Damp and woodworm in French home – what rights?

We bought a house in June. Prior to seeing it, I asked the owner and estate agent if there was damp or woodworm. 

30 October 2019
By Oliver Rowland

They denied it and I have an email confirming it. They also denied any problem during visits. We had a survey done, which found woodworm in both lofts and a damp/condensation problem through poor ventilation. Had we known, we would not have bought the house. The owner failed to do a parasite survey as part of the diagnostics. The agent and notaire failed to mention this and said there was no need for a termite report in this area. I understand now that this particular diagnostic is a requirement. I am now considering going to an independent notaire. S.W.

Based on what you say, including the fact that you have an email where the agent and/or owner say there are no termites or damp and, notably, that no termite diagnostic was supplied when the home is in an area where this is required, we consider that you have legal grounds for court action against the seller on grounds of vices cachés (hidden defects).

You could choose either to ask for financial compensation or for the sale to be annulled.

For such action to succeed, the defect should be of a serious nature – which is probably fulfilled, as you say you would not have purchased the house if you had been aware – and it should have existed before the purchase.

However, it should not have been such that you could have been reasonably expected to have seen it with a normal inspection of the property.

In the case of damp, aggravating circumstances could include where an owner has tried to cover the problem up by painting over damp patches as a temporary fix.

Particularly in the case of the termites, a seller is deemed legally responsible in the case of the discovery of a vice that would have been revealed by a diagnostic report that was not supplied.

An independent notaire may, as you say, be able to advise. However, in contentious cases like this, it would probably be more effective to go to an avocat (barrister).

Notaire François Trémosa of the Groupe Monassier in Toulouse said if the termites diagnostic was compulsory, then the notaire may be implicated as well as the seller, although he said it would be “extremely odd” for a notaire to forget a required diagnostic or to state it was not necessary when it was.

He said it is also worth considering the price paid, ie. if the price paid for the home was low, then the court may be less likely to award compensation or may award a lesser amount.

“If so, it should have rung a bell on the buyer’s side,” he said.

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