With one major exception given below, property owners must accept receipt of freely flowing water onto their property, whether it is from rain, a spring, or the fall of snow.
The principle applies as much in the country as the town, between buildings and fields, and despite the fact that the properties maybe separated by a public or private route.
The recipient of the water should not do anything that substantially modifies the flow of water to send it, say, into the property of their neighbour.
Notwithstanding this rule, the recipient of the water can undertake minor alterations to ameliorate the situation, provided it does not aggravate the situation on neighbouring properties.
This rule does not apply in relation to potentially overflowing rivers where the property owner can undertake such reasonably preventative measures to avoid flooding on their property, eg dig a ditch.
In the same manner, the owner of a property from which the water originates (at a higher level) should not do anything that aggravates the flow of water onto the neighbouring property.
Accordingly, an owner would not be permitted to dig ditches on their property that sent water cascading more powerfully onto the property of their neighbour.
Similarly, there is nothing to prevent an owner capturing the water falling on their property and using it for their own purposes.
The major exception to the rule on freely flowing water relates to rainwater falling from the roof space of a property.
All property owners are obliged to ensure that, as far as possible, rainwater from the roof space of their property does not fall on the property of their neighbour.
This rule is known as the servitude d’égout des toits.
In this respect Article 61 of the Civil Code states: Tout propriétaire doit établir des toits de manière que les eaux pluviales s'écoulent sur son terrain ou sur la voie publique ; il ne peut les faire verser sur le fonds de son voisin.
Accordingly, in the construction of a new property or alterations to an existing property, the owner must ensure they make proper provision for the disperal of rainwater so that it does not fall from the roof the their property onto the property of their neighbour.
Clearly, this is unlikely to be an issue in the countryside, but in urban areas there are sometimes disputes concerning this problem.
The rule does not imply that an owner must stop all rainwater from their roof going onto a neighbouring property but, simply, that they must do all that it is reasonable to do to ensure that it does not.
The installation of rainwater goods and down pipes is sufficient to meet the requirements of this rule. Most communes then permit the rainwater to run into the public highway, although there are restrictions that are imposed in some areas.
Next: Spring Water