anything at all, nor could be blamed for not giving the discount due to the construction works.
The scheme was created to avoid lowering the rent due to the construction works. The ‘original’ price here means the price that was made to look like the initial and not the increased one. But in reality, the original or initial price is the price paid by the previous tenant — something that a new tenant can see only after signing the rental contract and becoming a new tenant.
Henri-Louis Maunoir obviously knew about the CEVA metro construction in front of his building. He also knew that if he lowers even by 15% the rent on all apartments in the building, he was going to lose a substantial amount of money during the years of construction, which were not two years as was stated in rental contracts by nine. The turn of things he would not really like. So, the decision was made not to lower the rent for any of the current residents — the ones who have been living for years in the building, — and raise the rent by doing the renovation scam for the new ones. The ones who were not aware of the previous rental amounts. And the best target for the second group would be expatriates — the foreigners who come on a contract to Geneva and are not familiar with how things are done there. Also, the Henri-Louis Maunoir’s bet was placed with the following in mind — most of the companies who help expatriates to move would not make fuss over one thousand or so Swiss francs more per month. A mere drop in the ocean of corporate expenses. Especially so, that the money relocation agencies were spending were not their own but the company’s.
Another preventing the disclosure of the scam point was that the new tenant would not be able to get out of the rental contract without paying for the remaining months, even if he/she would not use the apartment. An expense that very few if anyone at all can afford. However, if they can afford it, they would not want the hustle of looking for another apartment. Besides, when one moves into a new apartment and starts a new chapter, one does not really want to immediately rush to press charges against the landlord.
As with the case of other expatriates, we were moving not just from around the corner but from a different country. The move that is challenging enough on its own without the additional weight of scam that was created by Henri-Louis Maunoir, the landlord. The difference between our move and the move of corporate expatriates was that we were doing it with our own money and we did care how much we paid. One thousand Swiss francs more on the rent was a big deal for us, especially so that the apartment was in the building that was located next to the construction site. Another very important detail was that while corporate expatriates could go to their offices during the day, therefore reducing the nuisance of living next to the construction site, we worked from home and had nowhere to escape from the noise, the dust, and the ugly view.
Talking to an ASLOCA lawyer aided us in finding out that although it would have been much easier to take the landlord to court right after the discovery of the unfair rent raise, there was something we could still do in regards to this matter. The ASLOCA lawyer did some checking and discovered that the landlord e.g. Henri-Louis Maunoir in a rush to do his post-factum renovation of the kitchen did not bother to apply for the permission to do so. His building is a listed property and any alterations or renovations should be approved by the Architectural Bureau — Office cantonal du lodgement et de la planification fonciere.
The ASLOCA lawyer got in touch with the Bureau and a visit of their representative was quickly arranged. In October 2017, she came to inspect the flat, took pictures, did some sketches, and… disappeared. To be precise the file with the documents regarding the renovation of the apartment and the decision made on the case, if any, became inaccessible to view on the grounds that neither ASLOCA nor were directly involved and the decision made would not affect us. The statement which of course was not true for we were directly affected by the rental increase or decrease. Something was really amiss again. This time it seemed with an official organisation that is supposed to make sure that renovations and the consequent rent increases are done according to the law.
Throughout 2018 the ASLOCA lawyers unsuccessfully tried to gain access to the file and prompt the Architectural Bureau to disclose the information. The file remained inaccessible, and the representative who was friendly and communicative before suddenly became silent and kept writing ‘copy and paste’ replies, obviously ‘dictated’ by someone in authority.
Finally, ASLOCA appealed to court and asked it to order the Office cantonal du lodgement et de la planification fonciere to disclose the information contained in the file, which was done. Finally, ASLOCA lawyers could gain access to the withheld information and the case was filed against the unlawful increase of the rent. But the landlord, Henri-Louis Maunoir, seemed to have a friendly helping hand in the Bureau, for he was the owner of several big buildings in Geneva — a sort of local real-estate ‘celebrity’ in the corrupted circles of the Ville de Geneve. In December 2018, The Bureau asked the landlord to supply a back-dated application for the missing permission — a four years old belated response.
Then there was another year of writing backwards and forwards between ASLOCA, the Bureau, the Tribunal administrative de premiere instance — Constructions, and Henri-Louis Maunoir with the latter providing all sort of excuses and bizarre renovations that supposedly aimed at genuine improvement of living conditions in the flat yet did not have anything to do with his post-factum renovation of the kitchen to cover up earlier increase in the rent that could not be justified. With all the twisting of the truth, lying, and avoiding the obvious, the fact remained that there was an unlawful action and a scam which aimed to fool the new tenants, in this case, us.
But yet again, the lucky helping hand of someone in the Tribunal administrative de premiere instance — Constructions pulled out a decision that since Henri-Louis Maunoir applied four years later for the permission to renovate, there is nothing really to talk about any further.
However, as a response to the decision and appeal to injustice, in July 2020, the case went to the Court of Justice where it still remains. But what about the reduction due to the CEVA metro construction works? Well, the gentlemen’s club of corrupted officials and righteous millionaire had its say about it too.