All Parisians have a plumbing story, especially since plumbing in old Parisian buildings tends to be an afterthought.

My story started back in the summer of 2019. A split opened up in the hallway wall, with an odd buckling in the floorboards underneath. I called the landlord and he sent a plumber, who said the problem was under the floorboards, so to let him know when we got the floor torn up for him to examine underneath. The landlord told me to report it to my insurance (in France, your renter’s insurance covers everything in the apartment). I did. Nothing happened.

Left: The interior of a Parisian apartment. The walls are wooden, there is a large floor to ceiling window/balcony, with the doors open. The furniture includes a small orange chair, various plants, and a beige couch with a black and white checkered pillow. Right: The photo is taken from the doorway, looking into a bathroom with a large gold mirror above a large sink.
Top Left: sebastien_dondain / Right: idhalindhag_photographer
Above: sebastien_dondain

A couple of months later, on a brisk fall day, water began pouring into my bathroom from the ceiling. It was a Saturday, and my landlord has no weekend number. I ran upstairs, but my neighbor, let’s call her Madame Voisine, indignantly informed me that she could see no leak in her bathroom, which was just above mine, so I set up a bucket/towel/mop system that I continued until Monday morning when I reached the landlord, who called a plumber, who sauntered by on Tuesday. He punched a hole in the ceiling to find the leak, which was, quelle surprise, from Madame Voisine’s toilet. Again, I reported it to my insurance company. They said they would talk to Madame Voisine’s insurance company and the landlord’s insurance company.

The interior of an apartment is shown. A large white bed is in the middle of the room, with a mint green blanket, and pattered black and white pillows. There is a side table next to the bed with pink flowers on top. On the other side of the room, the doors exiting to a balcony are open and plants are visible on the balcony.
Marais Bastille, Haven In

The split in the hallway wall got bigger. My son and I began stubbing our toes on the floorboards as they inched upwards. I told the landlord. Nothing happened. 

Then, one lazy Sunday afternoon in June 2020, we heard a creak, and a groan, and then a ka-boom. The bathroom ceiling had fallen in. 

The floor was covered with chunks of wet sheetrock, the walls were slathered in goo and the sink and bathtub were full of debris. The ceiling lights blinked, swinging from exposed wires. The mess had splattered into the hallway, across the floor and up onto the walls. Dirty water dripped from the underside of Madame Voisine’s bathroom. We stared into the cloud of sticky gray dust, incredulous. 

Left: The photo is taken from the top of a spiralling staircase, showing brown rectangular stairs going down about 4 flights. Right: The interior of a fireplace within a white room in an apartment. There are brown wick baskets next to the fireplace, and a bust and portrait of a man on top.
Left: idhalindhag_photographer / Right: This is Glamorous

Because it was Sunday, there was, of course, no response from the landlord. I went upstairs to inform Madame Voisine, who came down and looked at the mess, completely baffled as to what could have happened, since there was bien sûr no leak in her bathroom. I took photos for the insurance company, and my son and I spent the rest of the day cleaning up.

Monday, the landlord was horrified to hear what had happened, and rushed to send over someone three days later to clean it up. Too late, I informed the hapless guy. He shrugged and left.

My insurance company talked to the landlord’s insurance, and they both talked to Madame Voisine’s insurance. A plumber fixed her bathtub, which, oh mon dieu, had a secret leak. 

A dapper silver fox from one of those insurance companies came over to examine the place, promised he would get right on it, and disappeared forever. 

Another silver fox from some company that coordinates insurance companies came over and examined everything again, then promptly evaporated. 

Left: The photo is taken from within an apartment, facing a traditional Parisian building. The panels of the window are visible in the shot, as well as some flowers out of focus in front. Right: A photo of the floorboards in a Parisian apartment, with a pair of closed toed heels on the floor. The view from outside the window is also visible, with traditional Parisian apartments outside.

Meanwhile, in the dining room, some lovely crown molding started to crumble, and an odd square shape appeared on the ceiling. I called everybody all over again, and the landlord sent his secretary over to take a look. 

Ooh la la, she tsked. C’est pas bon.

Non, I agreed.

She told me that she didn’t like my upstairs neighbors. They had installed a shower (without permission) in their dining room, which was, bizarrement, just over the square on my dining room ceiling. 

The plumber came again and mashed his little spiky tool into the wall. Putain, he said. Forty percent humidity in the wall. He left.

I began finding puddles on the dining room floor. New bubbles started appearing in the paint in the kitchen walls, and then in my son’s bedroom. Paint flecks and dust sprinkled the floor.

The outside of a traditional Parisian apartment building.
Pauline Loroy

I wondered, what the hell was Mme Voisine doing up there? Was there some kind of The Shape of Water scenario, where she fills rooms with water to swim in?  Does she fall asleep while filling the bathtub everyday?

Concerned about the musty smell, and seriously worried that the dining room ceiling was going to fall in, and annoyed by the zero progress on repairs, I decided to move. I was thinking about it anyway. When my son goes to college this fall, I’d probably just rattle around this big apartment by myself, sweeping up paint chips and hoping a piece of sheetrock didn’t fall on the cat. 

Or on me.

Yvonne’s expat adventures…to be continued.

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Written by Yvonne Hazelton for HiP Paris. Looking to travel? Check out Haven In for a fabulous vacation rental in Paris, France or Italy. Looking to rent long-term or buy in France or Italy? Ask us! We can connect you to our trusted providers for amazing service and rates. 


Yvonne Hazelton

Yvonne is an American writer living in Paris. She blogs at Escaping the Empty Nest.


  1. After reading your story of plumbing woes, I too have had a similar experience with my apartment in Paris. We live in the Monceau Plaine where there are lots of plumbers running around repairing leaks etc. The damage that happens in an old Haussmann building is catastrophic says my neighbor upstairs. For 4 years in a row until they remodeled their bath we had leaks in the bedroom. Ceiling cracks, wet bedding and an armoire top filled up with water so when you opened its doors a good gallon of water cascaded over your head!

    Then came our turn to be the culprit in a large water leak. We found out from the first of two plumbers who came to work on our shower problem that water leaks in the interior bathroom usually spread out to the closest exterior wall. Our den walls were blistering and our electrical plugs were crackling. Our elderly neighbor below us lost her ceiling in bath etc. This went on for 2.5 years. It has been exactly a year since the last leak Amen. Insurance companies all paid out and repairs done. Welcome to Paris Apartment ownership,

  2. You are right, everyone has a plumbing story in Paris! We have an apt that we rent (well used to using VRBO) and we received a call in the middle of the night one night that the building supply store below is (Gedimat) was flooding and it was coming from our apt. HA what could we do from the USA? Anyway it turned out it was not a leak from out apt and we never heard a word YEAH! Of course another time the bld plumbing needed a new pipe ran up through out bathroom shower and they had to do the work including finding the tile that was there to comp,tee the install, luckily again we didn’t have to do much but be inconveniences. I am sure there will be more tales??! Julie B

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