A couple purchased a property they later found was without mains drainage, contrary to the information contained in the deed of sale.
In February 2010, a couple completed on the purchase of their new home, for the sum of €205,000.
The notaire carried out their ususal search enquiries and, on the basis of a letter received from the local council, the deed of sale (acte authentique) expressly stated that the property was connected to the main drainage system. The letter was included in the completion documentation.
The acte itself stated: "le vendeur déclare que l'immeuble vendu est raccordé à l'assainissement communal, ainsi constaté par une lettre délivrée le 17 décembre 2009 par le service d'assainissement communal, dont l'original est demeuré ci-joint et annexé après mention".
After the couple moved into the property they noted that the house was not connected to the communal mains, but only equipped with a septic tank.
They protested to the notaire, who dismissed their complaint, arguing that the connection of their house by a septic tank had been perfectly visible to them and that the seller could not be held responsible for any visible or hidden defects likely to affect the building.
In 2012, the couple received a visit from the local council for an inspection of their septic tank system, when it was found that the system did not comply with current regulations. The inspector advised them that they must replace it.
The cost of a replacement system was later estimated at €20,700.
The couple again took issue with the notaire over the matter, who replied stating that the seller was not liable for hidden defects (vices cachés), as set out in the deed of sale.
As a result they brought a legal action in the courts against both the seller and the notaire.
The court ruled that as the property did not have mains drainage, contrary to the deed of sale, then the property was not sold as described. The seller was therefore obliged to pay for the cost of a new system.
However, the court also considered the liability of the notaire in the matter, who appears to have misinterpreted the contents of the letter he received from the council concerning the drainage system.
The council had stated in their reply that the inspector had not been able to inspect the system referring to "le contrôle de raccordement au réseau public d'assainissement" from which the notaire erroneously deduced that the property had mains drains.
The court considered that the fact the septic tank was visible to the buyers was irrelevant.
As a result the notaire was found jointly liable with the seller for replacement of the non-conforming septic tank system.