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T Perrin C
T Perrin C, Consultant: information en droit du travail
Category: French Law
Satisfied Customers: 1412
Experience:  8 years as a Senior judge at Paris Conseil de Prud'hommes (Paris Industrial Tribunal)
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My wife and I live in France. In September 2012 we booked

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My wife and I live in France. In September 2012 we booked a gite in Brittany for the period 3 - 24 August 2013. We paid a deposit of 600 euros and signed a contract, one clause of which stated that no financial penalty would be applied in the case of a cancellation if the owner suffered no financial loss because of it. In October we cancelled the reservation, but the owner said she would have to wait until May or June 2013 to see if she could relet the property. A printout of her availability chart on 7 August showed that she had relet the property for the period. We have now asked by email for our deposit back three times so far, but she refuses to respond. What is the simplest, most likely - and preferably cheapest - way of getting our deposit back, or do we kiss it goodbye?
One would have to check first how this deposit was labeled in French, "arrhes" or "acompte" which will have a strong bearing on your legal rights in case of cancellation.
If all was written in English, with no French version of the contract whatsoever (in which only the French contract could be referred to in case of a disagreement), the clause saying that no penalty would apply to a cancellation if the owner suffered no financial prejudice, would be binding for the owner.
To enforce it, one would first have to send the owner a mise en demeure letter (in French) by recorded delivery mail demanding that she sends the deposit back within ten days or face legal proceedings.
If she does not comply, or answer unsatisfactorily, you can then take the case to the local juge de proximité (small claim court). If you can expose your case in French, you do not need to be represented or assisted by a lawyer in this court.
Customer: replied 4 years ago.

The contract is in French. Here is article 11:

Annulation totale avant l'entree dans le logement

Sauf cas de force majeure reconnu par la loi, une annulation signalee dans un delai de moins de 45 jours sera facturee 15% + 2% par journee ecoulee au dela des 45 jours, une annulation de derniere minute sera ainsi facturee a 100% du prix du sejour. Le locataire ayant prealablement regle le sejour sera remobourse tenant compte de la deduction du montant facture. Cette penalisation toutefois ne sera pas appliquee si les proprietaires ne subissent pas de prejudice (locataire de remplacement accepte par le proprietaire).

One would conclude reading this extract that if you canceled more than 45 days before the beginning of reserved letting period, no penalty is to be applied anyway.
The penalties apply for cancellation 45 days or less before the beginning of the reserved letting period. You should have been reimbursed straight away as you canceled your reservation in October 2012 whereas the reservation would have been for August 2013.
You can demand immediate repayment (see my first answer) provided you can prove you indeed canceled in October 2012 (admissible proof: cancellation letter by recorded delivery mail).
Customer: replied 4 years ago.

We cancelled so early (by email, not registered post, but acknowledged by her) that one would have expected a reimbursement straight away, but we tacitly agreed to wait until May/June to see if she was able to relet the property.

Does your service extend to advice about wording of the 'mise en demeure' letter and, in particular what civil code we would cite?

PS. very satisfied with your advice so far.

Unfortunately JustAnswer rules do not allow expert to draft legal correspondence for online customers which would infringe French lawyers' monopoly on this category of services.
You need not quote the civil code in this case. Keep it simple. Quote the contract as you did above.
Indeed you should not have agreed to wait for so long as you were entitled to immediate reimbursement.

If you have not sent the cancellation by registered post, has she acknowledged it in writing (other than by email which cannot be admissible as proof of date...)
Customer: replied 4 years ago.

The contracts were sent by post but all other correspondence was via email. She acknowledged our cancellation on 19 Nov 2012, and wrote again on 20 August quoting article 1590 of the Civil Code as the reason for failing to return our deposit. We pointed out that this article relates to property purchase, but this did not move her!

She was probably trying to gain time knowing that in these matters, all correspondence by regular post or email does not really matter as, in case you wish to sue her, you will be asked to prove that you indeed cancelled in due time by showing the recorded delivery proof... Generic email printouts cannot be easily be used as proof of date in a court of law as even little kids can fake the dates and times(and sender references) in a few seconds.
T Perrin C and other French Law Specialists are ready to help you
Customer: replied 4 years ago.

Many thanks for your help - quick and clear advice