Once Upon A Time I Moved to Geneva…

Once upon a time we moved to Geneva, Switzerland, and spent their six years. Our Swiss ‘journey’ commenced on 14 February 2014 and ended 29 February 2020.

Switzerland was not the first foreign country that we resided in. There was also London, Moscow, New York, Dubai, Helsinki, and now Berlin. We love travelling and experiencing life in foreign lands, so to speak.

As usual when relocating to a new city we had to rent an accommodation that would become our temporary home. The accommodations we have lived in over years of travelling ranged from apartments in converted period houses to the ones in newly built high-scrapers. Like the one in Dubai, for an instance, where we lived in a fifty storey building right on the shore of the turquoise sea.

But back to Geneva.

At the time of our arrival, the city rental market was booming, or so we were told. According to statistics majority of residents in Geneva, the local and the expatriates alike, were renting. Although the newcomers to the city, we were not the usual expatriates. For, we did not have a contract with a big firm or any firm at all for that matter. It was the first time ever that we had moved as independent professionals on our own terms, thinking of starting a new chapter in our professional lives, and with the time even making Geneva our permanent home.

The accommodation that we had found seemed affordable, at least at the first glance, in the otherwise rather unaffordable Geneva. The English would call this flat a ‘two-bedroom’ one, the French and Genevan — ‘5 pieces’ (five rooms) It comprised of a small kitchen, a toilet, a bathroom, a bedroom, a study-room, and an open plan sitting-living room. The flat was located in a house on Plateau de Champel, in Champel district.

The position of the house where we found the flat was very favourable, at least from our point of view. It was near the centre, just a stroll of fifteen or some minutes 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 donated to the city by his widowed wife. The park was visible from our bedroom windows. The windows of the sitting-living room where we would be seated with our laptops looked upon the CEVA construction site, which before 2011 was a charming park, but was wiped off for the sake of building a metro station.

Unfortunately, we never experienced the view onto this park, as we moved into the flat when the construction of the metro station had already began but was somewhat in the beginning stage of it.

The house and the park on Plateau de Champel before the CEVA metro construction, Geneva, Switzerland.

Due to the year of the building’s construction — 1921, — the house that was designed and built by Bovy & Reverdin architects on Plateau de Champel is regarded as a listed property.

As some old photographs of Plateau de Champel found on Notre Histoire archive website attest, the building originally housed an apartment hotel, one of many in Champel area at the time, for it was 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. Sometime between 1940s and 1960s, the building was supposedly acquired by the father of the current owner and was taken care of and managed by him up until mid 1990s.

As long-living residents of the house on Plateau de Champel 20 recall, Maunoir senior knew his business well and also got along with his tenants. Perhaps him being a resident in the same building helped in achieving the success he did. For letting business is a very much people’s business. But not every heir of a successful enterprise can keep up with the path of his predecessor.

Some time in the beginning on 1990s the business was passed to the son of the original owner, Henri-Louis Maunoir. It is believed he was still residing in the building. But he did not stay long. According to the long-staying tenants the interests of Henri-Louis Maunoir lied elsewhere. So, he moved out and focused on racing cars, handing over the maintenance of his father’s legacy to the real-estate agency, Bory & Sie Regie of which he also owns a part.

The sitting-living room of the apartment, Plateau de Champel 20, Geneva, Switzerland.

At the moment of us spotting the flat on the market, — end of December 2013 — it was offered with a discounted rent — 15%. The reason being the ongoing CEVA metro construction right in front of the building. The construction, as we had learnt later, began in 2011 in the place of a charming park that had been cut to give away to the construction works.

The advertised reduced rental price of 3,400 CHF plus 200 CHF for services was within our budget. We visited the flat. It was 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. We did not mind though, as the colours used in decorating these rooms gave a jolly feeling — the floor and the walls were covered in apricot colour tiles.

At the moment of us making a decision to take the flat, the 15% discount on the ‘original’ price of 4,000 CHF sounded reasonable. Especially so, that we were assured that the CEVA construction works would end in two years and we could benefit from living so close to the metro station.

