Owning a French mountain property: a risky business

What liabilities, if any, are incumbent on the owner of a French property who is about to let it out or sell it? Thanks to a recent change to the wording of articles L. 125-5 and R. 125-23 to R. 125-27 of the environmental code, the tenant’s or buyer’s position has now been substantially improved thanks to the duty of information package ( ”information acquéreur locataire” ).

avalanche chalet

Until the early 1980s, only a few local communities were equipped with maps giving the likely position of avalanches (“cartes de localisation probable des avalanches” or CLPAs). Prospective tenants/purchasers were not aware or informed of the existence of such maps and local autorities were neither keen nor willing to disclose their contents as it might tarnish their reputation.

In 1982 the French legislator implemented a right of access to the maps setting out risk exposure (“plans d’exposition aux risques” or PER), the successor to the CLPAs, by making them expressly disclosable to citizens by the local authorities. However that statute went fairly unnoticed as very few local communities actually adopted a PER.

It then took nearly 25 years for things to change drastically and positively. Since 1 st June 2006, the owner of a French property is under a duty to inform the prospective purchaser or tenant of the natural risks to which the property is subjected. This would of course include flooding, rock falls, earthquakes and of course avalanches. But on which documents will the French property owner rely? In each “departement” or county concerned, the state representative (“préfet”) must prepare a detailed file which is updated every five years setting out the major risks identified in this area and their possible consequences on people’s safety as well as housing and environnement. He aslo makes recommendations and gives advice as to the best way to limit exposure to the risk. This file is then passed on to the local mayors concerned who will complement it by adding any further information which may be relevant such as, amongst other things, the history of major natural events and the steps taken to prevent their reoccurence and how to best remedy them should they occur again.

Major publicity must be given to the mayor’s report, for instance in campsites if they are subject to flooding. This follows the major floodings of Vaison-la-Romaine on 22 September 2002 which led to a number of deaths.

In local communities which have a prevention plan for natural risks (“plan de prévention des risques naturels”, the successort to the PER), the mayor must update his report every two years.

Thanks to the departemental and communal documents discussed above, French property owners now have easy access to information concerning the possible hazards to which their property is potentially subjected. Since 1 st June 2006, the owner of a French property has a mandatory duty, when selling or letting, to complete a declaration setting out whatever risks the property is exposed to. A fairly detailed map setting out the location of the property should be made available to the purchaser/tenant. Any failure to do so may result in a court order rescinding the sale or bringing the tenancy agreement to an end as well as compensation.

So the rule here is not “let the buyer beware” but “let the owner make people aware”.

-- The author is a French/English lawyer.

Posted by on Sunday, 01 July, 2007 at 10:07 AM

I’ve got a couple of questions. Is the “duty of information package” a bit like the UK HIPs package? I know in France you have to provide energy efficiency certificates etc. when selling.

Has the Montroc avalanche been influential in this legislation? As I recall the CLPA showed the avalanche that hit the chalets but the Chamonix town hall didn’t revise the PER. It seems that in this case of Montroc the seller would be covered by the PER not showing a risk and the buyer would have to sue the town hall, probably with no success. So like HIPS it seems like a lot of paperwork for the seller or lettee which may not provide the buyer with useful information.

Posted by davidof on  Sunday, 01 July, 2007  at 04:02 PM
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