20. Disputes and French Rental Property
20.1. Use of a Huissier in Disputes
If you get into a serious dispute with your tenant then you would be well advised to take early professional advice.
A French avocat specialising in property law may well be necessary, although it is more common in France to use an official bailiff, called a huissier, for disputes in connection with a tenancy.
The profession of huissier has no direct equivalent in the United Kingdom.
Their role might best be compared to that of a bailiff, for they carry out similar duties, in addition to having other responsibilities.
A huissier is a public official who provides an auxiliary service to the judicial system, as well as acting for private individuals and companies, often in landlord and tenant matters.
Their full title is huissier de justice.
Without strong evidence to the contrary their word is cannot be contested at a court hearing.
Accordingly, a huissier is likely to be the best persion to advise you of your rights and help you bring evidence of your case.
In relation to possession proceedings and other procedures in connection with the recovery of serious debt the law requires that a huissier is used for, at least, part of the process.
The introduction of the huissier is, therefore, the first formal stage in the initiation of legal proceedings.
Their involvement is also likely to remove any doubt in the mind of the tenant that you know what you are doing, and that you mean business!
They are restricted to working within a specific geographic locality so you will not be able to choose your own. You will find the contact details of your local _huissier in your local yellow pages (pages jaunes)_.
Despite the fact that huissiers are public officials and most of their fees are regulated by the government, there is evidence of overcharging, and many landlords complain about the costs charged by huissiers in connection with proceedings.
Often it involves using disbursements to unreasonably increase the bill, or arguing a larger fee on the basis of complexity.
Enforcement by the authorities against overcharging appears to be rather feeble.
Huissiers are required to display tariffs in their office, so you should ask to see their schedule of tariffs and make sure you are clear about what you will be charged. It is always desirable that the engagement is agreed in writing, using a recorded delivery letter.
For most tasks undertaken by the huissier there is a regulated charge, which are generally very reasonable. However, some activities are freely negotiable and the rate can be as much as €200-300 an hour!
Disbursements are always freely negotiable, whether regulated or unregulated fee.
Charges are not the only problem; like other professionals, some huissiers are more competent than others, so you would be best advised to ensure all your instructions to the huissier were in writing and sent by recorded delivery letter (lettre recommandée avec accusé de réception).
If you later find yourself in dispute with the huissier (not uncommon!) you will need to prove your case, for which clear evidence in writing (and proof of posting and receipt) will be absolutely critical.
If you feel you have been overcharged, or received a poor service, you should contact the Chambre des Huissiers in your département. If you do not have any joy with them, then you will need to take legal advice.
The huissier will help and advise you on bringing a legal action in the courts. The most appropriate legal remedy will depend on the circumstances, but can include a claim for damages and/or an injunction, as well as a court order for recovery of rent arrears and possession proceedings.
For sums less than €10,000 the action is brought in the Tribunal d’Instance (and through a local juge de proximité if below €4000) and for sums greater than this amount in the Tribunal de Grande Instance.
There is no need to engage an avocat unless you need to go to the Tribunal de grande Instance.
Where resolution of the problem is a matter of urgency then it is possible to get a provisional early judgement called a référé about which your huissier will be able to give you further advice.
As well as the bailiff, there are also a number of useful sources of free, or cheap, advice and assistance, you could use in the first instance, which we consider on the next page.
Next: Advisory Services
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