The Client is Always Right… Or is He?

This piece is a continuation of the Part 1 — Once Upon A Time I Moved to Geneva…, and Part 2 — A ‘Respectful’ Scheme.

There is a saying: ‘The client is always right, even if he/she is wrong’. The statement is wise, yet it all depends how one applies the notion.

In a business that is based on clients the most important thing is to keep them satisfied and happy, for they bring in the money by staying loyal. Letting-renting is one such businesses. Lawyers and legal service is another one. In the first instance, the tenants are the clients who pay the bills of the landlord by paying their rents on time, and in the second case, the clients, for example a landlord, pays the bills of the lawyer by asking him or her to defend his/her rights. The question is here where to draw a line between the right and wrong.

In the both examples clients might be wrong on certain occasions, and even not great all around, but if they are not happy, the inflow of the money can eventually cease. This what happened in our case of tenants-landlord relationship. We stopped being the clients of our landlord and moved out, for he had failed to keep us happy.

As tenants we were entitled to certain rights. We also had some obligations. The obligation bit had always been there, promptly reminded of by the real-estate agency Bory & Sie Regie that appealed to different clauses, laws, and stipulations. The rights’ bit, however, was mostly ignored and disregarded. The reason for it remains unclear. It might have been linked to the disinterest of the landlord in his own business, the owner of several residential and commercial buildings, or it might have been due to the way the real-estate agency communicated with their client, i.e our ex landlord, the owner.

Regardless of the reasons, we, as tenants, felt as some sort of second-rate clients who must pay regularly, stay loyal, and be happy with whatever comes from the landlord or the real-estate agency. For, they had their right all-right, and we had only our obligations and no right to have a voice, and therefore ‘forbidden’ to have a say in any decision taken.

When it came to small things like fixtures here and there, all seemed fine. But when it came to really important issues such as rent reductions due to the CEVA construction works in front of the building and disturbance associated with it, we felt that our opinion did not matter. So much so that we had to go to the court to address the predicaments and find solutions.

Thanks to help provided by the ASLOCA organisation that represents tenants’ rights our very specific predicaments with our ex landlord are being reviewed by the Tribunal administrative de premiere instance in Geneva, Switzerland. The predicaments concern very specific topics: the unlawful raise of the rent, the rent reduction due to the CEVA construction works in front of the building that took place from 2011 to March 2020 (including years of us living in the flat 14 February 2014 – 29 February 2020), and the adjustment of the rent in accordance with the interest index.

The court cases could have been easily avoided should the landlord wished to simply sit down and talk through the issues. But our numerous attempts to have a dialogue with him and the real-estate agency on the subjects in question collided with reluctance to settle anything amiably, displaying ‘the my way or the highway’ attitude of the other side.

As we had learnt, we were not the only ones who experienced this kind of attitude. Other tenants did as well. Specifically in the form of having been made to sign rental contracts with a certain clause by which the real-estate agency tried to prevent the new tenants from going to the Tribunal with rent reduction appeals linked to the CEVA construction works. Such is the case of the doctor Mathieu Rougemont, who in 2018 moved into one of the flats that served him as an office on Plateau de Champel 20. In his rental contract there was the mentioned above clause that, in fact, did not have any legal value but served as a ‘bullying’ trick.

As we had gone to ASLOCA for help, our ex-landlord, Henri-Louis Maunoir, turned to a certain lawyer — Blaise Grosjean of the Bastion Avocats to protect his rights. Thus, our ex-landlord had become a client who is always right. Or is he?

The righteousness of the client in this particular case seems to be linked to his wealth. Knowingly or unknowingly, but the lawyer in question had assumed a certain position that is based on a false assumption. The very false assumption that he had included in his contra claim and supplied to be reviewed by the judges of the Tribunal administrative de premiere instance in Geneva, Switzerland.

The false assumption concerned our employment status as seen by the lawyer, for the landlord should know better since the real-estate agency has our initial application where it is clearly stated that we are independent professionals not assigned to any particular international firm or organisation. The false assumption served to show that we were not present during the day on week-days at the time of the CEVA construction works were taking place, and, therefore, could not be affected by the disturbances created by it.

