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How to get rid of squatters from your French property

A high-profile case means that French laws on property-squatting are again in the news. Though the process is still a complicated one, recent reforms make things a little easier for property-owners to get rid of uninvited guests - here's how.

French police prepare to breach a property occupied by squatters.
French police prepare to breach a property occupied by squatters. Here's what to do if your property has been taken over. (Photo by Thomas SAMSON / AFP)

France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin has made headlines again recently – this over French laws about squatting.

The minister was reacting to the situation of a young couple from the Paris area who bought their ‘dream house’ – which was at the time home to squatters – but found themselves unable to move in.

The couple took their case to the courts and the media, drawing Darmanin’s attention, who demanded that local authorities invoke the DALO Law. The family squatting in the house was eventually forced out with tear gas by a group of hooded and masked people. 

But what are the rules when it comes to squatting in France? And what can you do if you find yourself in this situation. 

In recent years the French government has made it easier to evict squatters from properties in France, expanding anti-squatter laws to cover second homes; accelerating the process of forced eviction; deploying legal clerks to help with the process; and removing the time limit in which you had to report squatters. 

Illegally entering and occupying someone else’s home in France is punishable by up to two years in prison and a €30,000 fine.

As the video below show, French law enforcement is not afraid to deploy extensive resources including helicopters, riot police and specialist intervention units trained for counter-terrorism operations to remove squatters – or even pro-migrants’ rights activists – from a property, if necessary. 

But while big operations like this grab the headlines, the process can still be a difficult and lonely one for owners of a single French property. 

The law DALO that the Interior Minister made reference to is the previously existing legal infrastructure that governs property owners’ rights in these situations, and there are two main processes through which to have squatters removed from your property.

The accelerated administrative procedure 

This is the fastest way to have squatters removed from your property – and since December 2020, no longer requires owners to report squatters within 48 hours of them moving into the building. 

If you want or need squatters removed from your primary residence or second home quickly, you need to take the following steps:

  • Call the police or gendarmerie and file a report. Alternatively, you can do this at your closest police or gendarmerie station. This step can be taken by the property owner or someone acting in the interests of the property owner (so if you’re not in France you can instruct a family member or notaire to represent you). An officer will be able to assist you in filing the report. 
  • You will need to prove that you are the rightful owner of the property, with household bills, financial documents or an attestation signed by a neighbour. 
  • Once you have done this, an officer from France’s judicial police will have to inspect the property to determine that squatters are living inside. 

Once these steps have been taken, you need to ask your local préfecture to issue a cease and desist order (mettre en demeure) to the squatters. To obtain such an order, you can either write a tracked letter to the Préfet, go through a legal clerk, or hand the request in yourself (this is easier if you are living in a rural area).

Once your request has been received by the préfecture, they have 48 hours to give a decision on whether to evict the squatters. If the green light is given, the squatters are given a notice to leave the property within 24 hours or be forcibly evicted by law enforcement officers. 

From February 2022, the government has ruled that you can now employ a legal clerk, known as a huissier de justice, to help you with the procedure, which can be complicated if you don’t speak French. Fees for such a service vary. You can find your closest clerk here

Taking the case to a judge

There is another process by which to remove squatters but it can take months or even years. It involves launching a legal case and having a judge passing an eviction order – but it has the advantage that it can be used if your application for an accelerated procedure is turned down. 

If squatters have moved into a property that is classed as uninhabitable – for example, a garage, shipping container or office space – you have to follow this procedure and cannot benefit from the accelerated process. 

You would need to take the following steps:

  • Ask a lawyer to make your case to a judge, asking for the authorisation to expel the squatters and ask them to pay indemnity;
  • Prove that the property belongs to you, with a deed, financial documents or bills;
  • Prove that there are squatters in your property – this is best done by hiring a legal clerk. Ideally, at least one of the squatters will need to be identified by name. 

If the judge accepts the case, a legal clerk will issue the squatters with a court summons – even if they fail to appear in court, they must be informed of any judgement. 

