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Property in France

Property Damaged Between Sale and Completion

Tuesday 05 March 2013

What if there is a substantial deterioration in the condition of a property between signing of the sale contract and sale completion?

This was a question that was recently considered by the French Supreme Court, the Cour de Cassation.

In the case before the court, a sale and purchase agreement had been signed for house that had been ‘entirely renovated’.

The contract also stated that the seller undertook to maintain and preserve the property in its present condition until final completion took place.

Prior to sale completion taking place serious flooding occurred at the property, caused by freezing pipes.

The seller did not carry out repairs to the property, as a result of which the purchaser refused to sign the acte autentique to complete the sale.

Not only did the court find in favour of the purchaser, but they also awarded them damages of €2,500 due to:

  • The bad faith of the seller in not allowing the purchaser proper access to the property to assess the condition of the property and
  • The lack of proper care by the seller in leaving the property unoccupied during the winter months in a region prone to very low temperatures, without taking any precautions to protect it against such an eventuality.

The general position in French law is that a seller is required to preserve the property in the state it was at the time of the contract, until sale completion.

Article 1614 of the French Civil Code states ‘La chose doit être délivrée en l'état où elle se trouve au moment de la vente.’ In short, the seller must deliver up to the buyer that which was agreed at the time of the contract.

However, it is an obligation that requires proof of any breach of faith by the seller. As a result, for the avoidance of doubt, sometimes buyer and seller agree between them to give some indication of the state of the property in the sale contract.

By contrast, buyer and seller can waive this legal obligation by agreeing in the contract that the property will be delivered up in the condition in which it is found at the time of completion!

Few notaires would include such a clause without the express agreement of the seller, but the fact that this can occur is one more reason why you need to fully understand the clauses contained in the contract and not assume they are a mere legal formality.

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