12. Handover of Your New Home in France
12.3. Conditional Handover - La réception avec Réserves.
Where you are not completely satisfied with the dwelling, you may still accept handover, but on a conditional basis, called la réception avec réserves.
If this occurs, then a time is agreed with the builder for completion of the works. You are entitled to withold payment of the outstanding balance of 5%. You should also deposit the sum with the notaire (or the [Caisse de Dépots], pending completion of the works, to provide some assurance to the developer that you intend to pay.
Clearly, if you refuse to hand over the balance this is an important decision in law, leaving you open an interest charge, and liable to be sued by the builder for non-payment if your claim is not substantiated by a court of law.
It is a difficult judgement to make, as the law does not state the level of gravity of defects that can reasonably said to be grounds for the owner to insist on a conditional handover.
The builder may well argue that minor defects are covered by the ten year building guarantee (which guarantees parfait achèvement of the property in the first year) and so could be carried out under the terms of this guarantee. If you are prepared to accept this argument, then you need to ensure it is all agreed in writing before you accept unconditional handover.
Do not be afraid of standing your ground if you consider you are correct, but make sure you have the advice and support of a building professional alongside you.
If you accept unconditional handover you hand over the 5% retention, following which you will have less leverage on the builder.
If the developer/builder refuses to do the work then, ultimately, you have the right to invoke the procedure in the delivery guarantee for a third party to complete the works.
Should you insist on a conditional handover you are entitled to receive the keys to the property. However, whilst not widespread there have been instances of developers who have refused to handover keys to the property unless the buyer is willing to accept unconditional handover. This is clearly illegal, but it would need a court of law to come to a judgement on the matter, something that might take months to complete. One more reason why you need the assistance of an independent building professional.
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