If you buy a French apart­ment, you and the other own­ers in the block will be part of a ‘co­pro­priété’. Matthew Cameron ex­plains how co-own­er­ship works in France

French Property News - - Contents -

How shared own­er­ship works in apart­ment blocks and com­plexes

Reg­u­lar read­ers may re­call that ear­lier this year, in the May is­sue, I made some brief com­ments on co-own­er­ship ( co­pro­priété), con­sid­er­ing some of the is­sues aris­ing for those whose French prop­erty is in a form of shared com­mu­nity own­er­ship – for ex­am­ple an apart­ment in a block, or a stand-alone house on some types of de­vel­op­ments.

The lat­ter of these – known as a ‘hor­i­zon­tal co-own­er­ship’ – is less com­mon, as a de­vel­op­ment of a set of houses, per­haps on a small es­tate, will gen­er­ally take the form of a lo­tisse­ment. In such a sit­u­a­tion, each prop­erty will sit upon a sep­a­rate par­cel of land, al­though there will be a set of rules to which each prop­erty owner is bound, set­ting out, for ex­am­ple, per­mit­ted styles of prop­erty con­struc­tion.

This is with the in­ten­tion of en­sur­ing that all of the prop­er­ties on the es­tate will sit to­gether in har­mony and sat­isfy any build­ing re­quire­ments that may be im­posed by the lo­cal author­ity.

The rea­son for es­tab­lish­ing a co-own­er­ship needs to be un­der­stood, as does the ex­tent to which each per­son owns their own prop­erty ab­so­lutely: the ref­er­ence above to ‘shared com­mu­nity own­er­ship’ may cause con­cern among some. We oc­ca­sion­ally ad­vise clients look­ing to buy an apart­ment in France that they will not be en­ter­ing into a long lease ar­range­ment as may be seen in Eng­land and Wales, for ex­am­ple.

Most pri­vately owned flats in Eng­land and Wales will be held un­der long leases (of­ten with a lease­hold term of 125 years or even longer), in which they will be obliged to pay a ground rent to the owner of the build­ing. Many read­ers will be aware that long leases can cause con­cerns: for ex­am­ple, banks and build­ing so­ci­eties may be re­luc­tant to lend on a mort­gage against a prop­erty held on a long lease if there is less than 50 years, plus the length of the mort­gage term, left to run, or if there are any un­usual, oner­ous or oth­er­wise prob­lem­atic terms in­cluded in the lease.

Ab­so­lute own­er­ship Such long lease ar­range­ments do not ex­ist in France. In a French co-own­er­ship model, every owner owns their apart­ment ab­so­lutely, to­gether with a pro­por­tion of the build­ing it is in and the land on which it sits.

The pro­por­tion of the land and build­ing owned by each apart­ment owner is cal­cu­lated by ref­er­ence to the rel­a­tive size of the apart­ment com­pared to the oth­ers in the block; as we will see below, this is rel­e­vant for a num­ber of rea­sons.

Since every apart­ment owner has a pro­por­tion­ate share of these com­mon parts, it fol­lows that they have full rights to ac­cess all com­mon ar­eas of the build­ing – pre­dom­i­nantly the cor­ri­dors, gar­dens and so on. They will also have joint own­er­ship of the struc­ture of the build­ing, as well as all pipes, wires and other con­duits. There­fore, spe­cific rights do not need to be granted to each owner to al­low them ac­cess to and from their apart­ment, nor to make use of con­duits for sup­ply of ser­vices.

It also fol­lows that each owner re­mains jointly re­spon­si­ble for main­te­nance and up­keep of the com­mon ar­eas. It is right, of course, that there should be this joint re­spon­si­bil­ity as the so­lid­ity and in­tegrity of the build­ing is in the in­ter­est of every owner. This is one area where the pro­por­tion­ate size of an apart­ment is rel­e­vant: the larger the apart­ment, the greater the obligation to con­trib­ute to such costs.

As part of the de­scrip­tion of each prop­erty, con­tained in the ti­tle doc­u­men­ta­tion as well as in a pur­chase con­tract, there will be a frac­tion which es­tab­lishes the pro­por­tion of the own­er­ship of the com­mon parts at­trib­uted to that apart­ment: this is known as a pro­por­tion of the ‘com­mon gen­eral parts’.

