11. Building Guarantees in France
11.1. Ten Year Building Guarantee - Responsabilité Décennale
If you engage a building contractor to undertake construction work, in law their work is guaranteed for a period of up to ten years.
Indeed, the same rule applies if you have yourself undertaken building works.
The responsibility is referred to as la responsabilité décennale.
The ten year guarantee operates on a tiered basis as follows:
i. During the first year from completion the builder is obligated to guarantee complete performance of the work – la garantie de parfait achèvement.
ii. During the second year to guarantee that fittings are in good working order e.g. electrics, sanitary goods, heating, windows, shutters, and doors – la garantie de bon fonctionnement.
iii. During the ten years from completion to guarantee all those works concerned with the stability and integrity of the building, including those elements which ensure the building is wind and watertight eg foundations, floors, walls, staircase, ceilings, door and window frames, major electrical and plumbing defects, roof, framework – l’assurance décennale.
Where a defect arises the client is not obliged to prove the fault and the building contractor is presumed to be responsible.
However, the builder can escape liability on grounds of force majeure (event not foreseeable, irresistible and external) or where the client (or their architect) was responsible for the design. The latter is a frequent source of litigation.
Beyond the first two years the ten year guarantee does not cover defects in building products or equipment installed in the property. It only covers the workmanship of the contractor.
Accordingly, if, for instance, your boiler ceases to function after five years, you cannot go back on the builder, unless the cause of the failure was their installation work. If the builder was not at fault, you would need to examine the manufacturers' guarantee.
Ground movement is covered by the guarantee if the nature of the works involved construction of the foundations or stabilisation of the building. You will also be covered under your household insurance for this kind of risk.
The builder remains responsible for the work of their sub-contractors, although it is possible for them to bring an action against the sub-contractor in the event of default.
In order to improve the enforceability of the 10-year liability, and reduce litigation between client and building contractor, the law requires the building contractor to take out insurance cover, called assurance décennale
The client can also take out their own insurance, called assurance dommages-ouvrage.
These policies are similar to latent defects guarantees that operate in the United Kingdom and many other countries.
We consider both policies in the following pages.
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