Second-home tax move confirmed and four other French property updates

This week’s property news round-up also looks at moves in Paris to clamp down on landlords who charge excessive rents

Parisian flats, tourist lets, and homeowner strife is covered in this week's wrap
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France confirms move to let more communes levy additional taxes on second-home owners

The government has confirmed it will allow more French communes to levy additional taxes on second-home owners.

However the list of French communes subjected to the surcharge - expected to run into thousands - will not be revealed until next week.

The Connexion published a draft list of the communes expected to be on the list here.

The addition of the communes to the zones tendues list is one of 14 measures which will be implemented to tackle housing shortages in tourist locations.

The changes will come into force on January 1, 2024, and allow communes listed as a zone tendue – where there is a housing shortage and high second home ownership – to levy a surcharge of potentially 60% on the taxe d’habitation, which is now only payable on second homes.

Implementation of the surcharge – and how high it is – will be up to the mayor of the communes, however, meaning communes can assess their needs on an individual basis.

Other changes will see short-term letting of tourist accommodation banned if the building’s energy rating is below a G.

“The aim is to ensure that owners who rent out their properties on a year-round basis are not able to avoid having to carry out work on them by renting them out on a tourist basis,” said France’s housing ministry.

Alongside this is a change to urban planning schemes in these communes to promote the development of primary residencies, meaning they are occupied for more than eight months of the year.

The last major change will see a review of the Loc’Avantages scheme – that gives tax breaks to landlords renting to those on a modest income – in zones tendues.

Read more: Second-home owner woe as 2,600 new French areas allowed to raise tax

First fines for landlords charging excessive rents in Paris

Nearly 1,000 tenants in Paris have reported their landlords for charging excessive rents.

The reports were made via a new platform that launched in January.

Following the claims, authorities in the French capital have now sent out the first fines for excessive rents.

Seventeen landlords were fined, including five who were told to pay the maximum €5,000 penalty.

“We're not surprised by this number: one-third of rents do not comply with the legal framework,” said Ian Brossat, Deputy Mayor of Paris in charge of housing.

The majority of complaints were made by tenants living in small apartments.

Studio tenants accounted for more than half of claims about abusive rents, one-bedroom (two-room) flats for a third, and two-bedroom (three-room) apartments for almost 11%.

More than half the complaints were against rental companies.

On top of this, there was a clear city-wide divide in which arrondissements the complaints originated from.

“The highest number of reports was received in the 11th and 18th arrondissements: just over a hundred in each case,” said Mr Brossat.

These are primarily the working-class districts of the city, which have “a large private rental stock.. [and] a lot of small apartments,” he added.

Despite also being largely working-class districts, “The 13th, 19th and 20th arrondissements, which have a higher proportion of social housing, are less affected,” the deputy Mayor said.

Only 13% of all complaints originated from the city’s hyper-centre – the 1st through 6th arrondissements.

Paris is the first French city where the municipality, and not the prefecture, is in charge of regulating renting stock.

After tenants submit a complaint to the mairie through its website, the authorities look into the matter.

If found to be overcharging for rent, landlords are given four months to reduce the tenant’s rent to an acceptable level, receiving one letter informing, and another reminding them of the requirement.

After this time, if the rents have not changed, a fine is dished out – proportional to the amount the tenant has overpaid.

A maximum penalty of €5,000 for individual landlords, and €15,000 for companies, is currently in place.

“The fine is proportional to the overpayment. Sometimes the overpayment is more than €5,000, so the fine is €5,000,” said the deputy mayor.

Read also: 12 things you can do at your mairie in France apart from get married

Homeowners go to court to reclaim €16,000 they had to pay to remove invasive roots from home

A couple in France are going to court to claim €16,000 in compensation after they say they were mistakenly blamed for damaging their sewage system.

The couple noticed plumbing problems, including clogged toilets and unpleasant smells, at their house in Vertou, a suburb of Nantes.

After a neighbour was unable to help, they called their insurance company, who sent an expert to assess the issue.

After making a hole to access the sewer system, the expert saw the pipes were filled with roots – but claimed this and other damage to the house’s sewage system were caused by the owner’s car passing over it.

This laid the blame on the homeowner, meaning the insurance would not cover the payments needed to repair the system.

After completing the work in 2022, the couple’s house was then besieged by roots from trees in the street that infiltrated their gas and water pipes, causing further blockage.

The roots even caused a gas leak, limiting the house’s power supply.

