An English couple who bought a house in the Auvergne have found themselves homeless after they discovered it was still occupied by a tenant.
Christine Baxter and her husband moved to France in March 2007 with their son and grandson, and purchased a large three storey terraced house in the village of Champagnac Les Mines, in the Cantal department of Auvergne.
Mrs Baxter is 60 years old and is severely disabled. Her husband of 63 years also suffers from the lung disease emphysema.
‘When we agreed terms for the purchase of the property we knew there were three tenants in occupation, but we were assured that they would all move out as part of the sale of the property. Indeed, the sale contract said as much', explained Christine.
‘However, when we turned up at the property as the new owners, we found that one of the tenants was still actually living there!'
‘He made it clear to us in no uncertain terms that, although he was very sympathetic to our predicament, he had no intention of moving out’, she added.
The tenant also laid claim to a garage that was attached to the property, which the couple were going to use for the installation of a disabled lift.
With the property in need of renovation and without a lift available, Christine and her family were unable to move into the property, even with the upstairs tenant present.
As a result, they were obliged to decamp to hotels, camp sites and bed and breakfast houses, before finally being able to move into a holiday property provided to them by friends.
The couple engaged solicitors to bring a legal action against the seller, but the French courts ruled against them, arguing that they did not make it clear enough by their actions that vacant possession of the property was indispensable.
The court did not argue with the facts of the case that the couple had been misled by the sellers, but this did not seem to override their view than vacant possession was not an essential element of the purchase of the property.
‘We are amazed at the decision of the court, as is our solicitor, but we are as equally unhappy with the handling of the case by our solicitor, whom we have since learned has been dismissed from the company for incompetence’, said Christine.
The couple also feel they were misled by the estate agent, who gave them verbal assurances that were not kept, and even the notaire who processed the legal formalities of the purchase was criticised by the judge for not doing her job properly.
‘We have spent around €40,000 in legal and other costs and we have now run out of money, as a result of which we are unable to pursue the matter further to the French supreme court, to whom we would otherwise wish to lodge an appeal’, said Christine.
In the meantime the couple have made a formal complaint to the European Ombudsman, and they are considering formal complaints to the relevant professional bodies of the notaire and the solicitor.
We wish Christine the very best with her official complaints, and with any appeal action she may bring.
The ruling of the court in this case does seem unusual and unjust, and it is difficult to see a logical explanation for it.
Where a sale contract makes it clear that the property is being sold with vacant possession, then if this is not granted the buyer would normally be successful in obtaining either an annulment of the sale or damages from the seller, or both; the outcome would depend on the particular circumstance of the case, and the wishes of the purchaser.
However, the case does illustrate the desirability of visiting the property on the day of sale completion, prior to the final signatures.
You should also ensure that any clause in the sale contract concerning occupation of the property is later incorporated into the acte authentique, the deed of sale.
You can read more about the legal formalities of house purchase in France by reading our comprehensive guide to Buying Property in France.