What can I do if a firm has cheated me?
What can you do if a firm has cheated and deceived you? I have had a lot of problems with a firm of artisans I employed to lay tiles. M.C.
When it comes to firms you employ to do work, firstly you should always do checks before you consider using them. At a minimum, check they are registered with a business Siret number at infogreffe.fr (search with the name in the box at the top of the site). You may also see references to a number called a Siren – this is the first nine figures of the Siret (you can double check a Siren at avis-situation-sirene.insee.fr).
For extra reassurance, some firms have labels such as Qualibat (for most building or renovation work) or Qualifelec for electricians or Qualibois for woodwork, which show they have been vetted as offering recognised quality standards. There is also the RGE label for firms carrying out renovation work linked to energy-efficiency.
Qualibat.com has a database of all labelled firms, including the facility to check using the Siren, in its section for particuliers (members of the public).
Always ask for a written devis giving the nature and cost of the work. You may also request to see proof of insurance, called assurance responsabilité civile professionnelle. This should include la garantie décennale, a 10-year guarantee of the reliability of the work (e.g. if your roof is re-done and two years later it leaks, it comes into play).
In the event something goes wrong, however and the firm does not complete the work to your satisfaction, the first thing to do is try to resolve the issue ‘amicably’, which you can do formally by sending a recorded delivery letter detaling why you are dissatisfied.
If you do not obtain satisfaction, you may wish to seek the help of a consumer protection association. You may have to pay a joining fee but this can be a good investment in order to enlist their help.
The best-known is UFC-Que Choisir (find a branch here: quechoisir.org/un-litige/dpt.php) but there are a number of different ones (search for ones concerning themselves with ‘services’, at this link: tinyurl.com/find-consom).
Another avenue is to go to a conciliateur de justice, an official mediator who will try to seek a resolution between yourself and the firm. They often hold drop-in sessions and you can find contact details of local ones here: conciliateurs.fr/Trouver-une-permanence
If all else fails you may sue the firm, with or without the help of an avocat (barrister).
How, and to which court you apply depends on the amounts involved. There are also free legal advice centres called Maisons de la justice et du droit (tinyurl.com/find-MJD) which may be able to advise you.
Some commercial problems with firms (with a defective or dangerous product, for example) may be reported to official fraud and consumer protection officers at DGCCRF (tinyurl.com/dgccrf-contact), but they do not get involved in contractual disputes with professionals such as artisans.
Finally if you think the firm’s actions amount to a crime (e.g. they deliberately conned you) you could report them to the police.