It’s been over a month since Nicole and Pascal Vermeulen, a middle-aged couple from Lignières, France, have had to sleep in fear of someone simply walking into their home at night. That’s because they don’t have a front door anymore, or windows for that matter, after the house owner removed them as punishment for not receiving the rent.
Three years ago, when the Vermeulen family found a 110 square-meter house for rent in the village of Lignières, for €500 a month, they thought they were getting a good deal, but things started going south soon after they moved in.
The building’s septic tank got clogged years ago, which rendered the toilet and shower virtually unusable. The tenants have had to deal with human waste coming up through the toilet and the shower drain on more than one occasion, and the bathroom walls are constantly covered with mold. Also their garage always smells like a sewer.
Despite their repeated pleas to the owner of the apartment to get the septic tank fixed, and the home being declared insanitary by the CAF (Direction of Family Allocations), the owner simply disregarded the problems.
Because Nicole and Pascal have a low monthly income, they can’t simply look for another place to live, so they did the most extreme thing they could do to get the owner’s attention – they stopped paying their rent.
That didn’t quite work out the way they had hoped, though. Instead of either getting the septic tank fixed or asking them to leave if they didn’t find the house suitable to their needs, the man took some drastic measures of his own, cutting their electricity and water.
Nicole Vermeulen has to wear an oxygen mask at night, so having no power was a big deal, but the couple decided they weren’t going to back down. They refused to leave or pay the monthly rent, but that only made the owner angrier.
Last month, he came by and simply removed the front door and the windows of the house, the living-room door, the mailbox and the garden gate. The tenants could do nothing but sit and watch, because, well, they were his property.
“We do not sleep at night, we take turns keeping guard,” Nicole said in a radio interview. “Since we have no more doors, we are afraid that the owner will just walk in.”
The couple are terrified, as the owner of the house reportedly has a prior conviction for armed violence during a previous neighborhood conflict.
In case you’re wondering why the Vermeulen’s don’t just file a complaint or take the owner to court, they apparently already did that, but have little to show for it. After they won the trial and the appeal, a judge ordered the owner of the house to pay the couple €2,800, but they have yet to see a cent from him.
Nicole and Pascal are currently looking for an emergency relocation solution, but with a modest monthly budget of just €530 between them, the task looks daunting. Meanwhile, they continue to live in a house with no front door or windows.
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