What do these situations have in common?
- An overtired, sleep-deprived mom who manages to remember everything (diapers, snacks, favorite toy) except the keys, that remain locked inside, once she shut the door – luckily the baby was outside with her;
- A clumsy teenager who proceeds to break the key inside the lock trying to open the door without too much a care;
- A family of 4, coming back from the holidays only to find the door shattered after a burglary.
The answer is: they are all potential victims to one of the favorite scams in the Ville Lumière, where a shameless locksmith will come to the rescue only to charge you 10 times the fair price.
The typical scenario:
Your door is locked so you panic and call the first random locksmith scams number you see in plain sight in your building
- The guy quotes you €50 and 15 minutes to open the door
- The guy arrives and, “wow, looks like your door is a rare Fitzstrafolerlabaguette model, to open this it’s usually 500 bucks but hey, you’re nice, and I’m doing it for 300.”
- He then proceeds to force the door as if he was on the set of a medieval history film and your house was a besieged castle and oops! The door is now completely broken and needs replacement.
- Your guy scribbles an estimate on a Domino’s pizza menu nearby, and it’s now €2.000,00 (special discount, no invoice, but don’t worry your insurance will cover it) and, when you start to legitimately complain, he dismounts the door and laughs at you saying that if you want to sleep without the door, then be his guest (Spoiler alert the insurance is not going to pay).
- Finally, you write the check, wondering where exactly things went wrong.
What to do to protect yourself?
Our answer is:
prevention, prevention and prevention.
Here are a few tips to protect yourself from these situations, which unfortunately are more common than you could expect.
1) Keep your spare keys in a safe place
Most Parisian flats have doors that lock themselves automatically, be it intentional or not (a nasty gust of wind while you’re throwing the garbage) you can find yourself locked out very quickly.
Always have a spare key with someone you trust – a neighbor, a friend, the gardien – the closer the better.
2) Do your homework in advance
When you move to Paris, or to a new neighborhood, you might want to research few competent artisans (a plumber, an electrician, a locksmith): it can be as important as your GP or the new kindergarten.
Or, you know, you could delegate the whole circus to us and use the saved time to taste all the pains au chocolat within a 1 mile (1.6 km) radius, and select the best (hard work, but somebody has to do it, right?).
Beware of the ads you receive in your mailbox or stuck somewhere in your building. More often than not they are low quality for a bazillion € scammers. You should also be wary of the first findings of Mr. Google. You might want to look into a close-by boutique to avoid expensive “displacement” fees or, even better, someone who specialises in your particular door system/brand of lock (Tordjman, Blindex, Cisa, Bricard to name a few). The icing on the cake if they have an emergency line 7/7 – according to Murphy’s law your door will shut on a Sunday, 15th August.
Some websites such as Izi by EDF will get you a clear estimate depending on your location, the kind of accident, and the urgency level.
3) Run it by your insurance first
Many insurance contracts, compulsory when you move in (assurance habitation), include assistance in case of burglary/accident and will help you to find a locksmith while paying for all or a part of his fees.
Be careful though: they typically won’t reimburse a random intervention, only qualified ones which you can support with a proper estimate and invoice, leading us to next point.
4) Have it written down
For any and all interventions, be it an emergency or scheduled, the locksmith has to provide you with a clear, detailed estimate of all the costs (parts and labor) upfront.
Be firm on having a written estimate: a while ago it was required only over €150, but now it’s always required.
The estimate will give you an idea of the charges, help you negotiate (you might want to ask for multiple estimates from different locksmiths) and give you some legal footing in case things go sour.
A dishonest locksmith will think it twice before writing down a €2.000 estimate just to open your door with an X-ray film: the cheapest trick ever and works surprisingly well in a lot of cases.
For the same reason, always demand an invoice detailing your expenses: you might be tempted to save some money on VAT, but it’s not worth it should you need to go to court.
5) What if it’s too late?
What’s next? We can help you in recovering something: we’ll research the locksmith financial situation to make sure he’s not bankrupt, then contact him with a mise en demeure.
Possible ways of recourse are also:
- A mediator;
- The DGCCRF (Direction Générale de la Concurrence, de la Consommation et de la Répression des Fraudes) ;
- The Small Claims Court (Juge d’instance) under €4.000.
Often a well-phrased cover letter, threatening legal action, will be sufficient to have your counterpart reduce his charges.
*Please note: Always keep all the proof: estimates, invoices, and the parts that were changed (you might discover that your superhero changed a perfectly fine lock just to charge you double).
Finally, don’t forget you have the right to call the police if you feel unsafe: an angry locksmith, three times your size, who colorfully insist on you paying his fees can be scary as hell. Also bear in mind that nobody can force an intervention you’re not comfortable with, for example dismounting the door.
See here about how to deposit a main courante or plainte (an actionable claim).
And here to find the closest Police / Gendarmerie office.
Born in Genova, Italy, and adopted by la Ville Lumière, I’ve been a corporate lawyer in London and Dubai, a burn-out mum in Singapore, an event manager in the fanciest art galleries and boutiques of Paris: now I am here to avoid you the cortisol-infused nightmare that my previous 9 relocations have been.
The sunrise over Oman desert, the sunset on Bali ocean, a pint in Notting Hill or a Martini on a New York rooftop: I won’t trade a croissant in Latin Quarter for any of it, and more!