Reader question: My French property is empty a lot of the time and I am worried about squatters. I have read the law is changing, what will happen if squatters do get in?
An update to anti-squatting laws, adopted by the Senate and National Assembly, will increase the penalties for those found guilty of squatting, including a potential €45,000 fine.
As of now (the beginning of July), the law has not yet come into force, as some MPs have appealed to the Conseil constitutionnel, France’s highest constitutional authority, which has until the end of July to give a verdict on the changes.
Some of these legal changes apply to both main and second homes – including unfurnished homes – meaning that, in most cases, rules will be the same regardless of how the property is occupied, but there are some differences.
Although these stricter laws may deter some would-be squatters from breaking into properties it is still important to know there are legal steps that will need to be followed should it happen.
If you are concerned about squatters entering your property, you can increase security measures to lower the risk of a break-in to your property in the first place.
This can include installing extra security, such as gates, as well as doors with multiple locks, or video surveillance which you can access via the internet, so you can see your property even when outside France.
Additionally you should try as much as possible to avoid giving the impression that the house is unoccupied.
For example ask a nearby friend or neighbour to occasionally visit the house to check for any signs of entry, clean the outside of the property, collect post, etc.
It is possible, depending on the location of your home, to ask the gendarmes to check your house for signs of unusual activity at a second home in France.
Early evictions are possible
If squatters do enter your home and you are made aware of this early enough, it could be possible for the police to carry out a ‘forced eviction’.
While a ‘home violation’ offence can usually only be found against main properties, the flagrant délit version of the offence applies to all types of properties and can potentially be used to evict squatters.
To do so, you must make a formal complaint to the police within 48 hours of the squatters entering the property and the squatters must have entered illegally either with force (breaking the lock) or, for example, by threat or fraud. The police should catch them doing this or find evidence of it (eg. of them having broken into the property).
In this case a rapid application can be made to the prefecture for an eviction process and a decision should be given in 48 hours.The squatters will then be given 24 hours to leave after which they can be forcibly removed.
If more than 48 hours have passed since the squatters entered the property before you lodge a complaint, the same ‘accelerated procedure’ is still possible for a main home but not a second home, meaning it can be difficult to make use of this procedure if the squatting starts in a period when you are away.
Otherwise it will be necessary to obtain a standard eviction notice from the courts.
What legal action is required to evict squatters?
To bring squatters to court, the actual owner of the property must be able to assert that the property is being unlawfully occupied and obtain the legal name of at least one of the squatters in question (an alternative procedure is possible in the case that this cannot be obtained).
This can be done by ordering a bailiff (commissaire de justice) to deliver a summons or question the squatters.
You must be careful, however, as the bailiff cannot by law enter the property, or they will be entering illegally. As the squatters are for the moment the occupants of the home, it is up to them who they allow to enter the property.
Once this information has been gathered, you can file a case against the illegal occupants. It can take several months to come to court.
If the judge rules in your favour (which is likely if you have the correct evidence of illegal occupation), the squatters will have two months at most to leave the property.
Previously squatters could ask for an extension to this eviction period but this will no longer be possible once the updated law is officially added to the legal code (unless France’s constitutional council removes it).
If after the designated period the squatters have not vacated the property, police are authorised to enter (with the eviction notice), and can use a locksmith to open the main door to the property – or can use force.
The squatters may also be ordered to pay for damages to the property, depending on how many months they illegally occupied it.
Although France has a ‘winter truce’ (trêve hivernale) which prevents landlords evicting tenants from homes between November and March, it does not apply to squatters.
Neither court cases regarding, nor eviction notices against, illegal squatters need to be postponed until after March.