Your legal rights and obligations
There are many agreeable aspects of owning an apartment in Paris or elsewhere in France. But, there are also burdens: real estate taxes (taxe d’habitation and taxe foncière), repairs and maintenance and relating to the other tenant on either a one-to-one basis or in connection with the activities of the « Syndicat des copropriétaires » (the organization of the co-owners).
This note and certain linked pages contain a number of observations relating to some of your rights and obligations as a copropriétaire. But the subject is vast and many important points will not be addressed in these pages.
Legislative Framework Relating to French Copropriété
A French apartment building consists of:
- privately owned parts (e.g., your apartment),
- common areas accessible to all the apartment owners, and
- common areas subject to private use (e.g. a certain balcony or part of a garden to which a single owner has the exclusive right to enter but is maintained and insured by everyone.
The rights and obligations of the owners are contained in the applicable laws and decrees and the « règlement de copropriété » (lengthy rules previously adopted by the co-owners) which may contain additional restrictions as to the enjoyment of the full use of your property (limitations as to changing of the composition of the floor, modifications to a particular balcony, prohibition as to the display of drying laundry, changes to the style of windows, etc, etc). Thus, before embarking on modifications of your apartment, an architect, an attorney or someone else familiar with your particular situation may need to check for traps for the unwary. A simple tradesman would not necessary be an appropriate counsel in such an arcane area.
The Syndicat des copropriétaires.
La entire group (collectivité) des copropriétaires form the Syndicat des copropriétaires, which group is represented by the Syndic. The Syndicat des copropriétaires is the legal employer of concierge and other personnel who may assure security and maintenance of the building(s).
At the annual meeting of the copropriétaires (l’assemblée générale annuelle), The copropriétaires designate some of their members to act as a governing board (Conseil Syndical) one member as the President of such board (Président du Conseil Syndical). The Conseil Syndical and its Président assume the day-to-day duty to interface with the Syndic, the sole legal representative of the Syndicat des copropriétaires.
The Functions of the Syndic
Syndic, the sole legal representative of the Syndicat des copropriétaires.It manages the common spaces and to facilitate decisions by the copropriétaires and it permits their common interests to be represented before the French Tribunals. Most copropriétaires have designated a privately legal entity, the Syndic of the copropriété , to manage the building, organize and conduct the formal annual and other meetings of the copropriétaires, seek to resolve nascent conflicts between tenants before they lead to civil wars and even litigation.
Generally, the Syndic is a professional company involved in real estate matters.
Not all Syndic are as good or as bad as others. The typical complaints are that they are at best slow to respond. As the annual fees of the Syndic are relatively modest, one might be temped to say that all too often the copropriétaires get their money’s worth.
However, inertia is not the only danger. As the Syndic also contracts services to fix roofs, clean and fix the exterior wall, and otherwise maintain the common areas, for major projects competitive bids will be required and possibly validated. In addition, if the Syndic is not reputable (this does occur on rare occations), there may be a danger of kick-backs. Thus, at their annual meetings, vigilance in approving bids (devis). If there are serious doubts, often major projects can be deferred so as to permit further due diligence by the Conseil Syndical.
Common Areas (les parties communes) and Shared Expenses
As there are common (shared) expenses of the apartment building, each tenant is obligated to bear a pro rata share of the expenses of the common areas which he would be using. (Thus, a tenant on the ground floor will not be called upon to pay for the installation and maintenance of the elevator that starts on the ground floor.
The future linked pages will address the following topics:
- Calling of the annual meeting of the copropriétaires and the importance of receiving and reviewing in a timely manner the agenda (the proposed resolutions) and supporting documents.
- The conduct of the annual meeting and the importance to be present or to be duly represented by a qualified copropriétaire.
- The legal impediment to being represented at a formal meeting of the copropriétaires by legal counsel, unless all the copropriétaires present agree.
- The multiple, qualified and super-qualified majority votes required for certain decisions.
- The removal and replacement of a Syndic, an extreme measure.
- The importance of effective lobbing, if your wish to influence a critical decision.
The role of the Conseil syndical.
- Examples of reasons for seeking the assistance of your Syndic. (The informal method and the more formal methods.)
- Legal proceeding instituted by the Syndic (the why and where).
- The roles of the expert in advising the copropriétaires and their Syndic.
Author: Jonathon Wise Polier
Avocat aux Barreaux de Paris et de New York
Attorney-at-Law (Paris & New York)