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Property in France

Sellers Take the Kitchen Sink

Tuesday 11 March 2014

A couple who removed kitchen and bathroom fittings from their sale property have been held liable to pay compensation to the buyers.

The issue of what is a ‘fixture’ and what is a ‘fitting’ is a frequent source of dispute between seller and buyer.

In a recent court of appeal case the sellers did not deny having completely stripped the kitchen of all fixtures, leaving only the bare walls, and electric cables visible.

It was a very similar story in the bathroom, which had been stripped of its toilet and shower.

No attempt had been made in either room to repair the damage left by removal of these fixtures.

The buyers produced photographic and written evidence to the court, which clearly showed that both the kitchen and bathroom fittings were included in the sale of the property.

The sellers attempted to justify their action on the grounds that they had accepted a reduction of €20,000 in the purchase price of the property, and that removal of these items was a consequence of accepting this reduction in price.

However, even this argument the judges found lacked credibility, for in their defence the sellers claimed the price of the items they had removed amounted to only a few hundred euros, well below the reduction in the purchase price they had agreed.

In the end the court drew on Article 1615 of the Civil Code which states that:

'L'obligation de délivrer la chose comprend ses accessoires et tout ce qui a été destiné à son usage perpétuel.'

The definition is given further elaboration in Article 525 of the Civil Code, where it states:

'Le propriétaire est censé avoir attaché à son fonds des effets mobiliers à perpétuelle demeure, quand ils y sont scellés en plâtre ou à chaux ou à ciment, ou, lorsqu'ils ne peuvent être détachés sans être fracturés ou détériorés, ou sans briser ou détériorer la partie du fonds à laquelle ils sont attachés.'

These clauses make it relatively clear that fixtures are those items attached to the walls of a property, which if removed would damage the property and which are meant to be there on a permanent basis.

However, the definition is by no means a comprehensive one, for fitted cupboards and wardrobes, as well as wood burners and sheds are frequently items over which there is wrangling between buyer and seller.

The only satisfactory way of ensuring that there can be no uncertainty is to ensure that the sale contract makes it clear whether such items are included in the sale price.

Where there is any doubt about the sincerity of the sellers, then a visit to the property the day before completion might be the only final way to remove any lingering anxieties.

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