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Clients are generally very happy with their French properties and we seldom hear about noise disturbance and the annoyance and stress this causes. However, one particular case (amongst several) has encouraged us to write this article…

Our clients bought a holiday home in France 20 years ago. The house is in a development (estate) of similar properties in a well-known Mediterranean holiday resort.

They enjoyed their first peaceful years, but recent holidays have been spoiled by the noisy holidaymakers who rent the house next door. The holiday lets are short-term periods and the tenants fail to respect the normal rules on noise and nuisance that govern the estate. Our clients want to know if they can do anything about the loud music and late-night barbecues, short of moving somewhere quieter.

There are laws on troubles du voisinage and tapage nocturne,as neighbourhood issues and nocturnal disturbance of the peace are known in France, namely the 1992 loi anti bruit (anti-noise law), as mainly found in the Code de la Santé Publique (CSP) i.e. Public Health Code, and in the Nouveau Code Pénal(NCP) i.e. New Penal Code.

When applicable, municipal decrees (arrêté municipal) provide local by-laws aimed at controlling anti-social noise. Additional rules can be found in theco-ownership regulations (Règlement de Copropriété) when the property is in a copropriétéor in the rules of a tenant’s association (when the property is in an association syndicale – usually estates and similar developments).

Article R 1334-31 of the CSP provides that: “No particular noise must, by its duration, its repetition or its intensity, trouble the peace of the neighbourhood or human health”.

The Article does not provide guidelines or a threshold above which a noise is considered an “abnormal or excessive noise” and qualify as a trouble du voisinage.

Article R 623-2 of the NCP provides that: “The person who either utters insults or who disturbs the public peace at night, or his accomplices, will be liable to a fine of €450”.

There are several things you can do if you are being troubled by unreasonable nocturnal noise or other nuisances that appear to contravene the Codes, local by-laws and the regulations of a co-ownership or estate.

These can be grouped as “non-contentious” and “contentious” means.

“Non-contentious” means – what you can do before or instead of taking legal action.

  • Step 1: Send a lettre simple (ordinary letter sent by post or by e-mail if you prefer) to the tenant(s)or other perpetrator(s) asking them to remedy the situation within a specified deadline (two weeks for example).
  • Step 2: If you get no response, send a similar letter, but this time a lettre recommandée avec avis de reception (recorded delivery letter). This will be more “official” than Step 1, since there will be evidence that you sent the letter and that it was received by the addressee.
  • Step 3: If there is an association syndicale or syndicat de copropriétaires, contact the President or Chairman and ask him to intervene, in his official capacity, by demanding that the perpetratorsstop the disturbance. You can do this at the same time as trying Steps 1 and 2.
  • Step 4: The next important step is an official written statement of the facts i.e. recorded in a procès-verbal de constat. You do this by calling in a “sworn officer” (police officer or huissier) to record the facts in a procès-verbal to use as evidence later.
  • Step 5: You should contact the maire, who is responsible for public peace and tranquillity in the commune and ask him to order the perpetrator(s) to cease the nuisance.
  • Step 6: You should call in the mediator (conciliateur)– this stepcan avoid expensive and protracted legal proceedings. Most districts have a conciliateur – look for details on the internet or ask at the mairie.
  • Step 7: Gather testimonies from third parties. Ask others who are affected by the nuisance to write statements explaining the problem. These will support any legal action, if amicable attempts at mediation fail to resolve the situation.
  • Step 8: file a complaint at the local Police Office (faire établir une main courante).

“Contentious” means (if “non-contentious” means fail)

If the situation persists after you have exhausted the non-contentious means, you have little choice (unless you can put up with the situation and/or move), but to issue legal proceedings or press charges by filing a plainte (official complaint).

Against whom should you issue proceedings and/or press charges?

You should press charges against the perpetrator(s) of the noise. An owner is responsible, as the landlord, for ensuring that his tenants comply with co-ownership regulations. He is therefore responsible for stopping their anti-social actions.

While French Law primarily holds a long-term residential tenant responsible for any tapage nocturne they perpetrate, where the tenants are short term holidaymakers or tourists, they may have long gone by the time the Police arrive at the premises. It is therefore appropriate to issue proceedings against the owner/lessor of the premises for failing to act to resolve problems caused by his tenants, and to seek compensation for the damages incurred.

Which type of proceedings should be issued?
The proceedings should be against the perpetrator of the nuisance or, in the case of holiday lets, against the owner of the property where the nuisance arises

on a civil basis (based on tort) to obtain compensation for the prejudice incurred
on a criminal basis to obtain the sentencing of the perpetrators to the fine provided by the law

In practice, there is little point in issuing proceedings in both courts, since you can seek compensation for the damage you have incurred in the criminal court.
If the perpetrators are tenants, the action against the owners would have to be a civil action, aimed at obtaining compensation from the owner for not acting to resolve the problems caused by his tenants.
How do you go about “pressing charges”?

Directly, by sending a plainte to the Procureur de la République (Public Prosecutor)

OR

Indirectly by sending your plainte by a lettre recommandée avec avis de reception to the local commissariat de police or gendarmerie who will enquire into the facts then forward it to the Public Prosecutor.

The Procureur de la République will decide whether to act on your plainte. The investigating judge (juge d’instruction) will decide:

whether the neighbours have committed an offence

And if so

whether they should be sentenced ONLY to the payment of the appropriate fine (€450)
or whether they should be sentenced to the payment of the fine AND compensation for your damages

 

•With thanks to Marie Antoinette Bassini, Kingsfords LLP
Email: mab@kingsfords.net

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Kingsfords