Sarah Bright, property lawyer in Toulouse, tackles the unmentionable
As comical as it seems, I spend one huge dollop of my time rectifying expats’ scatological disputes. Leaky drains, overflowing cesspits, broken pipes…
Crap plumbing, though hardly glamorous, has become a recurrent theme in many of our legal cases; like a feebly flushing toilet the doo-doo dossiers defiantly pop-up again and again.
The problems, although astonishingly diverse, all stem from the false belief that one’s ownership and responsibility disappear along with the dirty business, as soon as it’s gone around the U-bend. The offending parcel sloshes away from the house but very often closer to the neighbours’. And this is where it kicks up a stink.
Because let’s be clear; the majority of poop problems are at first olfactive, and nauseatingly so. Nothing scuppers a balmy summer evening BBQ better than the tangy whiff of number two. Invisible and invasive, the eye-watering stench from a brimming septic tank cannot be ignored or escaped and will invariably put you off your chipolatas.
The attitude to human effluent disposal, in many parts of rural France has been ‘out of sight out of mind’, especially when upwind. Raw sewage still trickles into babbling brooks or ‘somewhere down the end of the field’. But even in the case of perfectly normed grey-water drainage, ruptures can occur during building work, and tree roots – in search of ’nutriment’ – are renown for bunging pipes.
Merde happens, deal with it
This unconscious invasion of airspace can drive people potty, and no matter how ‘cordiale’ the ‘entente’ with one’s neighbour, informing them that they’re stinking out your house with their excrement, is best approached with a mastery of diplomatic French.
The saving grace is that in practically every case the perpetrator of the inconvenience has done so by negligence – an involuntary accident, and in most cases your neighbour will remain your neighbour, so it’s also in their best interests to keep things cosy with you.