Termites: Are they in the cellar? Are they under the stairs? No, they’re everywhere!

A seller cannot hide behind a survey revealing termites “in the cellar and the stairs” to waive his liability for the rest of the house.

In a French property purchase, French law requires the seller to provide a number of surveys associated with certain risks including a statement on the presence (or absence) of termites. As long as the seller provides these documents, the buyer cannot normally claim that these risks are hidden defects as they have been disclosed.
The presence of termites is not considered a hidden defect when the infestation of the property was specifically mentioned in the deed of sale and as a result, the buyer cannot challenge the purchase on these grounds. But, as a recent case has shown, it is absolutely necessary that the survey and condition of the property leave no doubt about the extent of the infestation.

In a recent matter, the deed of sale of a house contained a survey revealing the presence of termites in two areas: in the cellar and under the stairs. The contract expressly stipulated that the buyer would bear responsibility for the existence of termites and would therefore have no claims against the seller in that respect.
Some time after completion, while undertaking works on the property, the new owner discovered that the whole structure of the house was affected by termites. He therefore requested that the guarantee against hidden defects be enforced but the seller challenged this request on the grounds that the buyer was aware of the defect.

After over two years of legal procedure, the seller’s argument was rejected and the widespread infestation of termites in the rest of the house was considered a hidden defect. Indeed, the survey only mentioned the cellar and the stairs and thus the disclosure could not be considered as covering the whole house. Even though a pesticide treatment had been carried out by the seller before the sale and the house was apparently in very good condition at the time of sale, it was determined that the extent of the infestation revealed by the removal of formwork covering walls and ceilings would have started before completion.

Unfortunately, this story is not unusual. As a buyer, it is important to challenge and not instantly accept clauses waiving the seller’s liability. As for the seller, it is important to make sure that full disclosure of information is made and that the contract correctly reflects the situation.

It is important to seek advice and make sure that your contract and ancillary documents protect you.

Many thanks for your comments.


I do not know if there is a regulating body for such businesses but it may be worth requesting a reference from registered surveyors. The latter are strictly regulated and you would expect some credibility from the businesses they would recommend.

Whether you treat the house before the sale or not is strictly up to what was agreed between the parties. The presence of termites does not compel the vendor to treat the issue. The buyer may accept the property anyway but it is important that he is fully informed of the extent of the infestation.

It is also interesting to note that it was recently specified that termites surveys do not legally have to cover wood-decay fungus. Although this add-on is carried out by many surveyors, I wonder if this clarification will push some to stop which would be a shame.

How can you trust any of these companies-is there an independent survey organisation ? If we put our house on the market should we just get the house and barn treated anyway?

We had Capricorns in our current house before we renovated, we treated it from top to bottom and put reinforced floors in so they’re not a problem anymore. The treatment should last for 10 years apparently but some people redo every 5 I’ve heard. There don’t seem to be any sign of the little critters in our place in 5 years and we have exposed beams so it would be easy to spot them.

At the moment we do not have termites in 71, but we do have capricorns. They had happily munched their way through nearly all the beams in the buildings we were renovating.
I have just been 'phoned by a company from Macon asking me if my house is more than 15 years old and, if so, it should be inspected for capricorns.
My friend had warned me about them, they come along and say that you need this and this and this done, all at a huge price. So in 71 beware capricorns and wood treatment firms!

we were made aware of termites in a tree outside the house which apparently won’t come indoors. We’ve been advised to take the tree down to get rid of them. Our Notaire advised there are indoor & outdoor termites from what I could understand ours live outdoors in trees not in dead wood.
It is always the fear though in the South particularly of having Termites. Regular treatment is needed to keep them at bay.