French property: How long after buying can I claim for hidden faults?

Discovering problems is disappointing but under certain conditions you can claim expenses from previous owners

French law allows property owners claim expenses on hidden faults after they close the deal

Reader question: How long after a property purchase can the buyer claim a vice caché (hidden fault)?

A vice caché usually applies to the sale of objects but also extends to property.

The principle behind the law is shown by a well-publicised case of an ignition coil fault on Renault petrol engine cars. After disgruntled owners took the company to court, the fault was declared a vice caché, and Renault had to change the coils at no cost to owners.

In the case of objects, buyers have two years after the discovery of a fault to complain, but cannot complain if they notice it more than five years after purchase.

France’s highest court, the Cour de Cassation, was recently asked to rule whether this timeframe applies to property deals after a buyer found a serious problem with the woodwork holding up his roof five years after buying the property. He was seeking compensation from the former owner for the hidden defect which existed at the time of the sale.

The seller insisted he was out of time but the court said a property vice caché is determined by a general 20-year rule in the Code Civil for exercising a legal right and the buyer could claim.

Note that in many property transactions a clause is included that the buyer fera son affaire with any faults found after the deal, which means they cannot claim a vice caché.

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