The French government have strengthened the law to permit property owners to remove squatters without the need for court proceedings.
As is the case in most other European countries, in France you cannot take the law into your own hands and forcibly remove squatters without a court order.
Only if you happen to have discovered their presence on the property within 48 hours of entry have you been entitled to call upon the assistance of the local police/gendarmes to secure their immediate removal from the property.
The problem for most property owners is that squatters rarely send an e-mail to announce their arrival, and frequently adopt tactics to offer contrary evidence that they have been in the property for more than 48 hours, eg, by previously having set up an electricity contract.
Such tactics have often had a dissuasive effect on the law enforcers.
Beyond 48 hours owners have obliged to commence a judicial process for possession and eviction. That is not a process that can be accomplished overnight, and enforcement of any claim for compensation is frequently very difficult.
With the recent passage through the French Parliament of the 'loi contre le squat' the police/gendarmes can now intervene to remove squatters, whatever the duration of their occupation.
The procedure to be used by the owner is not spelt out in the legislation, but it would seem that the préfet must be advised and only he is capable of initiating the process of eviction. The use of an official bailiff, called a 'huissier', to confirm that there has been a "violation de domicile" may well also be required.
It may also be that the mayor might be an alternative acceptable source of confirmation, although clarification is awaited on this point.
Once confirmation is obtained, it is then for the local préfet to consider the case and, determine whether to order the squatters to quit the premises. If they fail to do so within 24 hours they can arrange for the enforced evacuation of the property by the police.
Squatters can be imprisoned for up to one year and fined up to €15,000.
The government have acted to strengthen the law following a recent case where an 80 year old woman in the town of Rennes was excluded from her own home when it became illegally occupied.
Some commentators in France have suggested that the new law only applies if the property is your principal residence, not your second home.
This is because of a narrow interpretation of the text, which refers to 'domicile', a word that is ordinarily used in the Civil Code to mean the principal residence.
There is by no means unanimity on this point, but it will be necessary to await some test cases before it is absolutely certain that the law can be used in relation to holiday homes.
If it does not apply, then second home owners will continue to be required to obtain a court order, unless they are able to act within 48 hours.
It is a process that is long and expensive, requiring the use of a huissier as well as legal representation.
Thankfully, outside of the main urban areas of France, cases of illegal occupation by squatters are relatively infrequent.