The sale of land for a camp site illustrates the need for vigilance over the statutory survey reports on all French property purchases.
As part of the property sale process in France, the seller is required to provide a range of statutory reports to the buyers.
There are up to nine reports, depending on the type and age of the property, which are assembled to in a Dossier de Diagnostic Technique (DDT).
The reports include one on potential natural or industrial risks that may affect the property called the 'État des servitudes 'Risques' et d'Information sur les Sols (ESRIS) .'
This report stipulates, for instance, whether the property is located in a flood zone, an area prone to earthquakes, major storms, avalanches, subject to ground movement, near a dangerous factory, or exposed to radon.
The whole process is handled by a specialist survey company engaged by the seller, and costing at least several hundred euros.
In a case that was recently heard in the French courts, a couple signed a sale and purchase contract for a camp site (terrain de camping) in the village of Castera-Verduzan, in the department of Gers.
The relevant statutory reports were provided to the buyer during the process of signing of the sale and purchase contract, the compromis de vente, including the risk report, which had nothing untoward contained in it.
After sale completion the new owners submitted a planning application to the local council for the installation of a new pump house for a heated swimming pool.
The application was refused on the grounds that the camp site was located in a category red flood zone, as provided for in the statutory risk plan, called the Plan de prévention des risques naturels prévisibles (PPRN).
The inclusion of the camp site in the PPRN only occurred after submission of the statutory survey reports, but before signing of the deed of sale.
As a result, the buyers brought an action against the seller for annulment of the sale.
The seller protested in court that no information was available on the website of the local prefecture on the change in the status of the land.
The judges ruled that the sale should be annulled, citing Article L271-5 of the code of construction, which states that any change in the status of the land between signing of the sale and purchase contract and completion should be recorded in the DDT, as follows:
'Si, après la promesse de vente, la parcelle sur laquelle est implanté l'immeuble est inscrite dans une des zones mentionnées au I de l'article L. 125-5 du code de l'environnement ou l'arrêté préfectoral prévu au III du même article fait l'objet d'une mise à jour, le dossier de diagnostic technique est complété lors de la signature de l'acte authentique de vente par un état des risques naturels et technologiques ou par la mise à jour de l'état existant.'
The ruling is therefore in line with the law, and the court has confirmed that the seller cannot rely on the website of the prefecture, which had informative value only.
But it is a tough obligation on the seller and their advisors who must now be expected to ensure that the risk report is up to date for completion. A prudent buyer will want to see the report at the signing of the sale and purchase contract.