The current pandemic has thrown up a multitude of new problems for clients with property interests in France. The French Government's response has been to introduce into French law a State of Health Emergency [La loi d’urgence sanitaire no 2020-290 dated 23 March 2020]. The freedom of movement of its citizens and others resident in France has been severely curtailed.
The situation is changing on a daily basis as further legislation is introduced dealing with the practical effects on civic life and the legal consequences arising from the closure of France's administrative structures as well as the suspension of all non-essential activities. Practical solutions include the extension of deadlines for carrying out certain administrative procedures or the performance of obligations e.g. the payment of certain taxes. Whilst the consequences for private individuals regarding the performance of contracts will to a certain degree be dealt with within the conditions of the contract itself and agreed previously by the parties (force majeure), the law may in some cases defer or suspend a requirement of the contract which will prevent the parties from proceeding on a temporary basis.
Generally speaking, severe limitations are in place on the individual who is now confined to their home and may only leave for certain limited purposes (medicine, food supplies etc). The necessary paperwork confirming this purpose must be in their possession. Regular checks are undertaken and the level of fines imposed for a breach is increasing.
Implications for UK nationals owning second homes
As mentioned, the French Government has established a state of emergency (état d'urgence) which is currently in place until 24 May 2020 (although this is likely to change or be extended as the crisis evolves). As a result, a series of 25 emergency laws (Ordonnances) were introduced on 25 March. These set out extraordinary and temporary measures which constitute a legal basis for the response to the difficulties raised by the outbreak of the coronavirus and the lockdown period currently enforced in France.
These new laws are likely to raise important legal and practical issues for UK individuals with interests in France. Those with property in France or in the process of selling and acquiring property in France are of course in the front-line...
The aim of these temporary measures is to cut through the red tape and deal with the practical difficulties arising from the imposition of the state of emergency. A wide range of aspects of day to day life are affected. Some examples are given below. But be warned: not all areas of French life are concerned and some tax deadlines remain unchanged…
Arrangements for co-ownerships
As it will not be possible for the usual annual general meetings of co-owners in a block of flats to take place, arrangements have been put in place for the duration of the state of emergency to ensure no break of continuity in the management.
Law number 2020-304 of 25 March adapts the rules relating to Syndics – managing agents – of co-ownerships during this period.
As the owners will not be able to meet and vote at an AGM for the duration, the Syndic's contract will not be allowed to lapse and any there will be an automatic extension of any contract intended to expire at any date during the lockdown until the next meeting can be held or at the latest 31 December 2020.
Law number 2020-331 of 25 March 2020 concerns the extension of the winter "truce" under French law during which period Landlords cannot evict tenants of residential properties in certain conditions during the winter months. It effectively extends the usual date from 31 March until 31 May 2020.
The law also extends the period during which utility companies may not suspend services for non-payment to a property being occupied as a principal residence.
French property transactions
Law number 2020-306 contains a number of measures likely to impact on property transactions in France. All delays and administrative procedures implemented as of 12 March 2020 are suspended and will not continue until the state of emergency has ended.
Note however that the state of emergency does not put an end to sales agreements. Parties who have signed a contract may well still be bound by it depending on the nature of the contract. The new measures simply mean that the time frames covered by the new legislation will automatically be extended and in some cases it may be necessary to extend the deadline for completion.
- Cooling-off periods - after 12 March 2020, purchasers of French properties may benefit from a cooling-off period but only following the end of the emergency period.
- Loan conditions - loan conditional clauses are to be extended until after the end of the state of emergency.
- Planning documents - the deadline for French local authorities (Mairie) to exercise their pre-emption right is suspended during the emergency period. In the same way, deadlines for planning permission are suspended and local authorities may not deliver town planning documentation (urbanisation notes and certificates) during that period.
- Other practical implications - France is of course operating strict restrictions on movement, as you may have seen. This obviously means that people will not be able to gain access to their property until movement restrictions are lifted.
French tax matters - income and wealth tax (IR/IFI) 2020
As part of the response to the Covid-19 emergency, French Budget Secretary Gérald Darmanin has announced that the deadline for declaring IFI 2020 has been extended to 11 June 2020 for non-residents (from 14 May).
Impôt sur la fortune immobilière (IFI) must now be declared together with Income tax (even if you have no French taxable income) on a self-assessed basis.
Online declaration is now obligatory and will be available on firstname.lastname@example.org as from 20 April 2020.
The normal filing requirements and the deadlines for the payment of Inheritance Tax remain unchanged. Those concerned are advised to consider a payment on account in relevant cases.
The general information above demonstrates that practical and legal difficulties are expected during the state of emergency in France and it is likely that further measures will be brought in during the crisis as the situation evolves. As such, current owners of French properties as well as owners-to-be are advised to review their personal situation.
The information contained in this briefing note is believed to be correct at the time of writing. It is likely to change or to be redefined regularly during the period of the crisis. The information is intended as background information only. Expert legal advice on the specifics of your own situation should be taken.