Syndics and Copropriétaires
Explanation on the rights and responsibilities of the owner of an apartment; the Copropriétaire; the Syndic and the Conseil Syndical...
When buying an apartment in France, it is important to understand the way that co-ownership works for apartment buildings. The following explains the responsibilities of the owners and elected management of a building owned jointly by individual owners of apartments within the building.
French law defines in great detail both the rights of apartment owners within a Copropriété - a residence or immobilier or building split into separate and physically distinct apartments - as well as their responsibilities to other owners. These are detailed in the volume of rules and regulations that each owner should receive from the Notary at the same time as the title to their property.
Syndic or Managing Agent
The Syndic or Managing Agent is both the manager of the building and the regulator of relationships between owners, service suppliers, and the insurance company responsible for the dommage ouvrage (the 10-year "building defects liability insurance" that must be taken out by the developer of any apartment building).
Duties of Copropriétaires (or: owners)
It is the responsibility of each owner to understand the rights and the responsibilities detailed by the statutes, and to ensure that they, their families, servants, suppliers and tenants respect them.
The day-to-day safety and management of an apartment building, as well as its long-term preservation, is the joint responsibility of all the owners of apartments within a building defined as a Copropriété.
An owner who buys an apartment with the intention of renting it out, should notify the Syndic of their permanent address since they, as owner, remain responsible for their tenant's behaviour and the payment of all service charges. The Syndic does not recognise tenants, only owners with title.
The owner is responsible for paying the service charges due on the apartment, and its dependencies such as storerooms and parking area, and the law on payment is very strict.
Each year the owners agree a budget with the Syndic for the management cost of the whole building. Each apartment, store room and parking place represents so many shares of the whole (normally ten thousands or tantiemes) and this is the basis of the service charge assessment of the individual owner. Based on this estimate, a provisional demand is sent to owners on the first day of the current quarter, and is immediately payable. In the event that this demand is not met, then all service charges due for the current fiscal year become due and payable. The defaulting owner must then pay all collection charges, including legal fees. The final sanction is sale of the apartment to meet these expenses.
Assemblée Générale (AG) or General Assembly of Owners
Owners must hold at least one AG per year, at which they will:
- Decide what needs to be done for the maintenance, repair or improvement of the building
- Agree a budget that will cover the cost of this work for the current year
- Approve the spending of the budget of the previous year, and then accept the completed accounts
- Dismiss, approve or re-appoint a Syndic to act as the executive authority of the owners
- Elect from their number a smaller group to act as adviser to the Syndic - the Conseil Syndical (CS)
Authority of the Syndic (Managing Agent)
Under French property law, only the Syndic has executive authority and the legal power:
- To collect service charges agreed at the AG, generally on a quarterly basis, and proceed legally against those that have not paid.
- To levy additional funds over and above the normal budget as agreed at the AG.
- To enter into contractual commitments with the major utilities such as water and electricity, as well as cleaning firms, builders of various types, and service suppliers such as TV installers, gardeners or swimming pool maintenance firms.
- To spend money on the building and its needs, unforeseen in the annual budget but subject to an upper limit and sometimes the agreement of the Conseil Syndical (CS).
Generally, but not always, the rules of behaviour stipulate that the exterior appearance of a building, including windows and doors that are part of the external appearance of the individual apartments, cannot be altered either by paint or physical modification without the written agreement of the Syndic.
This is also true of other exterior modifications to private apartments such as roof gardens, or a satellite TV dish.
Owners may carry out any modifications that they wish to the interior of their apartments at their own expense but subject to: the design and monitoring of a licensed architect and the approval of the planning authorities and the written approval of the Syndic that all these necessary procedures have been met.
Choice of Syndic - amateur or professional
Any building with multiple apartments needs a Syndic, but the Syndic does not have to be a professional. It can be one of the owners. The main law governing Copropriétés is that of 10 July 1965 as amended by that of 13 December 2000. Any Syndic, professional or amateur, requires a full understanding of these laws since the Syndic carries considerable responsibility in terms of the law and third party insurance liability.
The job of a Syndic is, generally, a thankless task. Naturally, it is also one that requires much bureaucratic paperwork. Owners do not like to pay for this, so Syndics often under-estimate their fees, and make up for this by over-charging on services and necessary maintenance and repair work to the building.
Bad or inefficient Syndics are more often than not the fault of an inadequate Conseil Syndical (CS). Buildings need regular maintenance and good buildings have owners who are willing to devote time and money to the protection of their investment.
Pricing depends upon the complexity of the building, its immediate problems, and the anxiety of a Syndic for extra work, it is unlikely with the paperwork involved that any Syndic can cover costs at a fee of less than an annual fee of about €150 per apartment.
Responsibility of the Syndic
A Syndic can only act within specific proposals previously agreed by the AG, and within the limits of the budget voted for that purpose.
- The Syndic must keep all necessary records of the building, including the addresses and voting rights of owners, changes of ownership of apartments within the building, insurance and service contracts, and payments authorised and made.
- The Syndic should ideally maintain a separate bank account for the building (the Bonnemaison law) and this separate bank account must itemise all sums and values received on behalf of the building, as well as all those paid out of it.
