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How France's new neighbour dispute rules work

The Local France
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How France's new neighbour dispute rules work
If you're involved in a dispute with your neighbour, there is a new resolution process. Photo by Damien MEYER / AFP

France has imposed new rules on the settling of neighbour disputes - here how the process works if you are in a disagreement with your neighbour.

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Does your neighbour make too much noise or keep their property in a bad state? Have they been mismanaging canals or ditches, not pruning their trees properly, or planting trees in an irresponsible manner? Or maybe they owe you a sum of less than €5,000 that they are refusing to pay?

If so, you must try and find an 'amicable resolution' with them before taking your dispute to court, according to new rules introduced on October 1st. 

It's not always easy living in close proximity to others, and naturally it's always best to try and find a friendly solution before involving officials and courts (you know the saying - the only people who ever truly win legal actions are the lawyers). 

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Good tips for solving a problem including talking to your neighbours, maybe speaking to others in the local area if it is an issue that affects several people or - if you are in a small village - try talking to the local mayor.

However, if things cannot be settled in an informal matter, you will now need to embark on a process of mediation.

If you cannot provide proof that you have attempted to find an 'amicable resolution' to your issue, the judge will - in most circumstances - not accept your request to take the case to court. 

What is an 'amicable resolution'?

Known as a résolution amiable in French, an amicable resolution refers to various methods of seeking justice that don't require a judge to intervene. Unless you are simply able to talk to your neighbour and convince them to cede to your demands, then this process will always involve a third party - which sometimes will entail a cost. 

There are three main types of résolution amiable:

  • La conciliation 

La conciliation refers to the process through which a dispute is resolved with the help of an intervention from a conciliateur de justice

These officials work on a voluntary basis, have been sworn in by an appeals court and have received some legal training. A conciliateur de justice can be summoned by either side of a dispute (this is called a conciliation conventionnelle) or sent to resolve a dispute by a judge (conciliation déléguée or conciliation judiciairement ordonnée). 

READ MORE: How to make friends with your French neighbours in rural France

The role of the conciliateur is to listen to both parties and come up with a solution. If an agreement is reached, it is common for this to be written onto a document and signed by all parties and the conciliateur. Parties can get their lawyers to also sign the document, which can then be submitted to a legal clerk to make it legally binding. Alternatively, if a judge signs the document, it also becomes legally binding. If no agreement is reached, the case can then go to court. 

You can find a list of conciliateurs and even summon them via this website

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  • La médiation 

La médiation is similar to la conciliation but involves the intervention of a médiateur, who will demand payment for their services. 

A médiateur can be summoned by the disputing parties or deployed by a judge. Their role is to find a solution and reestablish dialogue. Unlike conciliateurs, they do not have powers of investigation. 

Both parties can request a judge to validate the agreement reached with the help of a médiateur, which makes it legally binding. 

If this process fails, the case can go to court. 

To find a médiateur, you should visit the website of your closes appeals court (cour d'appel). 

Prices vary, but it is not unusual for a médiateur to charge €200-300 per hour.

  • La procédure participative

A procédure participative is where both parties in a dispute meet together, with at least one lawyer, to negotiate a solution.

If there is total agreement, the lawyer, or lawyers, will write up a protocol agreement, which can then be submitted to a judge or legal clerk to make it legally binding. 

If there is only partial agreement, either party can submit the document to a judge who will validate the areas of consensus and rule in favour of one side or another for the disputed points. 

If there is no agreement at all, the civil parties and their lawyers can take the case to court. 

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Searching for help online 

There are also many private sector providers that provide conciliation and médiation services online. Some of these are better than others. 

If you opt to use one of these providers, you should ensure that they have been given a Certilis certification. This is a certification provided by the French state which means that the processes used by these online platforms respect legal norms in France. 

What exceptional circumstances mean that a minor dispute can be taken to court? 

There are a limited number of cases in which you can take your neighbourly dispute to court without first attempting to find an amicable resolution. 

The language in the decree is vague but states that if there is "a legitimate reason relating to manifest urgency" or "circumstances making such an attempt impossible", then the dispute can go to court directly rather than first being subject to an attempted amicable resolution. 

It also says that if there is an "unavailability of conciliateurs de justice resulting in the organisation of the first meeting after more than three months from the moment that the conciliateur is first summoned," then the case can go to court directly. 

In the case that your neighbour has committed a more serious offence, such as theft or physical assault, you should press charges directly. This can be done in person at any commissariat de police or gendarmerie, online or via a letter addressed to the public prosecutor. 

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