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Scams, squatters and price slumps: Five French property updates

Plus why a government cheque to help pay soaring energy bills has been delayed

We look at five updates affecting property owners in France Pic: Bilanol / Mr Doomits / Sibuet Benjamin / nevodka / Shutterstock

Government promises crackdown on energy renovation scams

Homeowners have been warned to be on their guard over scams involving government grants for energy renovations to their property.

Energy Transition Minister Agnès Pannier-Runacher has promised that, for its part, the government will be "absolutely intractable" with swindlers, in particular those taking advantage of state aid for the installation of heat pumps.

Read more: France offers more money to households replacing their old boilers

Talking to France 2  on March 2, she called the fraudsters “black sheep who bring the entire building profession into disrepute".

"It is inadmissible for the French people who have used these crooks and for the state's finances," she said, without laying out any firm proposals on how the government intends to tackle the problem.

“Anyone who presents himself as a representative of the state and approaches you is a liar,” she added.

Her comments come just weeks after directors of a renovation company targeting homeowners in Haute-Vienne, Dordogne, Allier, Lot, Gironde, Loir-et-Cher and Eure-et-Loir were taken into custody accused of organised fraud.

Presenting itself as a 'home improvement inspection body', BDPA Rénovation is accused of trying to sell renovation and insulation work mainly to elderly homeowners by presenting misleading documents and claiming that the work was obligatory, according to the Limoges public prosecutor's office.

Read more: New scam doing rounds in France over ‘boxes’ for electricity meters

Meanwhile, it was revealed on March 1 that Facebook has accepted millions of euros for fraudulent advertisements for energy renovation. 

Two pages in particular – Plan transition énergie and Programme pour la Transition Energétique – paid Facebook around €1.4million between them in the last four years, according to BFM.

The pages redirected users to several sites with convincing renovation domain names, some of which also displayed the logo of the Ministry of Ecological Transition. Each promised insulation work paid for by the state.

Facebook says that the pages have since been deleted.

Read more: Scam alert in France: Watch out for online energy fraudsters

France has been encouraging energy-saving home renovations with a raft of grants and aid in recent years, not least of which is the MaPrimeRénov' scheme. This was introduced in 2020 to help homeowners improve energy-saving features such as insulation, ventilation and heating.

However, France’s National Union of Property Owners has argued that these grants do not go far enough.

Its director general, Eudes Baufreton, said property owners are effectively “the state’s cash cows”.

“They are financing public spending with the increase in property tax and are receiving renovation aid that does not make up for the increase in the price of materials.”

Le Figaro reports that the organisation’s petition demanding that the cost of energy renovation work be 100% deductible from income tax for owner-occupiers has already gathered more than 15,000 signatures in one month.

Squatters seeks damages from owner for early eviction

Two squatters in Lyon are demanding €5,000 in compensation from the owner of the property they occupied for being forced out before their eviction date.

The squatters moved into the unoccupied property in July 2021, taking out an electricity contract in order to establish their residence and changing the locks to avoid any risk of immediate eviction. 

The owner filed a complaint at the police station, contacted the prefecture and then took the case to court, which ruled in their favour and set a March 31 deadline for the squatters to leave.

However, when the squatters appeared to have vacated earlier than this, at the end of January, the owner repossessed her property by changing the locks and forbidding them access.

The squatters have now taken the owner to court, requesting that their eviction notice be declared void because they were forced out before the deadline. They are also claiming €5,000 in damages.

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

"They want me to pay for their hotel nights, on top of everything,” Anne Gagneux, who manages the building’s SCI (société civile immobilière, a type of real estate company), told actu Lyon.

“What kind of world are we living in?

"We went through the usual procedure to get the squatters to return the premises. The court ordered them to leave by March 31, but the premises were vacated earlier," she explained.

“The building was completely empty. We preferred to intervene because it was becoming dangerous for the neighbours."

Read more: French couple’s clever way to get squatters out in just two days

The owner's lawyer is demanding €512,000 in compensation to repair the building and for the two plaintiffs to pay €3,000 in compensation for abusive behaviour.

