Before buying an «  étang » you have to be aware of the environnemental laws applicable to your étang. And remember that in French « étang » and « lac » do not refer to the same thing : an « étang » has usually been created by men whereas a « lac » is natural.

The law is different according to the type of « étang » bought.

There are 4 types of étang :

- « étang fondé en titre » ie which have a deed and including those created before April 15, 1829 ( mentionned on the Cassini map or atlas Dieu préfet)

- « enclos piscicoles or piscicultures à valorisation touristique » where there is fish for touristic purpose ie authorised by  an « arrêté prefectoral » valid for 30 years 

- « eaux closes » ie closed water which means no permanent communication with a river, the fish cannot go to or from the étang to a river( small or big)

- « eau libre » free water , permanent communication between river and étang

It is not useless to make a survey for an etang before the sale. The laws are very strict.

In order to establish whether or not the wall is shared, there is a traditional method that often works: the orientation of the tiles placed on top of the wall. If these tiles slant one way or the other, the property towards which they slant is the owner of the wall. If the tiles slant both ways, i.e. they form an inverted ‘V’, then the wall is shared.

The distance is always measured at ground level, even if the tree leans to one side or the other.

The height of a tree is calculated from the base of the trunk to the top, even if the ground is higher in one property than the other.


What should you do if these distances have not been respected ? 

The neighbour can demand that the tree be either pruned or uprooted. The owner of the tree can choose between these options, unless the tree is planted less than 50cm from the property boundary, in which case it must be uprooted.

The owner can contest uprooting the tree under certain conditions:

- If the tree has exceeded the authorised height for more than thirty years without complaint.

- If the tree was planted at a time when the two properties formed one single property.

- If the owner possesses a ruling allowing him to plant it at a reduced distance.


What should you do if the roots of your neighbour’s tree encroach on your property?

The law allows you to cut them, even if the tree has been planted at a distance within the regulations. You do not need to forewarn the owner of the tree before doing this. 


What should you do if the branches of your neighbour’s tree encroach on your property ?

In this case, you do not have the right to cut the branches. You must request that the owner of the tree or shrub trims the offending branches. If he refuses, then you must take your case to a magistrates' court (tribunal d'instance). The pruning of the branches can be requested even if the tree or shrub was planted more than 30 years ago and even if in doing so the tree or shrub will die.


The fruit from my neighbour’s tree falls in my garden – do I have to give it back to them ?

No, there is absolutely no requirement to do this. If the fruit has fallen on your property naturally because the branches overhang your property, you can collect it and do whatever you like with it.


The French notaire is a sworn public official and a freelance professional at the same time.

He is subject to strict rules and rigorous controls and is both legally and financially liable for the deed he drafts.

Notaires are well know in France for property issues. Notaires are also family advisors they can advise you on the inheritance tax implications and deal with all your personal issues like estate planning, succession law etc. 

As English solicitors, French notaires do probate, estate planning but the major difference is that they don’t plead before the Courts.

Notaires are advisors that families may consult at any time of their lives for such things as – insolvency, wills, gifts between families, pre-nuptial agreements, civil unions .

The notaire is both a public officer and an independent professional. As a public officer he acts on behalf of the State appointed by the Ministry of Justice he guarantees the reliability and authenticity of the deeds he produces.

Property transfer deeds are the exclusive prerogative of the notaire and can only be signed at a notarial office. When buying a property the amounts paid to the notaire are commonly and inaccurately referred to as “notaire’s fees” but in reality they comprise :

- the “ taxes” that go to the State and the local authorities ; this is the sum that the notaire must receive and pay on behalf of his client

- the “payments” these are the sums paid by the notaire on behalf of his client and used to remunerate service providers, for example the cost of various documents

- the notaire’s actual payment

While the notaire acts as a public authority he performs his duties as an independent professional, providing a public service without any cost to the State as he assumes full responsibility for his office. The notaire is paid by his clients according to a price schedule set by the State for the services he provides.

More information regarding notaire fees :


A devis (or quote) is a legal requirement in the building sector and for breakdown/ repair/ maintenance work in the electrical goods sector where the cost of the work is to exceed €150 (including taxes). 

Generally speaking, a devis will be free, but the law does allow for it to be billed. If this is the case, the professional must inform the client of this cost beforehand. 

The devis must legally carry a certain number of components: 

• The date on which the devis was made. 

• The name and address of the professional. 

• The name and address of the client. 

• The location where the work will be carried out. 

• A detailed breakdown of the work to be carried out and the products necessary to do this work. 

• The amount due with taxes included (prix TTC - Toutes Taxes Comprises), as well as the pre-tax price (prix HT – Hors Taxes) and VAT (TVA) charged. 

