de Rham is a sleazy rental agent (April 12, 2007)

I waited before posting anything because I wanted to see what position de Rham was going to take. I just got mail from them that they are sticking to their tactics, so screw protecting their image.

When living in Switzerland I have worked hard to be polite and do things properly. I want to spread good karma and have a friendly visit. Besides, I do not know how things work, and so I could not cheat people if I tried. So I have, for example, bought insurance that I am not sure I really have to get, and I have obeyed apartment rules that I am not sure the concierge really has a right to impose. I paid a "multimedia" bill for over a year that I did not understand, and it turns out that I was paying for cable television, something I thought was not even available in that apartment. Overall, I have tried not to rock the boat as a foreigner in Switzerland.

What de Rham is doing now is too much, however. I will fight this to the end.

What they have done is to conduct a moving-out inspection without me present, and then decided that I owe 3600 CHF in damages to my old apartment. This 3600 of "damages" includes all kinds of improvements and renovations. They wanted 800 to hire a cleaning service for an already empty and clean room. They want 400 CHF for removing "personal effects", which I later learned meant "a couch and three casseroles". They changed some electric fixtures, and upgraded some things in the kitchen.

To give you an idea of the scale of this money, 3600 CHF is a little over three months' rent for the apartment in question. 400 CHF is enough to fly round trip from Geneva to any capitol in Europe, two or three times. And to give you an idea of what might be going on here, 3600 CHF is almost exactly the amount of my security deposit for the apartment.

Their justification for all this is that they mailed me a letter on February 1 saying that I had to appear for an inspection on February 15. I did receive that letter, 12 hours before I caught a plane to the U.S. for one month. At the time, I did not understand exactly what the letter was, so after I landed, I emailed them and asked what should we do, because I was unavailable on February 15.

I wish I could have known to send them a certified letter instead of an email. You do not want to communicate casually with de Rham. At the time, though, I had spent over a year with them communicating mostly via email, because my spoken French is even worse than my written French. This time, however, they did not respond to the email. In fact, they say they gave me a phone call and I assented to the visit. (I cannot wait to see when they claim this phone call occurred -- was I even in the country?).

Anyway, when I returned around March 1, I had a pile of mail waiting for me saying that they had inspected the room, changed the locks, and that I would owe them 3600 CHF. They did not have any receipts or pictures to show me, but they were confident they could come up with 3600 CHF of charges.

I immediately went to their office to try and clear this up. I was happy to help them, I said, but I would not simply pay them thousands of francs so they could renovate the place. They told me there was nothing they could do because the work had already been "ordered". I cannot wait to find out when the work actually occurred.

This gives you another insight into the situation: do Rham is a big organization and is not flexible at all. The work they ordered had very likely not happened yet; two months later they still have not sent me the receipts. Would it really be so hard for them to cancel the order, now that the tenant in question was standing right in front of them? Apparently they simply could not do it.

Luckily, there is a renters organization in Lausanne called ASLOCA. I paid a yearly membership (100 CHF) and can talk to someone there who knows rental law and how it all works in Lausanne. From what I hear from ASLOCA, most of the charges de Rham makes will probably fall through if I just hang in there. So again, de Rham is just incompetent. They seem to be giving me the sleazy treatment they give to someone who has left Switzerland for good, when they could have gotten this work done for free if they would be friendly with me. Now that they know I just moved across town, they cannot seem to adjust. They are trapped into their own habits.

Then again, who knows. In the courts, anything can happen, and maybe de Rham will make a few bucks here after all. So two months later I am still sitting here wondering if I will get stuck with that 3600 CHF charge. I wonder how long this will go on? I wonder what will happen if they drag it out past October, when I finally do leave Switzerland for good?

Oh, one other thing. Thank goodness I used SwissCaution! SwissCaution lets you avoid a security deposit by paying a flat, non-recoverable fee. The fee is 7%, and so it is not a great deal for a Swiss person. However, for a visiting worker it means you do not have serious money tied up if your rental agent turns out to be as sleazy as de Rham.

Lex Spoon