Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Checking your 'syndic'....

Co-ownership ('co-propiété') properties in France are similar to the American style condominium, where residents own their apartment or villa, and in addition have a share in the property's common parts - corridors, staircases, lift, gardens or grounds if they are present. Such properties are usually managed by professional organisations known as a 'syndic' which is appointed by the residents, usually through a residents' committee and the annual meeting of the co-owners.

A number of recent articles in French consumer magazines have been highly critical of some professional syndics, particularly those belonging to large groups such as Foncia (part of Banque Populaire). Specific complaints include high administrative charges, and the recent costs associated with bringing passenger lifts up to the new standards required by the French government. A typical eight-storey apartment building in my region would pay around 80,000 euros for replacing the lift - the cost borne by the residents in proportion to the size of their apartment and the floor level on which it is situated.

Residents however have been fighting back, sometimes appointing outside specialists to examine expenditures, check that competitive estimates have been secured before any work commences, and vetting income and payments. In some cases, syndics owned by large conglomerates have been sacked by the residents in favour of smaller, local firms who have effectively cut back on management costs.

If you are considering buying a co-ownership property, such as apartment, you should ask to see the minutes of recent AGMs, to check what expenditure is anticipated and what are the standing maintenance charges. Particularly high cost items are outside painting ('ravalement'), interior decoration, and lift maintenance or replacement. Buildings with extensive grounds and amenities such as a pool or tennis court will naturally attract higher annual charges than, say, a small building divided into flats.

As an owner you have a right to attend and vote at the annual general meeting, and if your French is up to it, you could consider putting yourself forward as a member of the residents' committee ('conseil syndical'). At the very least, you should exercise your right to vote, which can be done by proxy if you are not free during the months of July and August when most AGMs seem to take place.