Sunday, August 7, 2011

Keeping an eye on your syndic

It is about this time of year that owners of co-ownership properties - apartments or villas within a complex offering shared facilities - receive their invitation to attend the annual general meeting of the co-owners (co-propriétaires). The meeting discusses the expenditure during the previous 12 months, agrees the budget for the comming 12, authorises any addtional expendicture required (for maintenance, decorating, lift repairs etc) and gives or occasionally refuses applications from individual owners, for example to add a closed loggia to their terrace or balcony.

Co-owners have a right to vote on all these issues, according to the number of parts (known as tantièmes) that they own in the property - in additional to the freehold of their apartment or villa - and in proportion to the size of their property. An owner of a four-bed apartment accordingly has more voting power than a studio. Despite the importance of the issues raised at the AGM and their effect on the building chargers, paid by the owners, research shows that the majority of owners do not bother to attend the AGM or even check the annual report, leaving decisions to a small handful of residents or the residents committee (conseil syndical).

With the takeover of many local management firms - usually estate agencies that offer this service in addition to selling and renting properties - by large glomerates (among them Foncia, Lamy, Nexity) which are often owned by banks and insurance companies, several residents pressure groups have reported widespread abuses, includingover-spending by professioal managers mainly due to the laxity of the residents and the residents committee. At the oppsotive end of the scale, many building syndics (managers) have failed to maintain the property correctly, and properties have now run out of funds to carry out urgent repairs, as the residents cannot afford, or refuse, to pay the increased charges now required.

To take a local example - a block of 60 apartments ranging from 2- to 4-rooms - a two-person residents committee (far too small for a building this size) had simply gone through the motions of verifying that cheques paid by the syndic matched the invoices submitted but had made no effort to check that the expenditure was justified. Now faced with huge additional charges for external and internal painting, two activist residents went through all the recent figures and presented their findings, including numerous examples of uncontrolled over-expenditure, to a shell-shocked meeting of residents. The two were personally attacked by the managers for 'nitpicking' but the upshot was that the residents are now considering sacking the managers and running the building themselves, with an enlarged residents committee. They realised that among themselves they had experts in building maintenance, cost management and legal issues.

This example - and there are others - shows that it pays (literally) to take an active part in the management of a co-ownership property, including offering your services to the residents committee, and at very least studying the agenda and minutes of the annual general meeting, and using your power to vote. This can be done by proxy if you are unable to attend in person. After all, it is your money they are spending.