Back in 2013, I got accepted to the most prestigious university there is for French Literature: Université de Paris Sorbonne IV. And I couldn’t believe my luck, I was about to live in the most beautiful city in the world: Paris!!
But before I arrived, there were some formalities to be done, one of them was to find an accommodation. And it was an urgent requirement as it solved two purposes: one was getting a student visa and the second was obviously not to live on the streets of Paris.
As soon as I got my acceptance from the university, I started looking for apartments/student accommodations online. On a site recommended by the university, www.lokaviz.fr, I searched for all the possible options that fit my budget.
I came across an apartment, about 20m2, fully furnished and in the area Rambuteau (central paris). The ad said that the apartment was 500 euros per month inclusive of all charges. I could not be happier. I immediately contacted the owner on the given email address. The owner, Brigitte Gesier, who lived in Lille, replied to me within two hours giving me all the details.
She sent a form to me asking for my personal info and also asked me to send a copy of the documents like Passport, Visa, my school’s acceptance letter, my parents passports, their income tax statements, etc. in order to make the “bail” of the apartment. The next morning, I got all these documents together and sent it to her.
Again, she replied within two hours saying that she will send me the contract but in return I have to send her the first month’s rent (500 euros) + caution (200 euros) via western union. And it didn’t seem completely inappropriate, as all landlords need some kind of security. So I went to Western Union in Delhi and asked them if they can transfer the money to my landlady’s account (which was on the name of another person). Western Union told me that in India they can only receive money, they can’t transfer.
My next step was to go to Cox and Kings, who was the official partner of the French Embassy in 2013 to provide euro cards and other financial help options. They agreed to transfer money but they needed a bank account and not the Western Union mandat details. So I asked my landlady to send me her RIB. And she told me that she would send it to me in a day or two.
Two days later, I got a RIB on the name of some M.Simon (Credit du Nord). She told me its her friend’s RIB who lives in Paris and will deal with all the issues related to the apartment. Anyway I was happy that the transfer was made and finally I will have a proof of accommodation. I got a contract on my name from her side, which was stamped by the mairie and also a house insurance from MAAF on my name.
Everything was working out well for me. She asked me if I knew anyone in Paris who could come and take the keys from her. One of my dad’s friends lived in Paris. I requested her to help me out with this. She went to the apartment at the decided time and waited there for an hour. No one showed up. Next morning, I get an email from the landlady saying that her husband met with an accident and she couldn’t inform me.
In the coming few days, she sent another email asking me if I can transfer the rent for another month (500 + 200 euros) as she needed the money for her husband’s hospitalization. Being the emotional people we are, we transferred the money. She sent me the rent receipts for 3 months, adjusting the amounts. And she said she is very thankful and she will come personally to the airport to thank me and give me the keys of the apartment. I was a little skeptical by now, but still had some faith in humanity. At the airport in Paris, as expected, no one turned up.
If my dad hadn’t arranged for an immediate accommodation with his friend, I would have been at the airport, sitting alone and crying in a city that is new to me.
The next morning, I get another email from the landlady apologizing for not making it and telling me that she is stuck in Africa because of some official work and needs 500 euros to fly to Paris. I had enough of her, I understood it’s a big arnaque and I have already lost a lot of money (1400 euros) that I won’t ever get back. I went to the Police and complained against her. But it could never compensate for the emotional trauma that I went through during this time. I am writing this so that no one else has to ever go through what I went through. Beware! Paris isn’t all that dreamy as it looks.
Editor's note: This article was written by Chinmayee Naik (photo), a young Indian student in France at the time of this incident, and running an agency to help Indian students coming to France today.
This article was published earlier in a project called "Staying safe in France". Now that this is merging with the Indians in France portal website, I am republishing this again here.
I hope that our students and newcomers will be more careful here after reading about various misfurtunes that are happening to fellow compatriots.
Sourav Choudhury is a social entrepreneur living in France since 2003 and working for the cause of Indian community of France, since 2007. He is founder of multiple projects: the largest social network of the Indian community of France, a French language school for english speaking expatriates, this website, and few other projects.