A second-home owner in southern France is facing a legal battle after a woman who rented her apartment for three weeks refused to leave.
Claire Davison rented her home in La Ciotat, in the Bouches-du-Rhône department, to a woman on holiday, as a short-term let lasting until January 31.
She gave the tenant a mobilité rental agreement, more commonly used for people on longer stays such as those doing a period of study or training, rather than the usual furnished tourist let, reports France 3. However, lawyers say a usual tourist letting contract would not have changed anything in this situation.
Ms Davison now faces significant financial challenges, having been forced to cancel future bookings for the flat and engage in legal procedures to try to evict the tenant.
“The only legal solution is to take the case to court,” Henry Illan Belhassen, a nationwide property lawyer based in Nice told The Connexion, adding that a judge was the only legal authority with the power to decide if the occupancy is illegal and initiate eviction proceedings.
This could take three to six months before the case comes to court with the property owner called to testify, lawyers said.
Then, once an eviction notice has been issued the procedures involved in putting it into force can add another month.
The owner can claim financial compensation for money lost in rent and – in the case of Ms Davison – for cancelled bookings, but will need to provide proof to the judge so that they can estimate the amount owed.
Police cannot help as no break-in took place
Ms Davison initially complained to the local police and has reported the tenant to the prefecture for squatting.
However lawyers told The Connexion French property law only allows police forces to intervene in the case of a break-in or entry through other illegal means.
In scenarios such as those, the person is classified as a squatter and has no entitlement to legal occupation.
On the other hand, in the situation in question – where the tenant signed a rental contract and was initially given the keys by the owner – the police could not force entry to Ms Davison’s property. Hence the need for the landlord to take court proceedings in such a case.
Ms Davison had also called on a huissier (bailiff) in a sommation interpellative, a legal procedure through which an official attempts to obtain a response from a person who is causing their client a problem and to take an official note of it.
The bailiff ended up leaving after the tenant did not open the door and gave no response, France 3 said.
Muriel Aberdel, a Paris solicitor specialised in tenants and landlords’ rights, said Ms Davison followed correct procedures in engaging a huissier, adding she would have advised any of her clients to do the same.
Ms Aberdel said she could also attempt to ask the tenant to pay a higher rent than what the lease agreed as a way to put pressure on her.
However, “French property law is very protective of tenants,” she said.
“When someone did not break in illegally, the landlord has to provide proof the tenant is no longer allowed to stay in the space,” said Bruno Guillier and Baptiste Robelin, property lawyers at NovLaw avocats.
Even if an overstaying tenant continues to pay rent – as the tenant in this case has said they will – it does not give them the right to stay in the property, but the landlord must still follow proper legal formalities to get them out.
Why is this case unusual?
Ms Davison signed a mobilité rental agreement that may have proven ill-suited to the situation, said Mr Belhassen, as it is not normally signed with holidaymakers.
It is usually for people in France looking for relatively short term stays (up to 10 months) which could include individuals studying, an employee on a temporary assignment or on professional training according to the government website service-public.fr.
It is typically fixed for a period between one and ten months, after which it ends unless the parties sign a new long-term rental lease.
“People under a mobilité rental agreement tend to feel more at home than when someone signs a tourist let agreement,” he said.
Mr Belhassen said in a case like this one it is more advisable to sign a tourist rental agreement since they can only last for a maximum of 90 days.
Mr Belhassen said he had never dealt with evictions from tenants under either mobilité or tourist let agreement leases but he said eviction cases were fairly common under longer lease agreements.