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Neighbour Nuisance and French Property Sale Contracts

Wednesday 11 March 2020

Two recent cases in the French courts considered noise nuisance problems encountered by buyers following property sale completion.

In French law, a seller is obliged to provide the buyer with all significant information concerning the property that may either influence their decision to buy, or the amount they are willing to pay.

This obligation concerns not only information on the condition of the property, but other matters that may affect the buyer's decision.

The seller (like the buyer) has an obligation to act in good faith.

Where the facts are deliberately hidden or misrepresented by the seller, the approach that the courts adopt in such cases is to determine whether the buyer would have purchased in the absence of the allegedly fraudulent action by the seller.

That being the case, it does not automatically follow that a buyer has legal recourse because a seller acts in a fraudulent manner, as two contrasting cases recently heard in the French Supreme Court illustrate.

In both cases the seller not only failed to provide complete disclosure, but actively hide the facts.

In the first case the buyer and seller signed a contract (compromis de vente) for an apartment.

Between the signing of the contract and the signing of the conveyance, the notaire undertook the usual search enquiries, which included information provided by the managing agents of the apartment block.

When the day arrived for signing the title deeds the notaire stated that their enquiries had revealed there was a formal procedure in place for serious and repeated noise nuisance caused by the next-door neighbour of the seller. This was the first occasion the buyer had learned of the problem.

As a result of the information provided, the buyer refused to complete on the sale, following which the seller brought an in court action for damages, as provided for in the contract.

In court, the judges heard that the buyer had asked the seller about the quality of the neighbours, when they had received an assurance that there were no neighbour problems. This assurance had been witnessed by the parents of the buyer.

The court ruled that the seller had deliberately misled the seller, as a result of which the sale was annulled and the buyer awarded costs and damages.

In the second case, the buyer of an apartment complained about noise nuisance from the bar below and sought annulment of the sale and damages.

In court, the buyer stated that he was the victim of fraudulent action by the seller who had systematically asked the bar manager by text message to reduce the volume of the music during the visits by the buyer.

This action to deceive was confirmed in court, but the seller stated that the buyer did not seek a particularly quiet apartment by taking an interest in buying a property located in the lively district of Le Marais of Paris, just above a bar/restaurant, where the prospect of a noise nuisance was self-evident.

Indeed, the minutes of a general meeting of the apartment block 18 months previously, which had been provided to the buyer, explicitly stated that the noise pollution had led to complaints and that the problem had not been fully resolved.

The court confirmed the decision of the court of appeal that, despite the action by the seller to disguise the noise nuisance, their manoeuvres were not a material influence on the decision of the buyer.

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