Snagging your Off-plan Property in France

This article provides helpful advice on what French off-plan property purchasers should do if they face snagging problems on handing over the keys.

At French law, the balance of the purchase price is, in principle, due on handing
over the keys. This happens at the same time as the final "snagging" inspection.
Pursuant to Article R. 261-14 of the Code of Construction and Housing, purchasers
can pay the remaining balance, usually 5%, on an escrow account, if
non-substantial compliance defects are found during the inspection. This is a
matter of Public policy. There is no need for the above to be stated in the Deed of
Sale. Where substantial compliance defects are found that prohibit a "normal" use
of the property, there can be no delivery and therefore the balance of the price is
not due (Supreme Court, 3rd civil Chamber, 6 December 1972).

If, in the presence of non-substantial compliance defects resulting in a
consignment of the balance of the sale price, the developer does not hand over the
keys and requests payment, the developer can be held liable for damages, and
could possibly face criminal proceedings, pursuant to Article L. 261-17 of the
Code of Construction and Housing.

Property purchasers who flag up serious non-compliance issues during the final
snagging and lodge the balance of the sale price can apply to the Court for an
Order forcing developers to hand over the keys. This, however, is a right which
purchasers should always use in good faith, failing which they could finally be
held liable towards the developer.

As regards escrow lodgment itself, in the silence of the Title Deed, French
common law principles apply, i.e. unless all parties agree as to where the deposit
should be paid, this must be made to state-owned French bank "Caisse des Depots
et Consignations".

I recommend off-plan property purchasers to personally inspect the property: do
not sign a proxy allowing the developer or a third party to do this on your behalf.
You should insist on getting advance notice of the exact date and time of the final
inspection called "reception des travaux", as prescribed by French law and, in most
cases, confirmed in the Title deed.

The provision of a shower instead of a bath tub, or the absence of electrical sockets
in some of the rooms, amounts to a non-compliance issue. The "Notice
descriptive" is to be used as a reference here. Purchasers are given a copy with the
initial purchase paperwork. A more detailed description is normally available for
inspection at the Notary's office. Defects e.g. broken floor tiles, do not amount to a
compliance flaw.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Fabien Cordiez, dual-qualified Anglo-French lawyer.
Fabien Cordiez Avocat & Solicitor is a registered French law firm that focuses on property law and inheritance, with an international approach. It is a small niche law firm offering non-resident clients a fully personalized service throughout France.

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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer. For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.

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