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Illegal doorbells, heat pump accident: Five French property updates

We also look at a trial of rooftop wind turbines, how Paris is cracking down on landlords who charge too much and more

We look at five updates affecting property owners in France Pic: Patryk Kosmider / Laiotz / caifas / Kozlenko / Shutterstock

Warning that video doorbells could break the law

Doorbells that take video recordings could land homeowners in hot water. France’s interior minister has stated that only devices taking photos – not moving footage – are allowed if they point beyond a person’s property.

Doorbell cameras are becoming increasingly popular and let residents identify who is there before opening the door.

Some devices let you not only see and speak to the person outside but also allow photos and videos to be taken and recorded.

In order to use video surveillance, cameras should be placed in such a way that they only film inside the grounds of your property.

The issue with doorbell cameras is that they are typically installed on the property perimeter, for example on gates and fences, and as such often capture footage of the street.

In France, only public authorities are permitted to film on public roads from a fixed camera. 

However, these doorbells can still be used – if you can find one that takes still pictures rather than recording video.

Read more: Is it practical to install security cameras in my French second home?

In a ministerial reply published in the Senate’s Official Journal on January 26, Gérald Darmanin said: "The prohibition… for a private individual to make visual recordings from a videophone associated with a doorbell does not apply to a device that only takes photographs."

Mr Darmanin stressed that photo doorbells must still be "deployed in compliance with the right to an image, which constitutes respect for private life, enshrined in Article 9 of the Civil Code”.

Read more: Tourist reports hidden cameras near shower in her Airbnb in France

Photographs taken in this way may not be reproduced or distributed publicly without the consent of the persons photographed.

Paris mairie lays down the law on landlords who flout rent caps

Landlords in Paris in breach of the city’s rent control (cap) system have started receiving formal notices to adjust their prices downwards to comply with market prices, and to reimburse tenants for overpayments.

Read more: MAP: See where apartment prices have risen the most in France

The first notices were sent on Monday (February 6), according to a tweet by Ian Brossat, the deputy mayor in charge of housing.

Landlords who do not comply within three months will be fined up to €5,000 for an individual and €15,000 for a legal entity.

Read more: Property price negotiation in France: what is average near you?

Rent control was established in Paris in 2019 under the Elan law. The caps ban landlords from setting rent prices more than 20% higher (or 30% lower) than the reference price for the neighbourhood and housing category.

This reference price is determined by a local rent monitoring centre and based on median rent levels, taking into account factors such as whether the property is empty or furnished, its date of construction, the number of rooms and its location.

Landlords are only allowed to charge more for properties with location or convenience characteristics that justify it, in comparison with housing of the same category in the same area. This additional amount (and the reasons for charging it) must be mentioned in the lease agreement.

On January 1, 2023 the mairie took over the monitoring of the Paris rental market from the regional prefecture and gave tenants a new online platform to report landlords for violations.

Tenants can first check whether their lease complies with the rent control framework and then report any excess, which is confirmed by the mairie.

Some 142 complaints were received in one month alone, revealed Le Journal du Dimanche, with 86% concerning studio or one-bedroom flats.

The 11th arrondissement was found to be the worst for flouting the rules (13.4% of cases), and all cases concerned rent excesses above €100 a month. 

In one instance, a 32.5m² flat was subject to a cumulative overrun of €227 a month over 29 months.

Read more: Airbnb found liable for illegal sublet of Paris home

Owner liable if heat pump run-off causes accident

The owner of a heat pump has been ordered to pay compensation to a woman who was seriously injured when she slipped on a patch of ice formed from its run-off 

The victim, who has not been named, was a resident in the same building. She fell in the courtyard and injured her ankle, leading to a permanent partial disability.

Read more: Landlord held responsible by French court for squatter’s fall in flat

Liability lay with the owner of the heat pump, ruled France’s highest court last month (January 19), and not with the supplier, installer or the victim herself.

It was up to the owner, the Cour de Cassation explained, to oversee the pump’s maintenance and evaluate any risk created by condensation from it falling to the ground.