A ruling is expected on March 14. If the owner loses the case, they will not only have to pay damages to the squatters but also let them move back into the building until they are evicted on March 31.

‘Party’s over’ for soaring house prices

A fall in property prices across France has led at least one expert to conclude the market’s dynamic movement over the last two years has finally been reined in.

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

While the precise figures differ between industry players, the general pattern is that the market slowdown first observed in Paris and a few large cities is now spreading to the rest of the country.

The Laforêt network has noted a fall of 2.3% in property prices nationwide since January 1, while it is -2% according to the Orpi agencies.

In Lyon, Nantes and Lille the slump was more significant.

Guillaume Martinaud, president of the Orpi network, told BFM: “The party’s over.”

"We are seeing a rebalancing. We feel it very clearly in our agencies – there are no longer queues.”

However, he noted that there remain exceptions, singling out some big cities such as Cannes and Marseille where prices have actually risen, and a continued strong performance in medium-sized towns and cities.

"We have many more people looking to come and live in these small provincial towns than to leave," said Mr Martinaud.

Read more: Seven property trends highlighted by latest French notaire data

For Charles Marinakis, president of the Century 21 estate agent group, the general slowdown is “good news”.

He told Le Figaro: “This drop is salutary. I am strongly convinced that this market has an incredible capacity to regulate itself. As the saying goes: ‘When it's too expensive, it's too expensive’.

“It is a gradual return to reason. Very often, sellers are slow to agree to lower their prices. This is currently being regulated. This downward curve should continue, averaging between -5% and -7% in 2023, compared to last year.”

Energy cheque delayed due to ‘exceptional workload’

Homeowners expecting to receive a government cheque to help cover energy costs this month may have to wait until May before receiving it.

Read more: What are France’s energy cheques and why have they been delayed?

Capital reports that the chèque énergie (energy cheque), which is sent out to some six million low-income households, usually between the end of March and end of April, has been delayed by several weeks.

The subsidy is sent automatically, once a year, to households whose declared and taxable income (revenu fiscal de référence, RFR) is less than €10,800 per unit (active household member). 

Read more: How do I make use of my French chèque énergie voucher?

However, the dedicated website (of the Agence de services et de paiement, which coordinates the cheques) claims an “exceptional workload” is holding up this year’s payments.

It has been partly caused by extra energy subsidies that the government rolled out this year to combat soaring energy prices.

They include financial assistance to households that heat their homes with fuel oil and wood and a second, exceptional chèque énergie for eligible homes.

Read more: Electricity, gas, wood, oil: do you qualify for heating aid in France?

Precise dispatch dates per department for the traditional cheques will be published at a later date by the government.

Energy prices and cost of renovations hit flat owners hard

A sharp rise in unpaid service charges in copropriétés (co-ownership buildings, such as blocks of flats) has been branded a cause for concern.

According to the latest annual report of the national register of copropriétés, the number of co-ownerships with more than 20% of unpaid charges has increased almost six-fold in the space of five years.

Anah, the French national housing agency, classifies the different rates of unpaid rent according to the financial risks. Anything above 20% and the finances of a co-ownership are considered fragile.

In 2022, more than 70% of co-ownerships (215,000) were in this predicament.

The cause has largely been attributed to rising energy costs. According to a recent study by Matera, which specialises in copropriété management, budgets have increased by almost 10% in the largest co-ownerships to cover these bills.

Read more: France looks to extend electricity tariff ‘shield’ to flat owners

Meanwhile repair and renovation costs have also gone up due to the rise in raw materials.

Service charges, which are usually billed on a quarterly basis, pay for cleaners and gardeners, a caretaker, if relevant, and often collective water and heating services. They also include approved repairs or improvements.

Read more: Copropriétés: Co-ownership in France explained

According to Anah, the biggest bills are in buildings constructed between 1961 and 1974, where the average amount for work per co-owner in 2022 was almost €10,000. This figure has almost doubled in five years, reports BFM.

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