French House-Building Contracts

A recent report draws attention to the need for vigilance when it comes to signing a French house-building contract. 986

If you are proposing to get a new home built in France, the chances are that you will come across the standard form of building contract called the Contrat de Construction de Maison Individuelle (CCMI). This industry contract has been around for nearly 20 years, and provides a strong level of protection for those having a new house built in France. The standard contract offers a comprehensive specification of works, all at a fixed price, with a guarantee of delivery, backed by a ten-year building guarantee. All these safeguards are underpinned in statute law. There are probably few other building contracts in the world that offer the customer such a high level of protection. Nevertheless, a recent report from the French Government housing information agency ANIL - (L'Agence Nationale pour l'Information sur le Logement), points out that the standard contract has spawned a number of imposters, with contractual conditions that leave traps for the unwary. One favourite tactic is to exclude certain building works from the contract, which are left to the client to undertake. In some cases it may be no more than a benign clause that leaves the decoration works for the client to organise themselves. However, in other cases it can include as much as the complete second fix works, leaving the contractor with only responsibility for the main structural works. In other cases, responsibility for connection into the utility services is left with the client, with the result that it sometimes becomes impossible to test water and electric services on handover of the property from the builder. Not only does this practice allow French builders to reduce the level of their exposure on the building guarantee, but it also reduces the level of insurance premiums they are required to pay on the delivery guarantee. The problem for the client is that the omission of key aspects of the building works probably invalidates (or at least compromises) the ten-year building guarantee that would otherwise be available had the builder undertaken the whole build programme. The ANIL report also pointed to other practices of dubious legal validity. More common ones include builders who do not take out an insurance policy to cover their ten-year building liability, or those who fail to undertake soil surveys prior to pricing the works, and who then seek to substantially increase the price when later ground investigations reveal the need for stronger foundations. The report also points to problems at handover, with builders sometimes placing excessive pressure on a client to accept unconditional handover of the property, despite the clear presence of defects, or non-conformities with the specification and plans. Whilst these problems remain in the minority, they are becoming more common, so those contemplating a new build project need to ensure they read the small print of the contract and take independent professional advice. Crucially, you need to employ your own notaire, and a building surveyor or architect. You can read more about the CCMI contract in our comprehensive Guide to Building a New Home in France.

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