€100,000 water bill, boundary rules: Five French property updates

We also look at a how DPE diagnostic ratings of homes have been criticised as ‘a lottery and a festival of errors and contradictions from one inspector to another’

This week we are covering two recent court decisions, inconsistencies to France’s DPE rating system, squatter issues and the 2023 housing budget
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86-year-old hit with €100,000 water bill over squatters

An 86-year-old man had to wait for four years to reclaim his three flats and two business premises from squatters only to be hit with a water bill of nearly €100,000.

Selim’s (whose surname has not been reported by French media) five properties are all in the same building in Seine-Saint-Denis. He first noted the presence of squatters in 2018 and it was not until March 2021 that a court finally ruled that they had to be expelled.

However it still took a considerable amount of time to recover the properties with Selim saying that the police failed to act on the eviction notice.

In addition, two potential buyers pulled out because of the squatters and his insurer, Axa, refused to cover the cost of the damage to the building caused by the squatters. It stated that the damage “occurred as a result of squatting in a building that had been empty for more than six months,” Figaro Immobilier reported.

To make matters worse, on May 24 this year Selim received a bill from water company Veolia of €98,000. He said that usually the average water bill for the building was €290 every three months.

Looking at the breakdown of bills, this sum rose to €3,760 in April 2020, before climbing to nearly €30,000 the following April.

It is unclear if this is due to a water leak or the squatters deliberately leaving taps on.

Selim’s lawyer, Xavier Bouillot, says that it is “out of the question” that his client will pay the €98,000.

Veolia claims it is within its right to demand payment and so the dispute is set to continue. The company says that a reduction of 40% on the bill will be offered if it turns out there was a leak.

Read more: Bailiffs use updated French law to evict squatters from second homes

Read more: Success of new squatter law in France is 'postcode lottery'

New property owners must respect boundary agreements agreed by previous owners

The new owner of a property must accept formal agreements made between the previous owner and a neighbour over issues such as encroachment onto their land, according to a recent decision by France’s supreme court of appeal, the Cour de cassation.

The situation came about after a new property owner in the Grenoble area took their neighbour to court over a wall that was encroaching onto their property.

French law is usually very strict over this type of situation, often ruling that even the slightest encroachment onto a neighbour’s property is illegal.

However, in this instance the court ruled in favour of the neighbour because the previous owner of the property had agreed for the wall to encroach onto their land.

This meant that the new owner had no right to demand its destruction.

Read more: Do we need permission to cut down a tree in our French garden?

Disparity in property’s surface area not necessarily fraud, court rules

Sellers who state an incorrect surface area of their property have not necessarily committed an act of fraud that will allow the buyer to claim compensation, the Cour de cassation ruled in a September 7 judgement.

A new property owner in the Versaille area found that the house they had recently bought had a liveable surface area of 139 square metres and not the 155 square metres advertised by the seller.

The new owner took the seller to court, claiming fraud and demanding compensation.

But the Cour de cassation ruled that, despite the seller being overly optimistic when stating the size of the house, it was not an act of fraud. They ruled that it could not be claimed that the seller had intentionally tricked the buyer.

The judges said that the buyer was perfectly able to visit the house and take their own measurements before purchasing it.

So, the buyer could not claim compensation for fraud. However, a 1996 law – the loi de Carrez – states that a buyer who notices a difference of more than 5% in the actual surface area of the property and the one stated by the seller can claim a proportional reduction in price.

It means that the buyer will be able to recoup some of the money they paid for the house.

New investigation reveals inconsistencies in property energy efficiency rating system

In June we reported on a study by French consumer magazine 60 Millions de Consommateurs showing inconsistencies in the system that rates properties’ energy efficiency.

Read more: Home energy rating problems and three other French property updates

Now a new investigation by consumer rights group UFC-Que Choisir has added to that and found more damning evidence that the tests used to rate properties’ efficiency are far from consistent.

In France, properties are rated on their energy efficiency based on a scale called the Diagnostic de performance énergétique (DPE).

The DPE uses a graded rating scheme – from A to G – to indicate how energy-efficient a property is, with A the best and G the worst.

It takes into account the energy consumption and greenhouse gas emission rates of a home corresponding to the property’s size.

UFC-Que Choisir’s study looked at 34 different DPE analyses taken for seven houses located in different parts of France. The inspectors carrying out the DPEs only gave a consistent score to one of the properties looked at. For the other six houses, the inspectors gave a range of scores.

In one case, one inspector rated a property as being B on the scale, meaning it was energy efficient, while another rated it E, which is poor.

The inspectors who carry out the tests are also supposed to recommend to property owners improvements that could be made to make the property more energy efficient.

Here again, UFC-Que Choisir found inconsistencies.

One inspector advised the installation of a solar water heater even though the house in question was already equipped with one. In other cases, inspectors’ estimates of the work needed to improve the property ranged from €3,000 to €30,000.

The problem with these inconsistencies is that the DPE is becoming more and more important.

Since August this year it has been illegal to increase the rent price on properties rated F or G.

In spring 2023, landlords of F- and G-rated properties will be obliged to organise a full energy audit (a more detailed evaluation of a property’s energy efficiency) before being able to sell.

Read more: €1,000 energy audit to be needed for sales of millions of French homes

From 2025, it will be totally prohibited to rent out G-rated properties. This ban will extend to F-rated properties in 2028 and E-rated properties in 2034.

Élisabeth Chesnais, a journalist specialising in energy issues at UFC-Que Choisir and who led the group’s investigation, called the DPE situation concerning.

“It's a lottery. A festival of errors and contradictions from one inspector to another,” she said.

“We've got to the point where we're asking for the DPEs to be suspended until the government trains the inspectors better.”

Concerns as budget for home renovation grants only increases slightly in 2023 budget

The budget allocated to France’s primary home renovation grant platform, designed to make properties more eco-friendly, will only be €100million higher in 2023 under the government’s budget plan announced on Monday.

Read more: Healthcare, climate, cigarettes: France announces its 2023 budget

Read more: France to launch new aid to age-proof homes from 2024

It means that the total budget for Ma Prime Rénov’ will be €2.5billion next year, virtually the same as this year.

The government wants to encourage more global renovations of properties – so rather than just changing a boiler, the government wants the whole house to be kitted out with more modern features designed to reduce energy waste.

But the problem is that on average, property owners are usually only granted around €3,000 - €5,000 from renovation grants. This is far from the roughly €40,000 that it is estimated is required for more global renovations.

It remains to be seen whether there is enough money available to meet these needs next year.

The French housing ministry is aware of the issue and says that discussions are underway to make Ma Prime Rénov’ more “adapted”.

It says that the money invested in the initiative is not the only obstacle and that the system of applying for grants has to be simplified.

Read our in-depth guide into applying for renovation grants here, including a look at the Ma Prime Rénov’ initiative: Explained: How to apply for a renovation grant for your French home

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