After a second visit to the flat we received our rental contract, which was shown to an independent lawyer. Reading through it she spotted queer thing. According to the rental contract, drawn by the real-estate agency, we were agreeing to pay in advance a full year rent for the first year — 2014, — as well as a full year rent for 2015. Although, the first-year condition was mutually agreed on, the second full year advanced rent payment was an unpleasant surprise.

Though surprised and somewhat puzzled, we, nonetheless, thought that it was a misunderstanding on the side of the real-estate agency and asked them to correct the clause in the contract. They did, but this was not the end of it.

We signed the contract middle of January 2014, a week or so after viewing the flat 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. Especially so, that we had already have a flat to move in. But as eager as we were, we were told that we could not move in just yet. Instead, the move would be possible 14 February 2014.

Perplexed, we enquired from the relocation agent. Somewhat reluctantly she said that the real-estate agency Bory & Sie Regie started a renovation of the kitchen in the flat. At hearing this, we were rather startled. For, when we visited the flat, there was not a word about any renovation planned, nor we asked for any either. Something was certainly amiss with the real-estate agency and the way they conducted business. But at the time we could not figure out what.

Regardless the renovation of the kitchen that kept us waiting, when we moved in on 14th of February 2014 we found many things that needed to be fixed, the things that are hard to spot while visiting the flat, but very apparent when you live in it. It was annoying of course after long waiting but we were happy that we finally have a temporary home.

Having lived in the flat for two years, — 2014 and 2015, — we had come to realise that the CEVA metro construction works was an enormous disturbance to our daily life, especially so that we both worked from home. The reality of the moment unfortunately did not match the statement in the rental contract that by the end of 2015 the construction work would be finished.

By this time, we had already known more about the CEVA construction works, its schedule, and also had been informed by our Swiss friends about the Swiss rental laws. In addition, we possessed the information that we did not when signing the contract. Namely how much the previous tenant — a certain Hans Ulriksen of Societe Generale Private Banking — SGPB at the time, — paid before the construction works began. Having assessed all the information we had come to know, we realised that either intentionally or unintentionally but we had been mislead by the real-estate agency.

CEVA metro construction works on Plateau de Champel 2014–2016, Geneva, Switzerland.

Meanwhile, disregarding the real state of things, the agency Bory & Sie Regie informed us that the rent goes up as planned to 4,000 CHF plus 200 CHF service. The sum of 4,000 CHF as we had already known by now was not an initial price but the increased when the construction works were already underway one.

Astonished, we wrote to the real-estate agency, informing that the CEVA construction works were still going on, and as a consequence and in consideration of this we would like the rent to be kept at the same level, for according to the Swiss rental law we were entitled to the reduction while the construction is still ongoing. The real-estate agency agreed but only for another year. Their letter stated that to their knowledge the construction works would be finished by the end of 2016. Holding their response in our hands and looking down at the CEVA construction site before us, we thought of how it was really possible.

Come end of 2016, the construction works, as we had predicted, were still in full swing, looming before us day after day. The plain reason being the CEVA metro construction was running two years late.

However, the real-estate agency was convinced otherwise. In the midst of the construction works stretching before the windows of our flat we were asked yet again to pay 4,000 CHF plus 200 CHF for services starting January 2017. Cutting the long story short, the real-estate agency got their way and from January 2018 we had to pay their ‘original price, although the construction works kept going as before, perhaps just with less noise.

In 2017, on receiving unfavourable response in regards to the reduction fo the rent, we decided to go to ASLOCA — an organisation that was established in 1942 in order to protect the rights of tenants, — and ask for help.

Part 2 — A ‘Respectful’ Scheme

Part 3 — The Client is Always Right… Or is He?

Special post scriptum based on the recent event of trying by the interested in concealing the information and mentioned in this and two other articles parties to put pressure on me to remove the publications.

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Seraphima Bogomolova

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