Update (June 15): The couple who bought the property are facing several criminal charges including smuggling charges, illegal gun ownership, and conspiration to commit a crime, the French radio RTL revealed yesterday. The allegations date to October 2021. Investigations are ongoing
A couple whose newly purchased French house was occupied by squatters hit on a clever way to get them out in just two days - causing a social media buzz so big that two ministers stepped in.
But now the media buzz has turned more to whether the couple knew the squatters were there before buying and managed to negotiate down the price significantly as a result, then launched the social media coverage in a bid to get the family out quickly and make a profit.
Their squatter story was widely relayed on Twitter and covered by several French media outlets who made much of the fact that it was the first home they had ever purchased.
The Minister of Interior Gérald Darmanin and Ministry of Ecological Transition Amélie de Montchalin later took to Twitter themselves to ask the local prefect (préfet) to resolve the issue.
Mr Darmanin asked the prefect to order an eviction notice using the article 38 of the DALO law after the couple had met all legal requirements for eviction proceedings on the property in Ollainville in the Essonne department (Ile-de-France) .
Cette situation est inacceptable.— Gérald DARMANIN (@GDarmanin) June 9, 2022
Avec @AdeMontchalin, nous demandons immédiatement au @Prefet91 d'engager la procédure de l'article 38 de la loi DALO pour une évacuation rapide des occupants illégaux. https://t.co/kDereCdug9
Le Parisien - the first French media to break the story - and other media have now raised questions as to whether the couple knew the squatters were in place before they bought - and negotiated a much lower price as a result.
The house was bought for €140,000, significantly lower than other similar houses in the area according to a real estate agent contacted by France Inter.
The couple said they did not know of squatters living in the house the three times they visited in September 2021. They said they had seen a mattress on the ground and concluded someone could have slept there one night, Le Parisien claimed in a press release following complaints from readers of fake news.
Journalists from Le Parisien said some contradictions in the couple’s statements have now convinced them that the couple knew about the squatters before they bought.
Le Parisien was the first news outlet to report on the case; Credit: Le Parisien
What is the DALO law?
The Dalo law was enacted on March 6, 2007, and is the law the couple used to get their house free of them in just two days, a process which can often take significantly longer.
“The Dalo law introduces the possibility to evict faster when the home is someone’s main residence,” said a spokeswoman from the Agence départementale d’information sur le logement (ADIL) in Essonne, a regional agency that provides housing information, adding the article 38 is aimed at protecting homeowners.
The property owner needs to file a complaint to the police, produce legal documents to prove ownership of the house and ask police officers to witness the illegal occupation. An eviction order can then be served by a prefect.
For the couple in this high-profile case the criteria were fulfilled in two days (June 3 and June 4), the Essonne prefecture reports.
Amendment to the law in 2020
The DALO law introduced an amendment on December 7, 2020 which added that the only possibility for a prefect to refuse an eviction order is if it would go against ‘general interest.’
The amendment does not specify how the term can be understood but it could suggest it was added to offer a backdoor solution to the prefect but one that is - in reality - almost impossible to raise.
Camille Giraudet, policy officer at the Confédération syndicale des familles’ union, said eviction orders can often be politically-motivated, taking into account the couple’s profile of being first-time owners being hit with double payments - one for the mortgage on the new home and one for renting another property due to the squatters.
“If this couple negotiated a discount on price, it means they were aware that something was not right,” said Ms Giraudet, adding that she was not surprised as some estate agents run complete businesses based on buying property occupied by squatters.
She said the involvement of the government in this particular case put pressure on the prefect to act swiftly.
The restricting amendment was added after several owners of secondary residences complained of ‘squatters’ in highly-covered cases, said Ms Giraudet.
Ms Giraudet said she could not answer as to whether the amendment distorted the initial meaning of the DALO law, supposed to protect tenants.
“I only wish the evicted family will be offered social housing,” she added, saying it was too often not the case.
There are two different procedures in place to reclaim a property that has been taken over by squatters in France. One is by judicial means meaning it must go through courts.
This can take a very long time if the squatter or squatters have a case to remain in the property, such as lack of alternative housing or other proof they should not leave.
The second procedure is administrative.
A new procedure, launched on February 1 this year, means that bailiffs can now guide property owners who are victims of squatting through the entire process of recovering their property by administrative means.
The bailiffs can offer free advice to homeowners, but there will be a fee of around €200 to €300 for their assistance in the process, to be specified depending on the case.
This is usually a much more efficient way of dealing with squatters, with the situation usually resolved within 72 hours. However, it took longer than this in 40% of cases in 2021, Le Figaro reports.
You can find a bailiff near you at this website.