1. Breton woman takes stand against second homes with cut-price sale and strict conditions
‘For local residents only’. That was the condition attached to a recent property for sale in Brittany in a bid to halt the spread of second homes in the area.
Elise Lecouëdic also listed the house, which belonged to her late grandmother, for €30,000 less than its market value to give people a better chance of getting on the housing ladder.
In the end, the 70m² farmhouse near Dinan (Côtes-d'Armor) sold for €100,000 to a 22-year-old joiner in the area, and in a Facebook post explaining her decision Ms Lecouëdic said she was “delighted”.
Both she and her partner are on minimum wage and fixed-term work contracts, but she said that taking a stand against property speculation and second homes - which are pricing locals out of the market and leaving many houses empty for large parts of the year - was more important than making a quick buck.
Jennifer Colin, the estate agent in charge of the transaction, told Le Figaro: "It's quite rare to see people selling a property for less than the market price.”
However, Ms Lecouëdic justified the decision by explaining: “When your pockets are full of wads of cash, but your grandchildren can no longer go to school in the area because there are no classes, your baker can no longer provide you with bread because there are no employees, your medical aid can no longer look after you because there is no accommodation, and our culture is limited to silly folklore to entertain tourists, it will be time to think about the consequences of your greed.”
She added: “We're not members of the [wealthy] Arnault or Bettencourt families but we're trying to do what the public authorities don't have the courage to do, despite the alarming housing situation in Brittany: block property speculation, at our level and with the means at our disposal.”
Ironically, the property originally served as a second home for Ms Lecouëdic’s grandmother.
She acquired it in 1976 but “hardly ever visited” in her lifetime,” her granddaughter told Le Figaro. “We fought to get her to sell it, but she was opposed because she thought it was normal to have a second home in Brittany.”
According to the public statistics agency Insee, the number of second homes on the Brittany coast increased 3.6-fold between 1968 and 2018.
They represent 12% of all homes in Brittany (233,600 in total), compared with an average of 9% in mainland France.
Under French law, sellers are free to select the buyer they consider to be the most serious but cannot refuse anyone "on the grounds of their origin, sex, family situation, pregnancy, physical appearance [...] sexual orientation, gender identity, age, political opinions…”
Ms Lecouëdic insisted: "There is no xenophobia on our part. Everyone is welcome in Brittany as long as the buyers work here.”
Recently, the Breton village of Plumaudan, north-west of Rennes, implemented a points-based system to prioritise first-time buyers that already live in the area.
2. France earthquake update: 5,000 buildings damaged
The 5.3 to 5.8-magnitude earthquake that rocked western France last Friday (June 16) caused between €150million and €200million worth of damage, an insurance consultancy firm has estimated.
Saretec, which sent experts to areas which had been hardest hit, warned the figure could continue to rise as damage that was not immediately visible to occupants or emergency services becomes apparent over the coming days.
The earthquake happened early in the evening, damaging more than 5,000 buildings.
The communes of La Laigne (Charente-Maritime) and Mauzé-sur-le-Mignon (Deux-Sèvres) were closest to the centre of the quake – the biggest to hit the region for around 50 years.
Cracks in plasterwork and falling objects accounted for most of the damage. Of the buildings worst affected, around a hundred were "heavily damaged" with "partial collapse of load-bearing structures", Saretec said.
"In this rural area, these are mainly old houses, with very limited resistance to earthquakes", the company’s chair and CEO Jean-Vincent Raymondis told AFP.
"Given the intensity of the earthquake (...), an accelerated natural disaster recognition procedure will be launched to take into account potential structural damage," France’s interior minister Gérald Darmanin said.
Étant donné l'intensité du séisme qui a frappé l'ouest de la France, une procédure accélérée de reconnaissance de catastrophe naturelle sera enclenchée afin de prendre en compte les potentiels dégâts structurels qui auraient été engendrés. Soutien aux victimes.— Gérald DARMANIN (@GDarmanin) June 17, 2023
This should pave the way for property owners to make claims, with insurance companies able to draw from a fund into which they all contribute, and which also gets government payments.
3. Neighbour’s rainwater appeal rejected in court
A property owner’s demand that a gutter be installed to channel rainwater that drips onto his ground from a neighbour’s roof has been denied by France’s highest court.
The Cour de cassation ruled last month (May 25) that as the rain had fallen to the ground like this for more than three decades without being funnelled elsewhere, it effectively created an easement.
An easement can be claimed by maintaining a situation in plain sight for more than 30 years, with both parties aware of its existence.
The court pointed to the fact the roof had remained unchanged during this period to argue that the neighbour must have known about the drainage system, given the configuration of the premises.
Normally, homeowners are required to channel rainwater away from neighbouring plots of land or risk enforcement action.
The legal obligation, called égout des toits, means gutters must be aligned so that rain is canalised onto your own ground and not next door.
Where this is not the case, the neighbour can ask you to change the guttering, with the full backing of the law to enforce it.
An exception is if the guttering sending water next door has been in place for more than 30 years, due to a right called servitude de surplomb. In this case, the neighbour must pay for the maintenance of your gutters.
4. Airbnb fined for failing to pay tourist tax
It has been hailed as a victory for the little guy – an intercommunal authority in Charente-Maritime has won its case against the global holiday let platform Airbnb for unpaid tourist taxes.
A court in La Rochelle fined the lettings website €30,000 last week (June 16) for “failing to meet its legal obligations” by not collecting tourist tax on the island of Oléron in 2021. It failed to pay the additional departmental tax for the same year.
The platform has already been forced to pay back the €404,000 in unpaid tourist tax, plus late payment fees, for 2020 and 2021.
A decision as to whether Airbnb will be fined for its 2020 infringement too is expected by the end of this year.
"History will remember that a small island in the Atlantic is taking on the American digital tourism giant and winning," said Michel Parent, president of the communauté de communes.
The plaintiffs had sought a maximum fine of €30million from Airbnb, but say they are happy to see the platform convicted at all.
“Our victory will set a precedent, which will be useful to other local authorities if they find themselves in difficulties with Airbnb and other platforms that have not yet honoured their commitments,” said Mr Parent.
5. Landlords must find new homes for tenants aged over 65
Alternative accommodation within a certain geographical limit must be found for tenants with modest incomes and aged over 65 if a landlord wants them to vacate their property.
The issue was brought to the French Constitutional Council following a legal case in May in which two landlords claimed the obligation, made law in 1989, deprived them of their right to repossess their home.
They argued that they could not find new homes for their tenants that met the legal criteria as the current rental market was too tight. As such, they said the law unconstitutionally infringed their right to property, reports consumer group UFC-Que Choisir.
The council disagreed, saying that while the provisions are limiting, they are not disproportionate to the law’s objective, which is to ensure all people have access to decent housing, not least if they are elderly and on modest incomes (below €25,165 for a single person in Ile-de-France, and under €21,878 in other regions).
Landlords cannot get away with simply passing on details of alternative accommodation, but must also ensure the owners of these properties agree to rent to his or her tenants.
The new house or flat must be located in the same commune, or a neighbouring one less than 5km away.
The requirement does not apply if the landlord themself is over 65 or if their annual income is below the same threshold set for tenants.