Are they registered and insured ?

On September 17, 2013 by Martin RUSHTON

find a builder in franceOne of the things with which specialist building surveyors often get asked to assist is in resolving disagreements between building contractors and property owners.  Problems often arise because the so called experienced and qualified builders are not what they say they are. It is therefore necessary to choose your builder with care to avoid the following potential traps.

British Builders who operate in France, we have found more often than not to be DIY ex-patriots  who do not have the necessary skills, are not registered as a business with the French authorities and also are not insured.  Regrettably the same applies to a lot of British ‘professional’’ consultants working in France too.

Many English speakers, who have purchased a property in France and need building works done, are worried about their command of French.  The vast majority of French contractors do not speak English; and why should they?  How many builders in Britain do you know who speak French?  What happens then is the highest priority becomes finding a builder who speaks English rather than finding a good builder.

So if you need building work done how may you protect yourself?

Usually there are tell-tale signs which you should look for at the outset.

We frequently see so-called contracts with invalid clauses such as “English Law applies “or “Disputes will be subject to the jurisdiction of the English Courts. This is done to deceive you by lulling you into a false sense of security by making you think that in the event of a dispute you will be able to resolve the matter in your mother tongue.  Work undertaken on your French property will come under French jurisdiction.  Any person carrying out work on your French property who says only English Law applies should be avoided like the plague.

Any person who lives in France and is working or running a business in France must be registered with the French authorities.  This applies to all businesses be they commercial outlets, tradespersons (such as builders, plumbers) or; professions (such as UK chartered professionals, architects etc).

To check if a person or business is registered is very simple to do.  All you need is the official registered number of the enterprise.  It is called the SIRET number;  the first nine digits of which (called the SIREN number) identify the business and the last five of which identify the administrative centre where the business is registered.

Armed with the SIREN number just go tohttp://www.infogreffe.fr/infogreffe/index.do  and enter the number in the appropriate box. The details of the company or person will appear. There are other non-government internet sites (such as www.verif.fr) which also hold information about businesses but we always use the infogreffe site because it is the Government Register and is therefore up to date and accurate.

Any honest contractor (or consultant) who works within the law will quote the SIRET number on all of their business documents (this includes not only quotations and invoices but also all publicity material such as business cards, websites, brochures etc).

For works of any significant magnitude ideally you should commission drawings and a specification.  For large projects a Bill of Quantities is also advisable (but very rarely done).

The contractor should provide you with a formal written quotation on headed paper (Devis).  You must ensure a copy of the builder’s insurance is included (which should ideally be worded to include what will happen if the builder becomes insolvent).

If possible, the contract you sign should include liquidated damages(compensation in the event of non-completion of the work on time).  Some people call this a penalty clause  but remember the amount should only be a genuine pre-estimate of loss and amenity.

As the property owner who is appointing a contractor (or consultant) you have a legal responsibility to ensure the business you are employing is registered. Not to do so could be a bad situation for you to be in because you could be considered as having knowingly employed a person ‘on the black’ and end up being prosecuted.

If the ‘black’ works have increased the value of your property, under certain circumstances (such as second home ownership) you may be taxed on the capital gain and, the tax paid will be higher if you have no invoices to offset against the gain; so whilst you save a bit initially, you will pay for it later when you sell.

If the builder is not registered and insured, it is almost a certainty that the quality of the workmanship will be poor and; you are far more likely to have the rogue leave you in the lurch with a half finished project, perhaps absconding with a significant amount of your money.

If the builder is registered but not insured and the work turns out to be defective, even if you sue and are successful (which will be costly and time consuming), it is unlikely you will ever see the money because an un-insured artisan probably has no money to pay you with.

When you come to sell the property, it is usual for the seller to provide copies of the contractor’s invoices (particularly when the works are still subject to the ten year insurance cover).  If you are unable to come up with copies of the invoices the buyer may wish to withdraw from the deal.  If you sell before the works are completed, ensure the buyer is aware of this, that it is clearly stated in the sale contract produced by the notaire and that you provide copies of what you have paid for to date.  Ideally you should always keep the original invoices and provide copies to the notaire and buyer.

Never take the builder’s (or professional consultant’s) word that they are registered and insured.  Always check out the SIREN number and always ask for an ‘Attestation’ of insurance (valid for French jurisdiction).

Clever people can solve problems; but wise people avoid them

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