Damage was so severe that officials from the city came to assess it, but again the homeowners were told they were the ones at fault.

“Basically, if we wanted hot water and heating in the middle of winter, and to be able to go to the toilet, we had to put up the money,” said homeowner Raymonde Martin.

Despite being told they would be refunded “within two to three months” by the metropole, they are still awaiting the money, and have launched a legal bid to get it back.

On top of the €6,000 for work done to the pipes, they are also claiming back for the original works done to their courtyard and sewage system, which they say was also caused by the tree’s roots.

“We had to put up bits of plates so that our car could go into the garage. Our flower bed was demolished. And with this temporary arrangement, we're having problems with the gate. We've already had to change the rack several times,” added Camille Martin.

The authorities admitted their wrongdoing and agreed to refund the homeowners. It is unclear whether this will stop the comênsation claim.

Read more: Vandals ‘uproot more than 7,000 apple trees’ in southern France

Châteaux prices not escaping France’s property market slowdown

The price of French châteaux – of which there are around 40,000 in France – have not escaped the property market slowdown.

Although the most prestigious and spacious properties for the mega-rich are retaining their value, some manor houses on the market have seen their price fall by 25%.

“Some owners thought that, like seaside properties or exceptional city properties, châteaux would follow the inflationary trend. But that's forgetting that the châteaux market is less fluid," said Olivier de Chabot-Tramecourt, Chairman of the Mercure Group.

The group sold more than 100 châteaux last year, for an average price of €880,000 – perhaps lower than you would expect for this type of property.

Alongside the issues affecting other properties – rising mortgage rates, a lack of interest from buyers, and the higher cost of living putting people off buying property – châteaux listed on the market were often put there at the wrong time.

“We've sold properties with discounts of 20% to 25%," said Olivier Brunet, director of Barnes Propriétés & Châteaux.

“These are owners who missed the boat and overvalued their châteaux just as the market was going down,” he added.

He highlighted one case where a 300 m² châteaux in Brittany was eventually sold at 30% below its listed price because no offers had been made for over two years.

Property management companies like Mr Brunet’s are keen to warn châteaux owners that the market might not be what it was a few years ago.

“Our work and the advice given by the media are beginning to pay off: sellers are now more willing to listen and make efforts," he added.

Others, such as luxury estate agent Patrick Besse, believe the market is still “very good” for both sellers and buyers.

“Obviously, in the current climate, some buyers are trying their luck by asking for a big discount, but they never get the big discounts that some people are talking about,” he added.

One benefit for châteaux owners – that sellers do not always take into account – is the tax breaks for owning such a property, or the generous grants given when renovating the homes, which are sometimes listed as historical monuments.

On top of this, revenue streams from tourism can also be factored in, especially in hotspots like the Loire Valley.

Despite the potentially worrying news, only 2% - 3% of the châteaux stock is ever actively on the market in France, meaning many potential buyers also turn their eyes to other properties in the same price range, like restored farmhouses.

Read more: French property watch: Why buy in Loir-et-Cher and prices to expect

Woman, 79, could lose house over 30-year wall dispute

A 79-year-old woman in France could lose her house over a 30-year unpaid fine for not painting a wall.

The previous owner of the house – current occupant Josette Dumas’ mother – was involved in a dispute in the 1990s with a neighbour after she put up a wall between their houses.

The neighbour asked her to paint the wall, but she refused, with the case eventually being taken to court and seeing Josette’s mother hit with a 910,000 franc fine.

The fine was never paid, and despite Josette rebuilding the wall, when she checked last year, the unpaid penalty had reached €307,000 – and has an extra €100,000 of interest on top.

Because of the fine, Josette’s house is set to go up for auction in September to cover the charges, despite her and her mother spending more than €50,000 on legal fees trying to get the fine revoked.

“With my pension of €1,000, how will I find a place to live?” she said.

Josette’s neighbours have started an online fundraising campaign – which more than 80 people have backed – but the €2,500 they have raised is far from the over €300,000 needed to pay the fine.

“Everyone loves Josie here. She looks after our children, watches our houses when we’re on holiday, and feeds our pets,” said one neighbour.

The mayor of Igny, François Vioroux, said he is trying to do everything he can for her, but that “the law is being applied” correctly.

He stated, however, that if the house was put up for auction, alternative accommodation in the commune would be found for Ms Dumas.

“We already have one or two solutions to make sure she would not be forced to leave her home town,” he said.

Read more: Loud frogs spark neighbour row: how to handle noise problems in France