A devis is only valid for certain period of time, meaning that the offer (for both the work covered and the price) is no longer valid after this date. If the deadline has expired, you must ask for a new devis. 

When a client signs a devis, it becomes a binding document. It represents an agreement between the two parties to perform the work specified at the agreed price. As a result, a client who subsequently refuses to have the work carried out runs the risk of being asked for compensation by the professional. If the professional, on the other hand, asks for more money and does not have a signed devis to that effect, he runs the risk of the client refusing to pay. 

If, during the process of the work, the professional realises that the nature of the work or the overall price may vary (for example, in a building project when walls hidden beneath panelling are found to be in a worse state than anticipated), he must inform the client and get their agreement before carrying out any extra work. Similarly, if a client asks for further work not specified on the original devis, it is again preferable to sign a second devis to that effect. 


What is ‘bornage’?

Bornage is the French term for establishing the borders of a plot of land and refers to definitively establishing the border between two or more private properties. If your property borders publicly owned land, i.e. a public footpath or forest, then the rules are different: you would then need to ask the local authority concerned to perform the bornage and establish the exact boundary area.

Is it compulsory to legally establish the borders of your property?

No, bornage is not compulsory, but is strongly advised because the exact borders rarely feature in the deeds of the property, which will usually just refer to individual parcels in the cadastral plan and what they contain. Furthermore, the cadastral plan is not proof of ownership. In the case of a dispute, you cannot use the images on the cadastral plan to contest ownership with a neighbour.

Who can request bornage?

Only the owner may make a request to establish the borders of a property. A tenant, for example a farmer who rents a field for agricultural purposes, cannot instigate a request.

All parties concerned must be in agreement in order to establish the borders of two properties. If a property has joint owners, for example, both must be in agreement.

Two types of bornage: amicable and judicial

Amicable bornage:

If you acquire a property and are not 100% sure of the exact boundaries, it is strongly advised that you draw up an amicable bornage with your neighbour. You must first ask your neighbour or neighbours if they are happy to do so. A document is then written detailing the agreement reached by the property owners involved. The law does not require this document to have a specific format. In reality, this will usually involve the visit of a land surveyor who will examine the deeds of the various properties and the cadastral plan. The surveyor will then establish a verbal agreement between the parties and place boundary markers into the ground.

This agreement is then signed by all parties and sent to a notaire who will register the document with the relevant authorities i.e. the conservation des hypothèques.

Judicial bornage:

If one party refuses to enter into an amicable bornage or refuses to sign, then the only remaining option is a judicial bornage. In short, the law allows for all property owners to request their neighbours to legally establish the borders of their properties. The judge will assign a land surveyor to the case, and if one neighbour still refuses to sign the subsequent agreement, then the judge will make an independent and binding ruling. The agreement is again sent to the relevant authorities. 

Who pays what ?

The costs come in 2 parts: the fees of the land surveyor (who is independent) and those of the notaire (who is regulated). In the case of an amicable bornage, the charges are shared. In practice, the costs are usually shared, either 50:50 or proportional to the size of the parcels of land. 

In the case of a judicial bornage, the judge is free to allocate the costs, for example he/she can assign all the costs to the neighbour who refused to sign the agreement. 



The seller of a property is required by law to provide documentation of certain checks which must be performed by accredited organizations: checks for asbestos, lead, gas, termites etc. Not all checks are compulsory in all areas of France, but you can ask your Notaire to outline what is required, or visit the local Prefecture for more information.

The sale of a house has two distinct stages: the signature of the compromis de vente/promesse de vente (reservation agreement); followed several months later by the acte de vente (final deed of sale). Only the Notaire has the legal power to draw up this deed of sale.

Never pay any money directly to the seller - even if it is accompanied by a receipt counter-signed by witnesses. All money in house sale transactions passes through the Notaire. Not only do you risk never becoming the owner if the vendor decides not to sign the acte de vente, but you also risk not being refunded your money.

For the seven days following the signing of the compromis de vente, the buyer may pull out of the agreement with no loss of deposit. If you are going to withdraw from a sale during this seven-day ‘cooling off’ period, it is wise to do so by letter by recorded delivery. No money may change hands during this period.

Buying a property is a serious business: you must know exactly what you are buying and fully understand all the obligations that come as your part of the deal. If you are in any doubt, employ the services of a translator as all dealings with the Notaire are required to be in French and your Notaire is not required to translate for you.


The “ bon de visite” is the document signed by the buyer with the estate agency which proves that they gave visited a certain property ( usually a property the agency has a mandate for). 

