Thursday, October 25, 2012

Vices cachés

The concenpt of 'vices cachés' (hidden defects) can be troubling for both buyers and sellers of French property. Vendors may be worried they will be later pursued for defects in a property they have sold which unwittingly contains 'vices cachés', while dissatisfied buyers may try and seize on this possibility as an excuse for litigation. However, French law and jurisprudence are fairly clear on the matter.

- In order for a buyer to establish a case of 'vice caché' he would need to prove that the vendor acted in bad faith and deliferately concealed the presence of a fault or defect of which he was aware. The vendor cannot be held responsible for defects in a property of which he was not aware.

- Nor can the vendor be held responsible for defects which are obvious or visible - they become 'vices apparents' rather than 'cachés'. The vendor cannot be held responsible also for defects accepted and agreed by the buyer at the time of purchase.

- French courts have ruled that a 'serious buyer' should take all reasonable steps to assure himself that the property he wishes to buy is free of defects, for example by employing an expert or surveyor to examine and report on the state of the property.

- Any legal action started by a dissatisfied buyer must be within a 'bref delai' - failure to act promptly may persuade the courts that the buyer accepted a 'vice caché' and this his claim is frivolous.

- French law also talks of 'vice grave' - serious defects which prevent the normal use and enjoyment of a property. As with all claims for damages, a litigant must establish a (financial) loss resulting from the fault about which he is complaining.

- It should be borne in mind that purchase agreements stipulate that the buyer accepts the property 'in the state in which he finds it' and the onus is upon him to satisfy himself about the state of the property before commiting to purchase.

- In the case of new-build properties, they are covered by guarantees and insurances against defects, which will be witten into the purchase contract.