Of­ten, a par­tic­u­lar apart­ment will ac­tu­ally com­prise sev­eral parts – for ex­am­ple, a garage or park­ing place or a stor­age locker in ad­di­tion to the apart­ment it­self. In such cases, each of those sep­a­rate sec­tions (or lots) will have its own pro­por­tion of the own­er­ship at­trib­uted to it.

There is, in­evitably, a rel­e­vance in these own­er­ship pro­por­tions when it comes to shar­ing the cost

of main­te­nance, land­scap­ing, light­ing and so on. There should, there­fore, be an ab­so­lutely fair dis­tri­bu­tion of these costs.

Spe­cial parts In­deed, these cal­cu­la­tions can be even more com­plex: where apart­ments are grouped, for ex­am­ple, in a num­ber of blocks, it may be the case that some costs can be at­trib­uted to cer­tain blocks and not oth­ers. You may not be that en­thu­si­as­tic about be­ing asked to pay for a new roof on Block B if you own in Block A. If you live on the ground floor, would you nec­es­sar­ily want to con­trib­ute to the cost of main­te­nance of the lift? To cover such in­stances, there may also be a sep­a­rate at­tri­bu­tion – a frac­tion known as the ‘spe­cial parts’, which will then be used to ap­por­tion these costs.

All of the above points may ap­pear a lit­tle ar­cane. A di­vi­sion of com­mon own­er­ship and con­se­quent ap­por­tion­ment of shares are, how­ever, rel­a­tively stan­dard for co-own­er­ship sit­u­a­tions. A full de­scrip­tion of each lot, in­clud­ing a clar­i­fi­ca­tion of the at­tri­bu­tion of all com­mon (and other) parts will be es­tab­lished in a doc­u­ment known as the Rè­gle­ment de Co­pro­priété – the co-own­er­ship rules. This set of rules is bind­ing on each owner. It will in­clude a def­i­ni­tion of the com­mon ar­eas, and the ex­tent of what is com­prised within the def­i­ni­tion of pri­vately owned sec­tions. The de­scrip­tions are very pre­cise, so that it will al­ways be pos­si­ble to as­cer­tain who may be re­spon­si­ble for main­te­nance of any spe­cific part.

The Rè­gle­ment de Co­pro­priété also lists a set of rules that will be bind­ing on every owner. The in­ten­tion is to im­pose obli­ga­tions that will al­low all own­ers to en­joy their own prop­erty with­out caus­ing any im­ped­i­ment or dis­tur­bance to other own­ers.

The syn­dic We have seen, then, that there are fairly de­tailed meth­ods of as­sess­ing how each owner is due to con­trib­ute to the over­all costs. The task of man­ag­ing the ex­pen­di­ture for the build­ing is con­ferred upon a man­ag­ing agent – the syn­dic. In gen­eral, this task will be ful­filled by an ex­ter­nal pro­fes­sional such as a lo­cal prop­erty agent.

The role is con­ferred at an An­nual Gen­eral Meet­ing of the co-own­ers, where the syn­dic will set a bud­get and will then be able to an­tic­i­pate what each owner will have to pay. It is the syn­dic’s task to col­lect the an­nual pay­ments.

Each owner will be en­ti­tled to sub­mit agenda items in ad­vance of an AGM, which are then con­sid­ered by all own­ers and put to a vote. That could in­clude, for ex­am­ple, works that may af­fect com­mon ar­eas, and so on. In some re­spects, co-own­er­ship may there­fore ap­pear rather bur­den­some on an ad­min­is­tra­tive level. Cer­tainly, there is a fair amount of ex­tra doc­u­men­ta­tion to con­sider when buy­ing a prop­erty sub­ject to a co­pro­priété. How­ever, it is hope­fully of some re­as­sur­ance to know that such ar­range­ments are strictly con­trolled by French leg­is­la­tion, so an apart­ment owner should be suit­ably pro­tected.

In­evitably, it is pru­dent to in­struct an in­de­pen­dent solic­i­tor to re­view all of the rel­e­vant doc­u­men­ta­tion be­fore en­ter­ing into an apart­ment pur­chase.

In a French co-own­er­ship model, each owner owns their apart­ment ab­so­lutely, to­gether with a pro­por­tion of the build­ing and the land on which it sits

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