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Illegal cabins tracked, tree dispute: Four French property updates

We also look at the annulment of a house sale because of a lack of access to drinking water and the nightmare of a pensioner unable to leave his flat

In this week’s roundup we are looking at illegal constructions, a dispute over a 30m-tall tree and why a rainwater collection basin is not sufficient access to drinkable water Pic: Rudmer Zwerver, Pixel-Shot, Bianca Grueneberg, billysfam / Shutterstock

Neighbours’ dispute over 30m trees: Should they be felled?

Being worried about a neighbour’s tree potentially falling in your garden is not enough of a reason for the tree to be cut down, according to a recent decision by France’s supreme court of appeal, the Cour de cassation.

It came after a resident of the department Loire-Atlantique, who we will call John for ease, requested two of his neighbour’s spruce trees, both around 30m tall, be cut down after a recent storm knocked some of their branches into his garden. 

John said that these trees can reach 50m tall. 

But the Cour de cassation ruled against John, taking advice from a tree surgeon who said that the trees presented a very low risk of falling down in normal weather and were in good shape. 

Additionally, they are positioned around 15m from John’s garden, well within the regulated distance that is required – trees over two metres must be at least two metres from a neighbour’s garden. 

There are generally regulations around cutting down trees in France and the best advice is to seek permission from your mairie before felling a tree in your garden. 

Read more: Do we need permission to cut down a tree in our French garden?

Read more: Can I make my neighbour prune trees that overhang my garden in France?

Satellite imaging to be used to fight ‘cabanistation’ 

Various authorities in Haute-Garonne (Occitanie) have signed a charter agreeing to work together to tackle the issue of ‘cabanistation’ – the illegal construction of alternative properties such as cabins, chalets, yurts, mobile homes or even small houses. 

People building these constructions often do not have planning permission and avoid paying property taxes. 

Now the department’s prefect, local prosecutors, gendarmes and mayors have agreed to use a dedicated government website called LUCCA 31 to clamp down on these buildings. 

Samuel Vuelta-Simon, the public prosecutor, said:

“We have already been fighting against these constructions, but we realised that there needed to be better cooperation between all the state services, the judicial services and the elected representatives.

“It is absolutely essential that we never lose sight of such cases, that we take them all the way to court and, above all, that if the person who is breaking the law does not comply, the illegal construction must be destroyed.”

The local mayors will also have access to a tool, in part designed by France’s national centre of space studies, that will allow them to use satellite imaging to detect the illegal constructions. 

Jérôme Bouteloup, the mayor of the village Seysses, said this will help authorities “carry out a [legal] procedure from start to finish”. 

The reason that authorities are taking the matter so seriously is that cabanistation, according to them, can lead to issues with security, damage to farmlands, environmental problems and pose threats to other local residents. 

Anyone found guilty of cabanistation faces up to 10 years in prison. They are also obliged to destroy the construction and return the land to its former state. 

No connection to drinkable water equals no sale

A French court has ruled that the sale of a house should be cancelled because it had no connection to a water mains for drinkable water – a fact that the sellers did not make clear to the buyers. 

The decision was handed down by the court of appeal in Aix-en-Provence on June 14 this year, with the sellers of the house ordered to pay back to the buyers the full sum of the cost of the property, plus compensation of €10,000. 

The house does have a rainwater collection basin that can be used to obtain drinking water. 

The sellers argued that this was sufficient and that the problem was simply that the buyers did not know how to use or maintain the system. 

They added that the “buyers’ water consumption was particularly high and they emptied the basin during the summer period when the spring is dry”. 

From the buyers’ point of view, they argued that they had never been expressly informed that this basin was the only source of drinking water in a property that had otherwise modern facilities. They said they thought the basin’s water supply was to be used for watering plants. 

They said that they, along with their two children, had to move out of the property only a few days after moving in because of the lack of drinking water. 

Pierre de Plater, a real estate lawyer, related the court case on Twitter and explained why the court ruled in the favour of the buyers. 

“When you sell a dwelling for residential use, the property must have a connection to drinking water and a heating system in working order, unless otherwise expressly stated in the deed of sale,” he wrote. 

As the sellers had not explicitly warned the buyers of this issue, the court ruled that it was a hidden fault (vice caché) and the sale could be annulled. 

Read more: French property: How long after buying can I claim for hidden faults?

Pensioner stuck in flat for three years

A 74-year-old pensioner from Dordogne has said that he has essentially been confined to his flat since a heart operation in 2019 because he cannot use the stairs and there is no lift in the building. 

Noël Nivrad said he has been trying to contact the local social housing society, Périgord Habitat, about getting a new flat since the operation but has had no response. 

“I am too weak and I am tired of living like this,” he told local newspaper France Bleu Périgord.

“I have no visitors, my family lives far away and I have very little contact with my neighbours. I would just like to be able to go out by myself, even with a walker, and see the daylight.”

But Périgord Habitat, contacted by France Bleu, said that they only received Mr Nivrad’s official housing relocation application in June this year. 

“The file was not complete and the criteria for an urgent move was not established,” a spokesperson for the association said. 

“The file is now complete and we will be able to examine the request.”

But Mr Nivrad said he has proof of requests dating back to 2019. 

Périgord Habitat has said that they will facilitate a move if there is “adapted and vacant housing in the requested area”. They insist that Mr Nivrad had not been forgotten, saying that work was carried out on his bathroom to make it more suitable for use “a few months ago”. 

Read about another case of an elderly couple from Montpellier facing similar problems in one of our previous property roundups here: Second home hotspots, pergolas, cracks: Five French property updates

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