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What to do if structural cracks appear in your French property

We explain who to contact and how to navigate the ‘catastrophe naturelle’ insurance claim process - there are time limits

Clay soil shrinking or swelling can cause cracks - there is a specific insurance claim procedure to follow Pic: zimmytws / Shutterstock

An official report puts the number of houses at risk of structural damage due to drought in France at ten million. The homes most vulnerable are built on clay soil that contracts in drought and swells in wet weather.

This year’s early summer heatwaves are expected to result in more cracks appearing. In some cases, the fissures will not show until months or even years later.

Read more: Ten million homes in France risk structural cracks after heatwaves

If cracks appear in your house that you think are due to clay soil shrinking or swelling, there is a specific insurance claim procedure to follow.

Contact the mayor

The first step is to contact your local mayor so they can request the government declare it a natural disaster zone (catastrophe naturelle/CatNat) due to either drought or prolonged rain.

It helps if you can find neighbours with similar problems to add weight to your request.

Act quickly once decree published

The CatNat declaration when it comes – often months or years after the request – is in the form of a decree published in the Journal Officiel. 

You have 10 days after the publication to lodge a claim with your insurer.

Have a witness for the soil tests

Once your claim is lodged, your insurer will appoint an expert to judge its validity by performing soil tests.

It is advisable to have another professional, or your lawyer, present when the insurance expert makes their visit and to insist on an in-person visit.

Cosmetic or structural repairs 

Once the insurer accepts the expert’s report, consider carefully what they suggest you do.

Cosmetic repairs to cracks cost much less and involve less disruption than full work to strengthen foundations or other solutions, such as injecting resin into the ground, but you run the risk of the same problem occurring again. 

Insist on full repairs if the cracks threaten the building’s structural integrity.

If insurers are unreasonable you can take them to court. 

Les Oubliés de la canicule, or other associations, can help you.

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