- The Syndic's accounts of the building itself must show an up-to-date record of all service charges, and especially any arrears.
- The Syndic also needs to keep insurance records. These are both for claims and payments under the building defects liability insurance - such as a leaking roof, cracking terrace or rotten drains - and for claims between owners. Remember that French contents' insurance requires apartment owners to have cover against damage to neighbours caused by fire, flooding, DIY and other domestic hazards.
- The Syndic is required by law to obtain three competitive quotes for any significant service/work/contract.
- If an owner is dissatisfied with the maintenance contractor - or anyone else - hired by the Syndic, complain first to the CS and, if that is unsatisfactory, to the Syndic. If that fails, and others share their concerns, request that this is put on the agenda of the next AG.
- The Syndic is responsible for calling the AG within six months of the financial year end of the Copropriété, and delivering to all owners' 15 days before the AG the completed accounts for the previous year, a budget for the coming year, and an agenda for the AG.
- Within six days of the receipt of the Agenda, owners can require the Syndic by registered letter to add items to the Agenda of the AG. Remember that matters not on the Agenda cannot be discussed at the AG, and any discussions or decisions on such matters have no legal authority.
- The Syndic must make their office available on a defined day after the calling of the meeting but before the AG itself, all records of the Copropriété for any owner who wishes to inspect them. In addition to the bank records, these must include supporting documentation for common expenses such as invoices, contracts, and the general ledger.
- The Syndic acts as secretary to the AG, and sends out to all owners the proces-verbal (minutes of the meeting) within a maximum two months of the holding of the AG. These minutes must show those owners physically present, those represented, decisions taken and votes in favour and against each decision.
- The Syndic also has the authority to take such actions as are necessary to preserve the integrity of the building, especially where the action or inaction of an owner is causing - or may cause - problems. Where possible the Syndic will notify such owners by registered letter before any such action is taken. If the urgency of the situation does not allow that time, the Syndic has the right to enter such an apartment, and carry out whatever work is needed at the expense of the owner.
Harmony of the Building
The harmony and effectiveness of any Copropriété depends crucially on successful communication between the Syndic and owners, as well as successful management of the common parts of the building. Replacing broken lights, ensuring clean and tidy garbage collection, good maintenance of common part gardens, effective functioning of lifts and garage doors and above all regular cleaning are minor issues in themselves but major sources of dissatisfaction.
This is normally the function of a Conseil Syndical (CS) or Management Committee of Owners. Owners from amongst their members elect the CS. At the AG two of these normally act as President of the Meeting and Scrutineer of the Votes, with the Syndic acting as Secretary of the meeting.
The CS has no executive authority but acts as adviser to the Syndic, and as the main communication link between owners and Syndic. In certain circumstances, individual members of the CS also act as agents for the Syndic, taking specific responsibility for overseeing the cleaners of the building, gardeners etc. Members of the CS are elected at the AG.
Owners who are dissatisfied with their building have various options:
- Canvass neighbours' views on the running of the building: identify the key complaints, those of the neighbours in support support and, even more important, those who will work with a complainant.
- Approach the CS informally with the complaints, and the suggestions for change and improvement. Suggest that some (or all) of the dissatisfied owners be co-opted onto the CS with the intention of being elected at the next AG, replacing or adding to the existing CS.
- If the existing CS will not resign, nor cooperate, write officially to the Syndic requesting that the enclosed list of owners be proposed for election as the CS at the next AG. Should this request not be on the proposed agenda when distributed, send a further registered letter within the six days allowed after the receipt of the agenda.
- Ensure that the supporters either turn up at the AG, or send in their proxies. No one single owner can represent more than three others at an AG; also a proxy for an owner does not have to be an owner themselves. Ensure that the Syndic registers the attendance of owners and proxies at the start of the AG.
- Voting for members of a CS is a simple majority of owners present and represented.
- With the new CS in place, meet the Syndic to discuss complaints about the running of the building, and suggestions for change. The Syndic cannot agree to any major expenditure not approved by the AG, but can exceed the approved budget by not more than 10 percent for items of immediate importance.
- Generally, neither owners nor Syndic are keen on more than one AG per year, so improvements involving money will have to wait for the next meeting. In this time, the CS and Syndic can get to know each other, identify problems and decide whether they can work together.
- If the CS decides that it cannot work with the exiting Syndic, the ultimate sanction is replacement. A new Syndic can only be appointed at an AG.
- The old Syndic needs to agree to resign before this happens, and negotiating the terms of such a resignation is a function of the CS. Depending on the length of the contract, this can be an expensive process.
- Being a Syndic is as much a matter of practicality as theory so, before a CS chooses a new Syndic, they should ask for references from the owners of a Co-Propriété that the potential Syndic manages. Additionally, they should check the computerised accountancy system in use. This needs to show at a touch of a button that state of the accounts and particularly arrears of service charges, cash in hand and immediate and expected liabilities.
In the event of an irreconcilable breakdown, approach the Mairie for contact information of the local Conciliateur de Justice. This is a legal representative appointed by the cour d'appel.
- The French government website has comprehensive information on the Copropriété (in French)