Buy with Your Eyes Wide Open!
Volume XVIII, Issue 2
When you own an apartment in a multi-family property in France, there is a homeowner association, just like there is in a similar kind of property in the States. The property operates as a condominium, not as a co-op. To be clear, condominiums are multi-unit dwellings with privately owned residences and shared common areas. When you buy into a co-op, you become a shareholder in a corporation that owns the property and as a shareholder, you are entitled to exclusive use of a particular housing unit in the property. As far as I know, these are very uncommon in France.
The homeowner association in France is called a “copropriété” and when you own an apartment in the building, you become a member. The copropriété lives by a set of by-laws, just like an American condo does. This document is called a “Règlement de Copropriété.” It defines the operating rules of the building and specifies the rights and obligations of the co-owners. The modifications to the co-ownership regulations adhere to different voting rules according to their nature. The co-ownership trustee, known as the “Syndic,” is responsible for its application. The Syndic can be a hired professional agency or a volunteer in the building who is willing to take on the responsibility.
Because you share in the management and maintenance of the common areas, you will also share in those costs. The property you own in that building will be defined in detail in the Règlement de Copropriété and noted will be the “millièmes” or “tantièmes” — your portion of the related charges calculated on the basis of quotas that each owner has. Your property is made up of one or more “lots.” Each lot consists of a private part (your apartment) and a share of the common parts. This quota is expressed in percentages, therefore a millième or tantième is the share or percentage of the co-ownership owned by each of the co-owners based on the space of your apartment in relation to the entire building. The determination of this share will then determine the distribution of the payment of charges relating to the common parts for each of the co-owners.
These quotas are defined in thousandths. For example, if your apartment’s millièmes are 100 over 1,000, then for every 1,000€ spent by the copropriété, 100€ is what’s coming out of your pocket, or 10%. In small buildings, your share can be high and you may bear more expenses than in larger buildings with more lots, or units.
At the time of purchase, in advance of signing the pre-sale agreement, the Règlement de Copropriété is provided to you for your review to ensure that you are willing to abide by the regulations and become a bonafide member of the copropriété. A failure to do this could result in a pretty expensive mistake…like buying a property that doesn’t allow rentals if that’s what you’re setting out to do!
Pictured here is are snapshots taken of parts of a Règlement de Copropriété (first written in April 1975) for a building in Le Marais. The description of the studio apartment at Lot #3 on the second floor notes the millièmes as 79/1000 parts, so for every 1000€ spent by the copropriété, 79€ will be at the expense of the owner of this apartment.
Furthermore, the “occupation” of the property is described as “embourgeoisement.”* It prohibits furnishings/machines that are overweight or create noise nor are animals (pets) that are not kept clean or bark. It also specifies that the apartments may be rented in their entirety, but may not be divided into rooms that are then rented out. This is all quite normal for a Règlement de Copropriété. I warn you, if the Règlement de Copropriété clearly states that apartments can only be rented “unfurnished,” this indirectly (read between the lines) that the only lease is a three-year unfurnished lease, as the building only wants serious, full-time residents. Remember, in France, you must follow the rules and the rules on unfurnished property stipulates a three-year lease.
*Bourgeoisement” refers to the social category of the use and person, one who has a certain financial ease and who does not practice a manual trade. It is therefore a question of occupying a place without carrying out commercial activity. These descriptions were written long before the Internet when people discovered they could work from home on their computers!
The agents and the Notaires are responsible for providing the Règlement de Copropriété of the building as well as three past “procès-verbaux,” a detailed authenticated account drawn up the Syndic, or another person of authority of the proceedings of the copropriété meetings, or “assemblées générales,” which take place annually. In addition, you will receive a new or updated copy of the most recent diagnostics, or property surveys (for asbestos, lead, electricity, gas, termites, and others), required by law to be provided by the seller.
Reviewing all these documents will tell you just about everything you need to know about a building, therefore inspections are just not done as they aren’t necessary. What’s tough to know from these documents is what the neighbors are like! Are they agreeable or contrarians and are they willing to spend money to maintain the building properly? Are there any deadbeat owners who owe a lot of money to the copropriété? These are important things to know when making a decision to purchase a property or not.
We’ve learned to read between the lines to learn even more that may not be on the surface:
* Read the names of the other owners. Are they mostly French or is it an international community? This changes the way they view the property and how they will behave in general! I find foreign owners are more ready to upgrade their property than their French counterparts!
* In the procès-verbaux, is there always one person who votes against every motion? And if so, who is the contrarian!? Will that person block everything the copropriété is trying to achieve?
* Do they continually vote to postpone maintenance to save everyone money and if so, how important was that maintenance to the welfare of the building and the owners?
Answers to these questions and others will give you a clue as to how effective the copropriété can actually be…and are tough to know before you buy! At least, the documents are there for a thorough examination and due diligence can be accomplished. This is how and why you will buy with your eyes wide open, as informed as one can be to avoid costly mistakes!
Adrian Leeds Group
P.S. We’re soon to tape another several House Hunters International episodes here in Paris and vicinity and we’re looking for properties in which we can tape to show comparisons! Here’s what we need:
1. For filming February 3-5, a small studio or one-bedroom apartment that normally rents for approximately 1,000€ or less, near La Sorbonne in the 5th, or anywhere in Paris for that matter, and hoping to have a bathtub and washer/dryer!
2. For taping March 7-10, a two or three-bedroom home or apartment valued at approximately 220,000€, that has great views (this is very important) located in any of the Paris suburbs with easy access to Paris.
Taping takes about 4 hours, with a small crew and light equipment. We’ve never had any damage done to anyone’s property. And then you get to see your property immortalized on House Hunters International!
If you have such property or know of one, please contact us immediately.