Read more: France ups aid for geothermal heat pumps to minimum of €5,000 for all

The owner was ordered to compensate the victim for medical expenses, loss of earnings, adapting their property and for inconvenience in everyday life, amounting to several hundred thousand euros, reports Le Figaro.

Heat pumps often have a drain pan, which collects normal condensation from the unit. When that becomes clogged with debris, it can overflow and result in a puddle around the pump.

Property advert amended after social media ridicule

A Paris estate agent has been forced to re-word one of its property advertisements after social media users poked fun at efforts to make the studio flat sound larger than it was.

The property measures 11.53m² under the Carrez law, which quantifies the total enclosed floor space, not including walls, partitions, staircases and stairwells. Cellars, gardens or terraces, and parking spaces are also excluded, as are enclosed areas less than 1.8m high and rooms less than 8m².

Read more: France's loi Carrez – why is it so important?

However, H&B Immobilier assured potential buyers the flat actually “felt” more like 16m² in its advert on Le Bon Coin in December.

The agency’s optimistic spin amused Twitter users, with one suggesting she was ready to "pay €100 actual rent - €1,000 perceived rent” for the property.

The advert has since been amended to remove all mention of the “16m² ressentis". 

The agency’s co-founder, Donyphane Hadzic, admitted to BFMTV that the term had been used clumsily. 

"For us, it was a synonym, a nicer way of evoking the surface pondérée of the dwelling," he said.

The surface pondérée is a concept that takes into account the living area as well as part of the ancillary areas – such as balconies, mezzanines, cellars, verandas, workshops and attics.

It is a compromise between the total surface area of a property and the Carrez surface area, and allows useful space to be valued – in this case the studio’s mezzanine which, with a height of less than 1.8m, could not be included in the Carrez measurement.

The concept is not regulated but estate agents sometimes talk about the surface pondérée when using balconies, for example, to help determine the sale price of a property (they generally take a third of the floor area of the balcony to adjust the price).

The studio flat is currently on sale for €168,000. The price has already been dropped by €10,000 to take into account its low energy efficiency rating (‘G’).

From 2025, people who own properties with an energy efficiency rating (diagnostic de performance énergétique) of G will no longer be able to rent them out. 

Read more: Home energy efficiency: Key dates for property owners in France

Wind turbines on roof could cut social housing energy costs

Some of the eight ‘windboxes’ being trialled on a social housing block in Rouen Credit: Wind My Roof

Eight wind turbines have been installed on the roof of a social housing complex in Rouen as part of a year-long trial to gauge how much they can reduce energy bills.

The turbines, housed in special ‘windboxes’ to guide air flowing up and over the building, were installed in November. If successful, they will be rolled out to four other local buildings already on a waiting list to produce their own renewable energy.

The trial is centred atop a 10-storey building managed by the social housing office Rouen Habitat.

The idea is to produce 20 to 30% of the electricity consumed by the building’s communal two lifts, lighting and ventilation systems.

The 84 families living in the building may not see a huge saving on their energy costs – a few dozen euros each per year, according to estimates – but proponents of the scheme insist that every little helps. Any surplus electricity will be sold.

The windboxes are almost invisible from the street and are topped with solar panels to supplement energy production, especially when the wind is too weak.

Read more: MPs in France say wind turbines must not add to ‘visual saturation’

They have been installed where the building’s façade meets its flat roof “because that's where the acceleration of air flow is greatest", Yanis Maacha, co-founder Wind My Roof, the company which makes the windboxes, told BFMTV.

He said the windboxes can produce, on average, three times more electricity than the same area occupied by solar panels alone.

Read more: What aid is available to install home solar panels in France in 2023?

Not all buildings are suitable, however. Wind My Roof specifies one that is 8-10m high in the open, or 20-30m high in urban areas, with a flat roof to combine horizontal and upward winds, and no building of the same height within 100m.

Good sound insulation is also recommended. 

Paul Bernstein, operations project manager at Rouen Habitat, told BFMTV that the only risk of nuisance for residents was potential vibrations that could be transmitted to the building.

The trial is costing €53,000, which has been covered by Rouen Habitat.

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