Contact is the Key

Question

We own an apartment in the Alps. We don't understand anything about how the block is managed as the managing agents send all the information to the apartment rather than to our UK address and it is all in French! Any chance of some tips?

Answer

This is an all too familiar problem. There are thousands of British nationals who own properties in France in co-ownership (en copropriété) which is the legal structure applicable to apartment blocks or complexes with shared facilities.

A managing agent (le syndic) will be appointed by the co-owners to handle the day to day business of running the property. Usually the syndic will be a professional but where the property comprises only a few apartments the managing agent may simply be one of the owners who fulfils the role on a voluntary basis.

The managing agent will issue service charge demands, collect service charge contributions, organise essential maintenance and repairs and arrange an Annual General Meeting of the co-owners.

It is important that owners keep up to date with the payment of the service charge and that they make sure they know what issues are to be voted upon at the AGM. If you cannot attend the AGM in person, owners should at least try to appoint someone to represent them and vote for them in their absence.

It is also important that you open a French bank account as soon as you complete your purchase of the property. This will enable you to set up a standing order in favour of the managing agent so that regular payments can be made automatically and this will prevent arrears from building up.

Some co-ownerships now produce their service charge demands in English and provide translations of the Minutes of the AGM so as to ensure English speaking owners know when and how much they are required to contribute and are kept informed of issues affecting the property generally.

We have recently been called upon to help two clients both of whom had not kept abreast of developments and had fallen behind with their service charge contributions. This has resulted in them being served with legal proceedings for recovery of the arrears. The amount which they are now being asked to pay has been inflated by interest for late payment, the fees incurred by the managing agent in commencing legal action, arranging translations and effecting service of the proceedings on the client in the UK.

The moral of this story is that if you buy into a co-ownership in France, you must maintain regular contact with the managing agent and ensure you understand what your rights and obligations are in relation to your fellow owners. If you don't speak or understand enough French to do this, get help from someone who does!

This article first appeared in Issue 81 of French Magazine – July/August 2010

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