Explanation on the benefits and purpose of an SCI or Societe Civile Immobiliere when buying property in France...

Using an SCI to Purchase Property in France

Société Civile Immobilière (commonly called an "SCI") translates loosely as a Private Limited Company for Property Purposes according to articles 1832 and 1845 of the French Code Civil. An SCI usually owns one or more properties with the purpose of renting them out or making them available for free to its shareholders.

What is an SCI?

  • An SCI is essentially a private, limited and fully incorporated company with a registered office in France. This office can be the property itself
  • The shares of the SCI then own the property in question
  • Being a company, the shares of the SCI are owned by its shareholders, in many cases, family members
  • The shareholders can be resident or non-resident in France

Note: It is important to note that the tax consequences of a purchase through an SCI should be analysed according to French law and the tax treaty between France and the shareholder's home country before proceeding with any purchase.

Forming and Using an SCI for a Property Purchase in France

An SCI consists of a certain number of shares (considered under French Law as “movable assets”), determined within its constitution, and a minimum of two shareholders. The company statutes (statuts de la société) is a legal document prepared in most cases by a notary. An SCI must be registered at the local Chamber of Commerce (Chambre de Commerce et d'Industrie).

The statutes include:

  • the company name (the street name of the property or a chosen name)
  • its headquarters (the address of the property or a shareholder's address, if in France)
  • the amount of capital (nominal amount, not the actual price of the property)
  • functions, conditions (such as clauses on reduction of capital, selling of properties, and so on)
  • details of the company manager

The difference between buying a property with an SCI and buying as an individual is the creation of shares within the company. The shareholders own the shares which own the property in the proportions specified within the statutes. The shareholders of the SCI are responsible for the debts of the company in proportion to their portion of the shares. If an SCI has two shareholders, each one is responsible for 50 percent of the debts of the company. A certain amount of confidence is needed between the shareholders to guarantee the smooth running of the company. The choice of the manager of an SCI should be made carefully as well.

An SCI may be created when purchasing a property. Usually this is done after the signing of the preliminary contract and before the signature of the title deed with the notary. The property held by an SCI may be sold at any time without dissolving the SCI and the SCI may purchase another property at any time. An SCI may also be dissolved at any time; this generally happens when an SCI no longer owns any property.

Steps to forming and running an SCI

The costs for setting up an SCI are minimal and the process can be relatively quick. A qualified solicitor or notary is in charge of setting up an SCI, though notaries are usually used. An SCI is established in the following way:

  • Shareholders complete and sign the statutes prepared by the notary or solicitor
  • The notary prepares and then submits the statutes to the local Chamber of Commerce (Chambre de Commerce et d'Industrie/CCI)
    • Find a local CCI at the official site
  • A bank account in the company name is opened once the statutes are signed
  • A few weeks later the notary will receive the official registration document (Kbis) and will forward a copy to the SCI

Documents needed from the shareholders

  • Identification documents: birth certificates, marriage certificate or partnership certificates if applicable, copies of passports
  • Documentation proving the country of residence (such as utility invoices)

Advantages of an SCI

The creation of the SCI has a number of advantages when purchasing and owning real estate in France:

  1. First, an SCI allows for greater flexibility and management of a property situated in France. Ownership through shares may at any point be altered, reduced or transferred.
  2. Non-resident shareholders in an SCI are not taxed in France as the shares are considered movable assets; they are taxed in the country of their main residence.
  3. If all precautions are taken, liquid assets can be maintained at zero value in the SCI so French Wealth Tax (ISF) is avoided (unless the value is greater than the calculated net value). The current threshold for declaring the wealth tax is 1.3 million euros.
  4. In the event of the death of a shareholder, a so-called “indivision” may be avoided when it comes to probate issues. Here is why: the ownership through shares may at any given point be altered and divided up differently. As a result, the deceased proprietor of the property cannot block its transmission.
  5. The succession of the shares of the company (the inheritance) is furthermore not subject to urban pre-emption rights or to a notary act in France. This means that if a shareholder dies, because the shares are considered mobile assets, the probate laws of the country of residence of the deceased apply.
  6. The establishment of an SCI does not trigger the company taxation of 3% for non-residents under article 990 of the French Code Général des Impôts. An annual report must be filed; unless the property is rented out (professionally), the SCI will show no profits. The manager is not bound by a fiscal regime, social security taxes or retirement charges. An SCI is, however, liable for Capital Gains tax as any other French property for 30 years.

Disadvantages of an SCI

  1. All decisions within an SCI are subject to a collective decision by all shareholders. This could cause problems in the event of the death of a shareholder as heirs may not work harmoniously with the rest of the shareholders.
  2. Mortgages taken out with an SCI are generally slightly more expensive and can be more difficult to secure.
  3. British citizens only: Check for British tax implications with the local HM Revenue & Customs before purchasing a French property with an SCI. The current situation is the following: “The interest in the property is its main asset and its activities are clearly incidental to its ownership of that interest. As none of the exceptions in section 100B ITEPA apply, no liability to income tax will arise under Part 3 Chapter 5 ITEPA in respect of the benefit of the accommodation. As Section 45(2) FA 2008 provides that the exemption is to be treated as always having had effect, a living accommodation benefit charge will not arise for any year.”

Accounting and an SCI

Because an SCI is usually created solely to purchase a property, the accounting can remain very simple. This benefit is lost if the SCI lets one or more properties professionally; the tax declarations become complex and a different type of company formation could be preferable.

Any income or expense triggered through the SCI must be managed with a bank account in the name of the company. All invoices relating to the property must be in the name of the SCI and be paid through the company's bank account for future declarations of capital gains tax. Otherwise, no deductions of major works can be taken into account for capital gains taxes.

Accounting obligations

A yearly SCI tax declaration (Form 2072) must be filed. If the property held by the SCI is not rented out professionally, then the SCI does not declare any revenue. Most SCI declarations show zero revenue.

Managing an SCI

For all collective decisions concerning an SCI, a "deliberation" is required. This replaces the traditional Power of Attorney and represents the collective decision of the share holders. A deliberation must be drawn up, usually by a notaire, when the SCI changes share holders, alter its shares, takes out a mortgage, or dissolves.

The dissolution of an SCI can be done quickly once the deliberation is signed by all share holders. Form M3b (available from a notary or the Chamber of Commerce of Registration/Greffe du Tribunal de Commerce) must be filled out and prepared by a notary and then filed with the office of the local Chamber of Commerce of Registration. A small fee will be charged.

Because an SCI is a legal entity, it is strongly recommended to get professional advice from a specialised English-speaking notary who has all documents available - these are quite complex and in French only - and will prepare them on behalf of the SCI.

Related Information

Information provided by Andreas PICHLER, PhD Lecturer at Aix-Marseille Université in Applied Languages and Private International Law email Copyright 2014 © Andreas PICHLER All rights reserved