It was a good try, but a great miss. Not only we stayed in the apartment during the working hours, for both of us worked from home, but because of this we were able to record in photographs and videos the CEVA metro construction works.

The hasty assumption made by Blaise Grosjean illustrates one-type-of-scenario-applies-to-all attitude. Whether the ‘scenario’ was prompted by our ex landlord or was a belief of the lawyer himself, the outcome of the false assumption is that Blaise Grosjean builds his client’s contra claim on it, which leads to further misconceptions and misinformation. Intentional or unintentional, these misconceptions, however, suit the client, whom the lawyer assumes to be right even though he is wrong in many ways.

Although, it is normal to wish to defend a client and not work against him, it is not in any way dignified to build the defence on the false assumption. The skill of a good lawyer lies in being able to use the existing true facts to create a defence that would show the judges the other side of the coin, and not to create smoky mirrors to mislead the course of justice.

The organisations — CFF Swiss railway company and Ville de Genève — that had been brought to the court by the landlord seeking compensation from them as a result of us appealing to one from him have adopted a similar ‘false assumption’ attitude.

Both organisations are responsible for CEVA metro construction and ground works around it. CFF Swiss railways — for the metro lines and stations, which took place between 2011 and 2018, and Ville de Genève— for the ground works around the stations that took place between 2018 and March 2020.

These organisations are convinced that where their actions are concerned they were doing everything correctly, responsibly, quietly and respectfully to people and the environment, and that the citizens and residents of Geneva absolutely must appreciate their enormous effort. The only minor detail that seems to have been left out of this assumption are the citizens and residents themselves. Especially, the ones who reside in the buildings situated next to the CEVA metro constructions sites. Not only they had suffered nine years of disturbance, noise, dust, and inconveniences, but some were not even compensated for the inconvenience, like in the case of some of our long-staying neighbours on Plateau de Champel 20.

One of such long-staying tenants, now deceased, Monsieur Fischer had been living in his flat on Plateau de Champel 20 since the end of 1920s when he being a kid moved into it with his mother. His wife — Madam Fischer - is a writer. She writes eighteen century style novels in French and for that reason spends lots of time at home working on her books. Imagine what kind of disturbance the CEVA construction works must have been for her. But instead of lowering her rent for the period of the construction works the Bory & Sie Regie never compensated for the inconvenience but raised the rent in 2017. On receiving the letter informing her about the raise, Madam Fischer decided to comply even without trying to defend her rights. The reason being, as she had explained, she was afraid the landlord would kick her out for standing up for herself.

The responsible for the disturbance and degrading living conditions in the areas of the construction works CFF Swiss railways and Ville de Genève are building their defence on the notion that they were improving the living environment and that it was all done in the name of the city’s citizens and residents. Apparently, everyone concerned, including us, should have been grateful for living next to the construction site all these years, since it was for our own benefit. The only thing being that the we could not use the very benefit the CFF and Ville de Genève are referring to, for the ‘benefit’’ was in the process of being constructed. And when, finally, we could use it, we had to move out.

A great asset on its own as the CEVA metro construction might be, it was not intended for us, but more for the landlord who owns several residential and commercial buildings, for the CFF, and for Ville de Genève administration. As it turns out all of them have benefited from the CEVA metro construction works in some way or the other. The landlord on his schemes with rental prices, the railroads from the federal budgets and investments, the city from redistributing the federal investment between its members i.e. construction contractors and companies...

What for us, having almost had a nervous break down trying to stand up for ourselves and having enormous stress living and working next to ever ongoing construction site, end of 2019 we had finally decided to move on and out of Switzerland, and leave the negative memories behind. The latter, however, proves to be not so easy as the court cases on the matter of rent reduction as a compensation for living next to the construction site is still ongoing…

Part 1 — Once Upon A Time I Moved to Geneva…

Part 2 — A ‘Respectful’ Scheme

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.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights

The right to freedom of expression is recognised as a human right under article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and recognised in international human rights law in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Article 19 of the UDHR states that ‘everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference’ and ‘everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice’.

Seraphima Bogomolova

Personal stories and investigations

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