New laws which should make it easier to get rid of squatters have come into force – but a lawyer specialising in property warned of difficulties implementing them.
A number of The Connexion readers who have holiday homes in France have said the reduced time they can spend in France after Brexit – a total of 90 days every six months – means they worry about the risk of squatters taking over their properties.
During his election campaign, President Macron promised to change the law – widely seen as providing too much protection to squatters and not enough to property-owners – and he has done so, with the new law being in force since November.
The main change is that the 48-hour limit for owners to become aware of squatters taking over a property and calling the police has been removed.
Owners can now complain whenever they are first aware of the situation.
If police then say they cannot move them, the owner can apply to the prefect of the department for the police to remove the squatters by force.
The new law gives the prefect 48 hours to respond – either with a yes or a no – and if it is a no, they have to give argued reasons.
Previously, the prefect did not have a time limit for a response, and often did not respond at all.
Romain Rossi-Landi, an avocat specialising in property law, told The Connexion it was this response in 48 hours that was likely to disappoint property-owners, as the argued reasons from the prefect could be as vague as “a threat to public order”.
He said: “I have had cases where prefects have worked hard to move squatters and it has taken a year or more. Cases are complicated because the prefect has to be sure alternative accommodation is available and check the veracity of claims made by the squatters, who might produce false rental agreements, for example.
“To suddenly expect these things to be sorted out in 48 hours in favour of the property-owner seems optimistic. We will have to see how things work in practice.”
If the prefect refuses to take action, owners are left with the old, costly and time-consuming procedure of first getting a huissier to report the property as occupied, going to a local court for a ruling against the squatters, then instructing the huissier to implement the court order. It is the same procedure for removing tenants who refuse to pay rent or to leave at the end of their contract.
It often requires the huissier to go back to the prefect, who this time is responsible for daily damages for each day the squatters remain.
“It usually takes a year and a half and costs around €3,000 in lawyer’s fees, plus another €1,000 or so for the huissier,” said Maître Rossi-Landi.
Some household insurance policies with a clause for paying legal fees will pay out claims for squatter actions, but not all.
Maître Rossi-Landi said he advised people, while making a complaint against squatters, to also make a complaint for vandalism, especially if locks or windows were broken. “It is easier for police to deal with vandalism complaints than squatting ones, and sometimes having the police around is enough to persuade the squatters to move on,” he said.
A common problem too is that owners are asked to provide proof the property is theirs, in the form of the acte de vente définitif, which is often in the squatted property.
“It is a good idea to scan the act and store it digitally elsewhere. There are banks which provide such a service,” he advised.
Other delays which could affect getting a home back quickly include the presence of children with the squatters.
Police will usually act more delicately if the squatter is a woman alone with children – even considering their school terms – than for criminals hiding from police, who would be evicted at once.