Damages for non completion of a purchase of property in France

Not me but a Brit I know was buying a place one of the terms of the purchase being that final purchase was subject of grant of permission to convert and existing property into two habitable units. The purchaser's application was accepted as valid but refused on the grounds of over development. The potential purchaser had paid a deposit and walked away from the purchase but the vendors (well known in the local community) then made a successful application for a virtually identical application. They are now suing for the purchase price (agreed at a higher state of the market) plus legal costs plus very high interest plus damages. I have little knowledge of such matters in France but it would seem that an independent view by an expert of the validity of the original application needs to be obtained. There seem to be quite close connections between the notaire and the vendors and the local community, as is so often the case in rural France. If it went against the purchaser the effect would be catastrophic. Does anybody out in SFNland have any experience or advice on such matters? I was an expert in construction disputes in the UK but this is way outside my experience and I am retired!

Yes John- I agree that it raises some pretty interesting issues. I am not practicing any more but over recent years many architects have been forced to take on planning application work for very low fees to be topped up (but still to lower fee levels than used to be the norm) once planning consent had been granted. The problem quite frequently is that greedy applicants wanted too much on the site, or one was encouraged by planning officers (and often councillors) to make applications on agreed lines only to find them refused at the last minute for so called planning reasons (often in fact caused by a council comfying up to another developer who wanted to buy the site). This resulted in the architect not being paid for reasons totally outside his control and a huge loss being made. I know- this happened to me several times in different council areas. On other occasions I got planning permission for a developer who went bust so I didn't get paid for the planning permission. Along comes another developer, buts the site for peanuts off the receiver and then builds my scheme. Happily the council would not let him change the scheme and after legal proceedings we got paid in full, plus damages and legal costs! I could go on!!!!

Hi David - I'd be (professionally) interested to know how this plays out;- might qualify as part of my CPD!

"Subject to Planning" is an easily understood contract condition on both sides of the Channel, but for a vendor to reapply for a substantially similar (but noted not identical) scheme - assumed without reference to your friend - and then feel legally empowered to insist on the contract being completed, plus costs ('damages'....what for?) runs contrary to common sense. Its hard to see why a seller would adopt such an approach - especially since they now have a property to sell with 'planning permission'; thus establishing its development potential / value enhancement.

I think it comes down to a 'suspensive clause' being inserted at the time of the 'Compromis de Vente' along with the other standard clauses.

Thanks Brain. That seems to be a common element amongst many such tales of woe in France. There are still certain aspects of corporate corruption in the Uk but they tend to be more subtle. Not like the old days when a good bribe, provision of "favours" of various kinds would do the trick. I have found it better here to use an avocat deliberately not from the area in which the problem originated. Have a great break! Tomorrow I am doing an English Christmas lunch for an assortment of French and Philippinos!

Our English 'developer' neighbour has played a game with a CU for four plots on one property for several years but some of us have made a fuss which, as luck would have it, paid off when the maire changed after the one who had been in office when the original permissions were given. The maire established there was a 'condition suspensive' also forced the man to either start work or give up because it had been so long it could be declared no longer valid. It would appear there are time limits on most of these things but if a notaire is in cahoots will conceal or stall such details. It takes somebody like a maire or planning official to demand to see the owner's copy and not the copy they have since it is not unknown for notaires to 'amend' things with a maire turning a blind eye.

In our case the ruins are being demolished, slowly but they are mainly down and the stones being removed a truck every week or two, one plot sold for a local couple to build on, a barn on the middle lot converted into a tiny holiday place for the developer and the lot next to us still has a valid CU but is non-constructible land, but that was the compromise in the deal the maire and notaire cut over his head.

Your friend's one is not the same but perhaps there are some clues in this stories, especially notaire collusion.

Thanks Ben We are now on to a specialist avocat who speaks good english (my friend's french is not very good) . I have not seen any of the papers and even if II had seen them I would not like to comment as I am not competent in the area. I'm an architect and I don't encourage lawyers to design buildings! It could well be a try on. Happy Christmas and i'll keep you posted!

Your "Brit" has included a clause in the contract (at least I hope he/she did in the promesse de vente) invoking the nullity of the contract in the case where the permission to convert was refused, a so-called "condition suspensive" This did so happen so the contract is nullified.

It doesn't matter if the current owners hand in a slightly different proposal to the competent authorities at a later stage. The "Brit" needs to show and document that all he/she followed all the right procedures to obtain that permission correctly.

But obviously you need to pay close attention to the wording in the actual contract. French people are very fond of going to court, and in a lot of cases it's just a bluf