The beginning of 2021 was also the beginning of an experience that, according to my French friends, officially made me a real Parisian: while some painting was being done in my studio flat, the contractor discovered water damage. What followed was five months of stress, tears, and many, many, many visits from plumbers, eventually leading to a happy ending (sort of).
Water damage is incredibly common in Paris, especially in those lovely old buildings whose beauty hides a plethora of plumbing problems, so my experience was anything but uncommon. As such, I’ve decided to share a bit of insight into my experience, in the case you’ve found yourself with this problem, or are about to move into a Haussmann building and want to be prepared.
Disclaimer: I’m not a legal expert, and can’t promise you’ll have the same outcome as I did should you be unlucky enough to have water damage of your own. I also do not go into any intricate legal details as I don’t hold any authority over the subject. Please don’t use this as a basis for dealing with your own water damage – in the case this happens to you, I highly recommend you work closely with your insurance company, agency, syndic, and neighbours to resolve the issue. Every case is different and must be treated as such. I’m simply writing this to share my experience and put a humourous spin on a stressful ordeal I dealt with that is kind of funny in hindsight.
Chapter 1: The Discovery
I originally learned of the water damage in my flat through a contractor who’d been hired to spruce up the paint. He’d signalled it to my agency, who immediately brought it to my attention and asked me to: 1) try to get into contact with the neighbour whose unit they suspected the leak was coming from, and 2) to declare the incident to my housing insurance.
This is standard protocol, as in France, once a leak is discovered, identifying the source of the leak is of the utmost importance as it will establish who is responsible for what (and whose insurance will need to pay for what).
Knocking on my neighbour’s door yielded no results, so I left a polite note under the door and rushed to my computer to contact my insurance. In France, it’s obligatory for tenants to having housing insurance, and incidents like these show why this is necessary.
Chapter 2: The Declaration
Once water damage discovered, you have 5 days to make a declaration in order for your insurance to take charge. You can make the declaration by phone, in person, or online, depending on the services offered by your insurance company.
Once my insurance was alerted online, they got in touch by phone for additional details so that we could set up a case file. After that, I was designated an official person in charge of my case, and told where I could submit documents related to the damage in the future (photos, invoices, bills, etc.)
Chapter 3: The Search
Once my building’s syndic were alerted of the damage, they immediately arranged to have a plumber come by to do a recherche de fuite or search for the leak. I later learned that they took care of this because they suspected the damage was coming from a common pipe in the building, in which case it was the syndic and not the individual owners who’d need to arrange the search.
A plumber came by early one morning, but found nothing as the offending pipe was covered in plaster. He arranged to come by a week later to do a recherche destructive, in which he’d break apart the plaster to expose the pipe. True to his word, he dropped by one morning at 8 AM with a power drill and tore apart the plaster. After a very loud early morning intervention, he confirmed what the syndic suspected: that the common pipe was the source of the leak.
Chapter 4: The Accord
Once it’s been determined who are the two parties involved in the leak (whether that be the syndic and a tenant, or a tenant and the owner of the offending unit), a constat amiable dégât des eaux must be signed and sent to the respective insurance companies.
In brief, it’s an agreement that includes all the important information regarding the incident, like where it took place, the circumstances, the nature of the damage, the cause, and so on, as well as the necessary details of both parties involved such as insurance contract numbers, address, and contact information.
Once completed, this has to be sent to the insurance companies of both parties so that they can determine between themselves who is responsible for what.
Chapter 5: The Plumbers
What followed was multiple months of waiting and a revolving door of plumbers, as my syndic wanted to compare invoices before they chose a repairman for the job. All the while I had a lovely exposed pipe in my bathroom, waiting to be inspected by whatever plumber was sent next.
After four or so plumbers made a visit over the course of two or so months, each having their own opinion on the source, I received terrible news: the syndic wanted to re-do the destructive search.
Chapter 6: The Second Search
Another plumber came by at 8 AM, another power drill was taken to the plaster surrounding the pipe in my bathroom. I slowly began to believe I’d live with this construction site of a bathroom forever, and briefly contemplated moving out. I tried to be thankful and count my blessings instead, such as my ever-expanding French plumbing vocabulary.
Chapter 7: The Repair
A month after the second search was conducted, an invoice was finally selected, and a plumber finally called me to arrange to fix the pipe. I was elated! It had been 4 and a half months since the leak was initially detected and I felt like I could finally see the light at the end of the tunnel (end of the pipe?).
During yet another 8 AM intervention, a duo of plumbers came by to finally replace the offending part of the pipe and fix everything up. They even built a coffrage around the pipe so that I no longer had a huge gaping hole in my wall. The rest of the bathroom still looked pretty grim, but I no longer cared.
Following the repair, my syndic forwarded me a devis from the same company for a remise en état of the bathroom, which would be for my insurance to take care of (as opposed to the rest, which had been dealt with by the insurance of the syndic due to the problem coming from a common pipe).
I immediately forwarded this to my insurance, who sent me a portion of the final amount and told me to arrange a rendez-vous with the plumbers to come do the repairs. They said I’d receive the rest once they received the facture from the plumbers following the completion of the job.
I immediately made the appointment, and the plumbers came by to fix up the paint on the walls and make everything look good as new. It looked even better than when I had moved in!
Chapter 8: The End?
It seems that after five long months, I’ve finally been able to close the book on this not so great (but very common) experience that’s part of living in Paris. The bathroom was repaired, the paint redone, and I was fully reimbursed by my insurance, with everything being promptly taken care of by my very friendly insurance agent. I even got to know some of my neighbours and syndic representatives during the process.
While not enjoyable in the least, I know it could’ve been worse, and even heard horror stories from friends who’d had a much harder time when dealing with their own water damage. Looking back, I just count myself lucky that I’d had a syndic, agency, and insurance company who were very willing to help me out and guide me through the process. And at the very least, I can tell myself that I learned something: namely, to do a thorough investigation into the building’s plumbing whenever I eventually decide to buy property!