Building Construction in France

What you need to know when preparing to build or renovate a property in France: building plans and permits, builders' insurance, architects, engineers and more...

Responsibility

The law of 4 January 1978, the Spinetta law, considers all parties involved in the construction of the building - contractors, architects, engineers, Bureaux de contrôle, manufacturers and importers of products and components to carry some responsibility. Contractual responsibility starts from the conception of the works and may run for a period of beyond practical completion for a maximum period of 30 years. Special responsibility covers:

  • Responsibility of perfect achievement: introduced by the 1978 law and running for a period of one year starting from handover of the works to the client.
  • Biennial responsibility for satisfactory functioning: introduced by the law of 1967 to cover minor works and lasting for a period of two years starting from handover of the works to the client
  • Decennial responsibility: as set out in articles 1792 and 2270 of the Napoleonic Code and lasting for a period of 10 years starting from the handover of works to the client. This covers two aspects, the solidity of construction and the fitness for purpose.
  • Third party responsibility under common law: starting from the moment the third party is damaged and (since 1985) lasting for a period of 10 years.

Note:

  1. These responsibilities apply to all forms of construction work, whether new work or work to existing buildings.
  2. If registered architects sign drawings not prepared by them, for the purposes of obtaining a building permit (Permis de construire), for example, they are still responsible in the eyes of the law for the contents and will pay insurance premiums on the permit to cover the decennial responsibility.

Insurance

The cost of insurance in the construction industry in France is generally substantial especially when both the client and the design and construction team provide cover. All responsibilities except penal responsibility are insurable and generally the insurance companies of the parties concerned settle disputes.

The Spinetta law of 1978 requires all parties to the construction process to take up the appropriate insurance policy before construction begins; if an architect is employed it is their responsibility to ensure that the client, the contractors, the subcontractors and the suppliers are all properly insured.

The client (maître d'ouvrage) is required to insure against decennial responsibility and a policy known as Dommage Ouvrage or DO (insurance for client) provides such cover. It is provided on a project basis. By law, no limit can be attached to this type of policy, so that they will always be able to obtain the necessary funds to complete the project. Its purpose is to finance any essential work prior to apportionment of responsibility. Any defective work is reinstated immediately, and then the claim is settled between the insurance companies of the parties concerned.

Note:

  • Client insurance (DO) is obligatory under law (loi 78.12 du 4 janvier 1978). Prior to the undertaking of any construction work it is essential that owners are fully aware of their liabilities regarding insurance cover if it is not taken out
  • Contractors are insured for the specific work they are due to commence

Building Regulations

There are legal requirements with which buildings must comply concerning safety of persons, hygiene, and energy consumption. There are departmental regulations, based on the national requirements, covering sanitary requirements for existing buildings.

Documents Techniques Unifiés (DTU)

Public contracts are statutorily governed by the Documents Techniques Unifiés (DTUs), which set out rules for design, building, and structural calculations. In addition there are the avis techniques (technical advisory notes). These are issued by the Centre Scientifique et Technique du Bâtiment (CSTB) in relation to innovatory procedures, materials, components and equipment, where no standardisation yet exists.

Norme Française (NF)

The Association Française de Normalisation (AFNOR) sets out technical or technological recommendations applicable to products, in the form of Normes Française (NF), some of which are mandatory and form part of the DTUs. When a product has the mark NF, it indicates that it is subject to systematic control, conforms to the norm and is suitable for use.

Enforcement of these building regulations is the responsibility of the local Préfecture and Mairie. Their representatives may inspect works in progress; carry out tests, and request to see all official documents. This right can be exercised at any time within two years of the completion of the construction. The builders are not relieved of any of their liability by such inspections.

Domestic Situation: Private Contracts

The norms and DTUs may be made binding in private projects by being prescribed in the contract.

Quotations

The acceptance of a quotation is a private contract, a person arranging building work themselves should ensure before signing that it is written in the quotation that:

  1. All work must comply to the norms and DTUs
  2. The contractor has the correct insurance for the work about to be undertaken.

Note: A roofing contractor will be insured for roofing work as defined in their insurance policy. Alterations to roof trusses or rebuilding a chimneystack will not be covered by their insurance unless there is an express clause in his policy.

Liability

  • It is the contractor's responsibility to comply with the norms and DTUs for the work undertaken if that is the basis of the acceptance of the quotation
  • In general, only work that is in accordance with the Règles de l'art as stipulated in applicable regulations, that is, DTUs, the officially published standards or avis techniques, will be given insurance cover

Restoring a Property

The basis of construction work in France revolves around the premise that skilled individuals undertake work that they insure for a period of 10 years. If a person considers restoring a property and plans on doing the majority of the work themselves, they should take into account the implications for insuring and selling on the property in the future.

Work that an individual undertakes on their own property will not be insured by others. While this may not be an issue if in the case of redecoration, there may be ramifications if they install a new heating system, create openings in load bearing walls or replace a roof; even if they have the skills required for such work, it may not be insurable. In addition, they may be liable to third parties if the work becomes defective. Future buyers might request the insurance details of the contractors involved prior to purchase this could dramatically affect the resale value of the property.

Disclaimer: The content of this document is provided for guidance only and while every effort has been made by the author to ensure the accuracy of the information and translations contained, no liability can be accepted for any errors omissions and inaccuracies, or for the opinions expressed herein. The sources of information used were Guidance notes from the Directors of Planning for Calvados (14), Manche (50), Orne (61) at a presentation for the Conseille Regionale des Architectes Basse-Normandie 10/07/2007. J.O n°5 JAN 2007 Text n°12

Page prepared by Andrew Booth Architect RIBA DUAOB 
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