A builder has been ordered to pay compensation for unauthorised building works, despite having only implemented the plans prepared by their client!
This was the outcome of a recent case heard in the French Cour de Cassation, in which the builder was found not to have provided proper advice to their client.
In the case, a French couple awarded a contract for the construction of their house to the building company SARL Jolivet.
The couple had received planning permission for the house, based on drawings that had been prepared by their own surveyor.
Subsequent to the planning permission having been received the couple asked their surveyor to make a minor change to the position of the property on the site, and these plans were given to the builder to execute.
During progress of the construction works, and following a complaint by a neighbour, the couple were served with a formal notice by the planning authority advising them that they were in breach of the planning consent. They were instructed to halt construction.
Their misdemeanour was to have constructed part of the dwelling on land that was not zoned for construction.
The error arose from the modification to the plans drawn up by their surveyor who did not check whether the new location of the property would still comply with the planning permission.
Despite the clear responsibility of the client and the surveyor in the changes that were made, the court concluded that the builder owed a due of care to their client, which they failed to properly exercise.
As a result they were ordered to pay compensation of €85,000 to the couple.
One factor that seems to have led the judges to this conclusion was the nature of the project and the experience and status of the builder.
The court decided to re-qualify the status of the contractual arrangements between the builder and the client, imposing a far higher degree of responsibility upon the builder.
The builder had undertaken the works on the basis of a minor works contract, despite the fact that there exists in France a specific contract for the construction of an individual dwelling, called the Contrat de construction de maison individuelle (CCMI).
This contract offers far stronger protection to the client, and it seems that this was precisely why the builder had been unwilling to use it.
The court decided that, despite appearances to the contrary, a CCMI contract existed between the builder and the client. The judgement they delivered was based on a reading of the builder’s liability under this contract.
The court took the view that the builder should have verified whether the change in the position of the property on the site still complied with the planning consent, and that if they found it did not, they should have alerted their client.
You can read more about the CCMI contract and other building contracts in our comprehensive guide to Building a House in France