How does the organisation and financing of maintenance and improvement works operate in co-ownership properties in France?
If you purchase a copropriété in France you will of course be obliged to pay an annual service charge.
Depending on the nature and location of the apartment block and the size of your apartment this charge could well be several thousand euros a year, although on average it is around €2,000 pa.
The charge covers those costs concerned with the general management, maintenance and improvement of the communal areas and services.
Where there exists a communal system of heating the most expensive element of the charge is normally the heating, but in older properties the bill for repairs, maintenance and improvements can also often be high.
The procedures for planning and execution of building works are set out at some length in both statute law and in the general management rules of the apartment block, called the reglement de copropriété.
Management of the block will be undertaken by a syndic, frequently assisted by a committee of elected owners, called the conseil syndical. In smaller blocks the structure will be less formal, perhaps with the use of a volunteer owner to act as the syndic.
Only those matters relating to routine repairs and maintenance can be undertaken on the initiative of the managing agents, but even here the level of discretion left to them will be prescribed by the rules and the general meeting.
As with all important matters concerning the management of the apartments, decisions must be made by a general meeting (assemblée générale) of the co-owers (copropriétaires), who will be owners, not only of their own apartment, but also have a share ‘en indivision’ in the ownership of the structure and communal areas and facilities.
For more important works of repair and maintenance, a simple majority vote of those attending a general meeting is required, but for 'improvement' works, then an absolute majority of all apartment owners is necessary.
The courts have given a wide definition of what they consider to be general maintenance rather than an improvement, even though such works invariably involve an improvement in standards and performance.
This does mean that the vast majority of works that take place can be decided by a simple majority at a general meeting. These include particular types of improvement works, such as those to preserve the security of the residents, those imposed by law and those concerning certain disabled works.
Where they are not, then matters can get complicated, requiring an absolute majority vote of all the owners before they can be approved. Even then, an apartment owner opposing the works have an entitlement to 10 years to pay for their quota-part of the total cost.
Any decision to take out a collective loan for works can only be approved by a unanimous decision of the owners.
In order to spread the cost of such works the managing agents are required to propose a sinking fund, a duty has been recently reinforced by the Loi Duflot.
Under this law, from 2017 the agents will be required to undertake a full survey of the building (diagnostic technique global) and prepare a 10 year plan for approval by a general meeting, for which a sinking fund must then be put in place. Only blocks containing less than 10 apartments and less than 5 years old escape this obligation.
The reglement de copropriété will specify how the charges are to be shared, generally pro-rata to space occupied, but in some instances by the location of the apartment. Thus, an apartment on the ground floor would not contribute to the maintenance or renewal of a lift.