On the door of the office on the ground floor of the Bishop’s Palace, the Marseille police station, a label specifies the name of the service: “Underground economy”. On her computer screen, Delphine Lyon, police brigadier, opens a few files: leprous apartments with ceilings supported by props, gutted floors from which downpours are pouring, stairs that threaten to collapse. She also clicks on the image of an infinity pool: this one was taken in the residence of one of the owners of these slums.

When, on November 5, 2018, two buildings on the rue d’Aubagne collapsed, swallowing up eight lives, Delphine Lyon had a stomach ache, like tens of thousands of Marseillais. So, when in the weeks and months following the tragedy, a tidal wave of complaints and reports of unsanitary or dangerous housing flooded the police stations, the police official seized it.

More than two years after the tragedy, the fight against unworthy housing was structured within, in particular, a local group dealing with delinquency. In 2020, the Marseille prosecutor’s office opened 49 investigations concerning buildings at risk and 27 others on unsanitary buildings. “I cannot eradicate this problem, entrust to World Dominique Laurens, public prosecutor. I can’t solve decades of abandonment, but we want investigations to progress. So we assume our role with real will. “

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By seconding a magistrate to these investigations, the Marseille prosecutor’s office is organized. Just like at the police station, where David Brugère, head of departmental security, welcomes a new dynamic. “The material is complex, very technical, is it appropriate, but our objective is clear: to seize, recover goods, sums from people who live very well by exploiting human misery. “ Two buildings are already being seized as well as an “apartment” in Aubagne, where the owner accommodated tenants in a converted cellar, a place unsuitable by nature for habitation.

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The stack of 35 Delphine Lyon files provides a panorama of owners in the crosshairs of justice. At the bottom of the ladder, she explains, “These people who have made a rental investment, can no longer follow and let slip.” One of them had bought an apartment for 10,000 euros hand in hand, but could not even pay the running costs. These are summoned, heard in free hearing. Privileged target, the owners of entire buildings who continue to house tenants in buildings subject to a ban on living. These, the investigators of the underground economy group will “Look for them in the morning” to take them into custody. “We also see the conditions in which they live”, tells Delphine Lyon. The crossing guard never resists, showing them the photos of their slums, to ask “If they would agree to live in the conditions in which their tenants live. Of course, all answer yes ”.

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