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
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