If the squatters do not leave the building in the month following the ruling, they will be ordered to leave immediately. If they do not leave after that, the legal clerk should ask the local préfecture to send in law enforcement officers to remove the squatters by force. 

What not to do 

Even if you are angry and upset, do not take justice into your own hands and try to remove the squatters yourself. 

Doing so would mean breaking the law and the sanctions are heavy. You could face three years in prison and a €30,000 fine. 

This article contains the guidelines on the law around squatting and is not intended as a substitute for legal advice. If in doubt, contact your closest préfecture or a legal expert. 

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MAP: Where in France can you buy property for less than €100k?

While French cities such as Paris are notoriously expensive, there are many areas outside the cities where it is still possible to buy spacious homes for less than €100,000 - particularly if you don't mind a bit of renovation.

MAP: Where in France can you buy property for less than €100k?

We decided to look at where in France you could afford a property on a budget of €100,000, and it turns out there are some bargains to be had.

There are a lot of caveats while searching for property, and many local variables in place, but our search does show some of the areas to concentrate on if you have a limited budget.

We used the Notaires de France immobilier website in August 2022, and we specified that the property should have at least five rooms (including kitchen and bathroom) and a floor space of at least 100 square metres.

We also discounted any property that was for sale under the viager system – a complicated purchase method which allows the resident to release equity on their property gradually, as the buyer puts down a lump sum in advance and then pays what is effectively a rent for the rest of the seller’s lifetime, while allowing them to remain in the property.

READ ALSO Viager: The French property system that can lead to a bargain

For a five-room, 100 square metre property at under €100,000, you won’t find anywhere in the Île-de-France region, where the proximity of Paris pushes up property prices. The city itself is famously expensive, but much of the greater Paris region is within commuting distance, which means pricier property. 

Equally the island of Corsica – where prices are pushed up by its popularity as a tourist destination – showed no properties for sale while the region of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur – which includes the French Riviera – showed only 1 property under €100,000.

The very presence of Bordeaux, meanwhile, takes the entire département of Gironde out of this equation – but that doesn’t mean that the southwest is completely out of the running. A total of 25 properties came up in the Nouvelle Aquitaine region. One property was on the market for a mere €20,000 – but it was, as the Notaires’ brochure noted, in need of “complete renovation”.

Neighbouring Occitanie, meanwhile, showed 12 further properties in the bracket.

By far the most properties on the day of our search – 67 – were to be found in the Grand Est region of eastern France. The eastern part of France overall comes out best for property bargains, with the north-east region of Hauts-de-France showing 38 properties and and Bourgogne-Franche-Comté displaying 25.

Further south, however, the presence of the Alps – another popular tourist destination – pushed up prices in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region which showed just three results.

The below map shows our search results, with darker colours indicating more cheap properties.

Property buying tips 

In order to make a comparison, we focused our search on properties advertised online, but if you have a specific area in mind it's well worth making friends with a few local real estate agents and perhaps also the mayor, since it's common for properties not to be advertised online.

Most of the truly 'bargain' properties are described as being "in need of renovation" - which is real estate speak for a complete wreck.

If you don't mind doing a bit of work you can often pick up property for low prices, but you need to do a clear-eyed assessment of exactly how much work you are willing and able to do, and what the cost is likely to be - there's no point getting a "cheap" house and then spending three times the purchase price on renovations.

READ ALSO 'Double your budget and make friends with the mayor' - tips for French property renovation

That said, there were plenty of properties at or near the €100,000 mark that were perfectly liveable or needed only relatively minor renovations.

You also need to pay attention to the location, as the sub-€100,000 properties are often in remote areas or very small villages with limited access to amenities. While this lifestyle suits many people, bear in mind that owning a car is a requirement and you may end up paying extra for certain services.

Finally remember that government help, in the form of loans and grants, is available for environmentally friendly improvements, such as insulation or glazing.

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