Homeowners in France at risk of being sued by subcontractors

If the main contractor fails to pay up, the property owner may be liable, a new ruling confirms

A view of two workers shaking hands on a construction job site
As soon as a subcontractor is appointed to a project by the main contractor, the property owner is liable for their payment
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Did you know that if you are having work done on your house in France and your contractor employs a subcontractor, the property owner (you) can be sued for payment if the contractor fails to pay them?

As the property owner, you must ensure that the main contractor follows all of the subcontractors' rights, and that all payments are made (or that there is a legal plan in place to guarantee payment in case of insolvency, for example), otherwise you are at risk of being sued to compensate them separately.

It comes after a new ruling from the Cour de cassation, on March 7, found in favour of an electrician who worked as a subcontractor on a job site. When the main contractor company fell into liquidation and could not pay its subcontractors, the electrician turned to the property owner instead.

The court ordered the owner to pay more than €257,000 in unpaid fees.

In its ruling, the court said: “If the client [the owner of the job site, called maître de l’ouvrage in French] is aware of the presence of a subcontractor on the job site, they can give the main contractor formal notice to fulfil its obligations.”

If this does not happen, and the obligations are not fulfilled, “the subcontractor is entitled to seek the liability of the maître de l’ouvrage for failing to comply with their obligations”, it added, saying that in the above case, the owner of the job site had been at fault for failing to put backup funds in place.

The court said that all of the work ordered by the initial contractor was owed by the job site owner, whether they knew about it or not.

The only way the owner could have avoided paying would have been to give formal notice to the contractors - at the point when the subcontractor was appointed - to guarantee their payment in the event of non-payment (for example, appointing a guarantor or insurance in case of insolvency).

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