This document is the proof that the agency has put the buyer in touch with the seller. If the buyer then contacts the seller directly, thus bypassing the estate agency ( for example, to avoid paying the agency commission), the bon de visite will serve as proof of the intervention of the agency and can be used in any legal proceedings to demand the payment of the commission. 

This is provided that the agency has signed a mandate with the seller and this has not expired or been terminated early.



The French land registry plans are known as the « cadastre ».The French Cadastre derives from the napoleonian Cadastre and applies to all urban and rural properties (built or not). The literal information is strictly linked to the geographical one.

A plot is defined as an entity linked to an owner and to a fiscal division, following the napoleonian concept. Basically, the cadastre has a fiscal function evoluting to an informative function and having, additionally, a certain probative function. The "Conservation des Hypothèques" Bureau keeps and manages the Land Register. 

The Cadastre is homogeneous on the whole French metropolitan territory with some small discrepancies for the Alsace-Moselle cadastre. From the outset users have had access to the cadastral documents. Anybody can consult these documents and obtain copies at the cadastre offices. 

A copy of the local cadastre will be eld in the local mairie, or the local land registry office, called the Centre des Impôts Fonciers- conservation des Hypothèques. You are entitled to visit their offices and freely inspect it.

Copies and extracts from the register and the plan are given for various purposes : 

- people seeking fiscal information (basis of assessment of local taxes ...) or property information (situation and contents of property ...), 

- accomplishment of real estate registration formalities for property transfers.

The French tax authorities have now made available  online the land registry plans for large areas in France and there is an English version :

It provides a very useful source of propert information for international French property buyers. Unlike the UK land registry site, there is no details available either as to personal ownership nor the price paid by the present owner

The main missions of the cadastre are : 

- fiscal (evaluation of real estate, determination of the bases for property taxes, identification of the taxable owners), 

- legal and property related (identification and physical description of properties), 

- technical (establishment of the cadastral plan and keeping it up-to-date, topographical pictures essential for the identification and physical description of the property if question).

But the plan cadastral is not proof of ownership. It is merely an administrative document. Moreover, the cadastre does not show the precise boundaries between properties and, as a result, they are not a definitive statement of the legal boundaries of a property, which can only be established by a land survey.

The cadastre plans literally tell you what you are about to purchase, so it's very important to study them carefully before making an offer.

The information on the plan cadastral may not be completely up to date, as it can take up to three years for new developments or other changes to be entered on to the plan.

'Gazumping' is the term used to refer to when a house seller accepts an offer from one potential buyer, but then accepts a higher offer from someone else. The first buyer is left in the lurch, and either has to offer a higher price or accept that they have lost that home and continue looking.

This practice tends to occur in a market when house prices are rising as there are more buyers around than sellers. The problem in much of the UK, for example, is that until contracts have been exchanged the sale agreement is not legally binding.

Once an offer has been accepted, either the buyer or the seller can pull out at any time until the exchange of contracts. Unfortunately agents are legally obliged to inform sellers of all offers made on their property, even after one offer has been accepted.

But during this period between the acceptance of the offer and exchange, the buyer spends a considerable amount of money on surveys, solicitor's fees, and confirmation of the mortgage offer. There is very little you can do to repel a determined bidder.

With the ever-rising cost of housing in the late 1980s and early 1990s, gazumping became commonplace in England and Wales because a buyer’s offer is not legally binding even after acceptance of the offer by the vendor.

The Scottish system of ‘conveyancing’ has effectively eradicated most cases of gazumping. In Scotland a seller must provide written acceptance of a successful bid. When property prices are in decline the practice of gazumping becomes rare.

The term gazundering has been coined for the opposite practice whereby the buyer waits until everybody is poised to exchange contracts before lowering the offer on the property. In France gazumping cannot occur since it is not allowed.

When the seller and the buyer have agreed on a reasonable price they sign a reservation agreement at the notaire or real estate agent’s office. This will be in the form of an agreement to purchase (compromis de vente). This is a binding agreement and the seller is not allowed to accept a better offer.

As soon as the reservation agreement is signed, the property is automatically taken off the market even if the buyer does not ask the notaire/ real estate agent to do so. As soon as the reservation agreement is signed, the final deed of sale will be prepared.

The notaire may ask the buyer for certain documents and he will make various checks with the administrative authorities, which usually take several weeks. Later the final deed of sale (acte de vente) is signed and the sale is complete.

French purchasing process

The approach in France is a simple one.

When the vendor and purchaser agree on what it is that is to be sold/purchased, that is to say the estate including any furniture, outbuildings, land, etc and have settled upon a price a sale/purchase contract is deemed to have been made.