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French property for renovation

Co-propriety

Getting authorization from your neighbor

Obtaining permission for a project can get substantially more complicated when another person co-owns part of the structure you intend to alter. Yet this is an unavoidable step since you won't be able to obtain the permit without this person's authorization. This situation is common with old village homes, where, over the centuries, people who originally owned a straight, rectangular house, would end up buying, say, one room on the first floor from one neighbor, and two rooms on the second floor from another neighbor. In my village, it is said that people would gamble away various rooms of their house when playing cards. I picture the husband coming home and announcing (in old French): Honey, I lost the living room.

Consider my own experience: I acquired the first floor of the adjoining house, intending to make it a dining nook off the existing kitchen. But before I was able to open the wall to create an archway, I had to obtain my neighbors' written authorization, simply because from the 2 nd floor up, the wall touches their property, and therefore it belongs to both of us. The same is true of the façade of the newly acquired part, so I also had to obtain their permission for something as simple as enlarging a window.

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The huissier

Your neighbors will want to be reassured that whatever you are going to do to your house won't endanger their home's structural soundness. One of the best ways to alleviate their fears is to hire professionals whose job it is to make sure things are done safely. Another good idea is to hire the services of a huissier .

This person is a legal professional who will examine your neighbor's house before the work is started, to evaluate in great detail the condition of the house, making note of every crack or structural defect that currently exists. This official record is helpful in establishing whether damage resulted from a project and may make it easier to force the contractor to assume responsibility for the damages. Naturally, before an huissier can enter your neighbors' property, you must obtain a written permission from them.

Likewise, the involvement of a huissier will protect you from any false claims by your neighbors, that your project has caused damage to their home. You could also have the huissier inspect your house, to make it easier for you to go after the contractors if their work caused damage to your home.

Other co-propriety issues

Let me reemphasize that in no case should you consider starting your project without first getting the obligatory neighbors' authorizations. Don't assume that you can always get your neighbor's signature later, for the courts cannot grant permission for work already done. Furthermore, you may be required to demolish your work and restore the home to its original condition . . . at your own expense.

You may also be required by your neighbors to assume the cost of repair and maintenance projects. For example, a neighbor with whom you share a wall can require that you share the cost of repairing or maintaining the wall, unless he has caused the damage. You must pay your share or give up ownership of the wall. And that option is not possible if you caused the damage or if the wall is supporting existing construction that solely belongs to you.

It is wise to remember that the cost of maintaining structures is shared by all co-proprietors. Even if your home is the first floor of a 5-floor building, you are responsible for your share of the expense of maintenance and repair of the roof.

Dommages-ouvrages insurance and worst case scenarios

If your work meets the definition of repair or maintenance, you are under no obligation to purchase construction insurance. If, on the other hand, the work goes beyond this range, the assurance dommages-ouvrages is compulsory, though there are no penalties for failing to obtain it. Note that this insurance is in no way a substitute for the much more extensive coverage of the contractor's insurance, and is not available to you if you do the work yourself. Should the construction defects threaten the stability of the house or prevent you from using it altogether, the assurance dommages-ouvrages will make funds quickly available to do the repairs, without first having to pursue the contractor. Of course, your insurance company will seek compensation from the contractor.

When you decide to sell your property, you are obligated to declare all construction done on your property during the preceding 10 years. The price could benefit from an existing assurance dommages-ouvrages policy since the construction is covered until ten years after the work, thereby benefiting the new owner.

Interestingly enough, it is getting harder and harder to find an insurance company willing to provide this insurance. Don't be defeated if you are turned down, or simply ignored by the insurance company. You should request coverage again, this time through a registered letter. If, after a period of forty-five days, you still have not received your dommages-ouvrages coverage, you should contact the Bureau Central de Tarification which will not only force the insurer to cover you but will also decide what you should be charged. Note that this insurance is quite expensive. If, after completion of the work, you notice problems that should be covered by the contractor's garantie décennale , contact your dommages-ouvrages insurer right away.

If the work was not completed, and the contractor has no apparent intention of completing it, you should ask a huissier to come and officially acknowledge your situation. Then, you can present your case to the local juge de grande instance, who may order the contractor to resume the work. Of course, if the contractor is no longer in business, this will be no help. This is why it is best to make sure that the contractor is backed by a financial institution. . . .

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