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Septic Tank on Neighbours Land

Buyer discovers after sale completion that the septic tank was not entirely located within boundary of the property.

In a case recently heard in the French Supreme Court, the Cour de Cassation, a Dutch couple had purchased a house in the village of Agnières en Devoluy, in the department of Hautes-Alpes.

The drainage system on the property was a septic tank, but at the time of purchase the couple did not know that the system was partly located on their neighbour's property and also on land owned by the local council.

They only learned that the system was not entirely on their own property following completion of the sale, when the seller advised them over a celebratory aperitif! At this point they did not fully understand the implications of that information.

For several years the couple took no action, until they started incurring problems with the system, when their neighbour declined access over their land.

As a result, they brought an action against the seller and the estate agent for non-disclosure of a latent defect - vice caché - on the property.

In court, the sellers protested that they had informed the estate agent of the configuration of the system, but the agent failed to inform either the buyer or the notaire. Consequently, there was nothing about the drainage arrangements in the deed of sale.

In addition, the couple argued that the sale contract specially excluded any guarantee for latent defects.

The estate agents, in turn, claimed that the problems being cited by the owners were exaggerated in order that they could obtain funds to pay for a new system.

These arguments were not accepted by the court, who ruled that the owners were under an obligation to disclose the configuration of the septic tank prior to the sale, as were the estate agents. The lack of control over the septic tank system rendered the property unsuitable for use.

The court ruled that the seller and the estate agent were jointly liable for the €16,000 costs of a new system, together with legal costs.

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This article was featured in our Newsletter dated 07/12/2017

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