Boundary Walls and Fences in France

  1. Is it a Private or Common Wall?
  2. Rights Concerning Private Boundary Walls
  3. Planning Rules on New Construction
  4. Maintenance of Common Boundary Wall
  5. Constructing Against Common Boundary Wall
  6. Increasing Height of Common Boundary Wall
  7. Relinquish Shared Ownership of Wall

1. Private or Common Boundary Wall?

The ownership of the wall or fence that separates you from your neighbour is not always clear.

The rules that apply will depend on the circumstances of each case.

However, whether in a town or in the countryside, in the absence of proof to the contrary, the basic rule is that a wall that separates two properties is presumed to be shared.

The presumption applies whether or not the wall separates two gardens, two courtyards, a courtyard and a garden or two enclosed areas in fields.

However, a wall that separates a courtyard or garden from a wood or a field is presumed to belong to the owner of the courtyard or the garden.

The presumption of a shared wall does not apply if the grounds are completely enclosed, in which case the wall is presumed to belong to the owner of the enclosed grounds.

By the same token the gable end wall of a property that adjoins the garden or courtyard of a neighbour is presumed to belong to the owner of the property.

The common wall of two buildings is presumed to be shared only if the wall is of the same height and width. So, if of different height and width, the common wall relates only to the smaller of the two buildings.

The presumption of common walls also applies in relation to other types of enclosure including fences, hedges, ditches and embankments, provided always that the boundary is between two contiguous pieces of property.

The same applies to trees and plants in a shared hedge so that both tree and plants are shared.

A wall is presumed to be private if it is stated as such in the title deeds to the property or there are clear features on the wall, which make it clear it is owned privately.

However, in both cases there is only a presumption in favour of private ownership. If the other party can bring incontrovertible proof that it is not private then this presumption could be overturned.

The proof may be one of three main pieces of evidence:

  • Title
  • Features
  • Prescription

i. Title

First, if if there is clear title to the property in the form of Notairal acte (sale or gift) or a court judgement. If the documentation in relation to the decision is only held by one of the parties (present or past) there is merely a presumption. Where, however, the documentation is held and signed by both parties then this will be considered as absolute proof.

ii. Features

Second, the law recognises that there are certain features on a wall that will give a presumption as to whether or not it is private or shared.

Where there is a clear slope on the top of the wall then it is presumed to be owned by the person in which direction the slope falls.

Where the top of the wall is flat(ish) then it is presumed to be shared.

If the wall contains on it a coping stone, cornice or corbel on one side of it then the wall is presumed to be owned by the person where these features are visible.

There may also be other visible signs that show ownership.

Where there is a conflict between the title deeds and the wall features then the law presumes in favour of the deeds.

Where the features show both private ownership and shared ownership then the matter would need to be considered by a court of law.

Where there is a dividing wall between two properties that are located at different levels then the law presumes that the wall is owned by the property that benefits from the wall eg, a retaining wall that prevents soil falling back onto property on lower area would be owned by this person.

If it clearly benefits no one or both benefits equally then the law presumed it to be shared.

iii. Prescription

Finally, there may be proof by 'prescription', if you can prove that you have been the sole owner of the wall for the past thirty years.

Where prescription conflicts with the deeds, then prescription will be the correct presumption, against a title that is older.

In order to prove ownership in such a case it would be necessary to provide documentary evidence, for instance, that you have assumed sole responsibility for the repair and maintenance of the wall over this period.

The evidence of neighbours would also be important, if available.

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