Letting neighbour use my field

I own a field and am contemplating allowing a neighbour to use it without payment. Are there any loopholes to beware of? SC

This issue is deceptively complex and you are right to be cautious.

Hon. avocat Gerard Barron, from Boulogne-sur-Mer, said that doing this would be considered an offer of “a free licence” to occupy the field and there are three aspects to bear in mind in relation to this.

Firstly, there is the problem of prescription acquisitive (also known as the loi trentenaire), which states that someone becomes the full owner of land if they use it for 30 years as if they were its owner.

While 30 years may sound like a long time, you would still want to avoid it applying.

To do so the owner must be able to prove that the occupier’s rights of occupation were not “adversely acquired”, that is to say it needs to be shown that the owner consented to the occupation under licence.

Mr Barron said the only effective way of doing this was for the agreement to be recorded in writing and to clearly state that the licensee did not occupy the land “as though he were the owner”.

Once it is in writing, another trap to be avoided is the licence being regarded as either a commodat or worse, as becoming part of the farmer’s fonds agricole.

A commodat may arise under article 1875 of the Code Civil. This expression refers to a loan of land, on agreement that it will be returned later.

However, article 1888 states that if the parties have not expressly agreed how long the licence is to last, the owner cannot recover possession until the land “has served the purpose for which it was lent”.

In other words, the occupier (say, a local farmer you have lent the land to so he can mover some animals there) can, in the absence of a clear term, claim that it was intended for any on-going purpose that he feels appropriate for his farm.

A third problem that can crop up is fumure et arrière-fumure which is another way saying “agricultural improvement value”.

Unless it is explicitly excluded by a clear agreement, the farmer may on expiry of the licence to occupy, claim compensation for having “improved” the land by either simply leaving animals on the land to “fertilise” it naturally or by spreading artificial fertilisers.

The farmer must agree to waive any such claim on expiry of the loan period and to inform any successor on the farm that he has done so, failing which he is to indemnify the owner (or his or her heirs).

Mr Barron said: “In short the best advice is either don’t do it or, if you do, go to a notaire and have a proper agreement drafted before the farmer enters onto the land.”

English-speaking notaires can be found at www.notaires.fr