How to deal with builder delays to your property in France 

Devis, or quotes, are legally binding for both builders and clients even in the case of delays so it is important to take the right steps

A good builder is hard to find and delays are often inevitable
Published Last updated

Post-pandemic, it was not uncommon in many parts of the country for builders to issue estimates for projects, the legally binding devis, with a start date two years in the future.

A shortage of skilled tradespeople has compounded problems – French training programmes have for years struggled to attract plumbers, electricians and masons.

With order books still full, and many building projects further delayed by the exceptionally wet winter, hold-ups are likely to continue.

While a devis is legally binding for the builder on aspects such as price, it is also legally binding for the client. Simply saying that you have changed your mind because of the delay could lead to problems.

If the date on the devis has passed, the first thing to do is discuss the problem with the builder. Try to find out the reason for the delay, and when they think they will be able to start.

Good builders are hard to find, and presumably you chose the one you did because you know they work well, so it would be a pity to immediately start threatening legal recourse.

Read more: Man does not have to pay for renovations as no quote signed in France  

The art of negotiation

If you are able to negotiate a new start date, all the better. Note that the start date on a devis does not have to be a specific time and date. Builders can legally say that the work will start in a particular quarter of a year.

If you are not successful, you could try to enforce penalties for delays on the builder. With small building firms, this may not go down well, but if it is a large building company it might be an option.

In the eye of the law, a retard travaux is any passing of the delivery date, which should be stated on the devis or contract you signed.

After 30 days have passed, you can ask for a court order imposing penalties for the delay.

The standard penalty is one thousandth of the price on the devis for every day’s delay, unless it is a new house being built, in which case the penalty rises to three thousandths of the price on the devis.

Exceptions are if the builder can argue that the delay is caused by you – usually because you have not paid the deposit demanded in the devis.

And other reasons they can point to is if you asked for extra work, not included in the original devis.

Bad weather is another valid excuse for work not being completed on time. Simple autumn rain or summer showers do not fall under this umbrella, but in cases such as last winter, when many building sites were so muddy that machines could not enter, it is a legitimate reason.

Read more: Couple cannot demolish and rebuild French home even if not protected

How to protect yourself

If you are beginning to lose confidence in a builder and they have not started the work, it might be time to take steps to back out of the legally binding devis you have signed.

Simply cancelling it requires certain steps to protect yourself.

First you must prove that there is a delay. Where there is a date fixed in the devis for work to start, and an estimate of how long it will take, this is simple.

A letter setting out the facts and stating that the work has not started and so you are cancelling your signature on the devis is enough.

Make sure you keep a copy and note whether it was posted or if you hand-delivered it.

If you paid a deposit, you can ask for it back. Hopefully it will arrive without you needing a lawyer to push things along.

Where there was no start date on the devis, begin with a telephone call to ascertain when building might commence. If that is not satisfactory, write a letter, keeping a copy.

This can be followed by a formal mise en demeure letter, with signed delivery, requiring the work to start in eight or 15 days. If no reply is received, send a second, identical letter, again with signed delivery.

With no reply to that, you can assume the devis is officially cancelled, and ask for any deposit back, going to a lawyer if you do not receive a reply.

Similarly, if work has started but the builder leaves the site, you need to start gathering proof, through dated photographs, that the site has been abandoned.

You can use these, first by telephone, then with a simple letter and finally by a mise en demeure to end the contract.

In this case you can claim a full refund of any deposit, but be prepared for the builder to contest this as they will argue they have spent money on work already done.