Squatted properties: the laws

What is squatting?

Squatting means the occupation of a place meant for residing in, in which one or more persons effect entry, most frequently by breaking and entering (breaking a door or a shutter, etc.). Squatters therefore illegally occupy an empty house or premises, even the home of a citizen against his will. It concerns occupants without right or title.

Squatting refers to the offence of trespassing under Article 226-4 of the Criminal Code.

A squatted property places the owner in a very complex situation. Squatting places two fundamental rights in opposition to each other: the right to property and the right to lodging.

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Right to property

The right to property is an unalienable right, incorporated in the Declaration of the rights of man and the citizen. It is the right to enjoy the use of and possess things in the most absolute manner (article 544 of the French Civil Code).

As defined by the French Civil code (article 102), the home represents the place where the person has his main establishment. Therefore, a person can only have one home. This concerns the primary residence, the address with which the person is officially associated. All other built immovable properties (apartments, houses, commercial, business or industrial premises, etc.) are considered secondary residences.

Article 226-4 of the French Penal Code  provides for and penalises the illicit occupation of another’s home. The act of effecting entry or of staying in another’s home using manipulation, threats, assault or coercion is punished by the sentence of one year of imprisonment and a fine of 15,000 euros.

Right to lodging

The right to lodging is a constitutional right. This right is reaffirmed by the Besson law of 31 May 1990: “Guaranteeing the right to lodging constitutes a duty of solidarity for the whole nation.”

By contrast, in its case law, the Court of Cassation (criminal division, 22 January 1997, 95-81.186)  rules that even when squatters effect entry into an apartment by breaking and entering, they do not commit home invasion if the apartment is unfurnished, whether this is because the building has just been finished, or because it is in between two leases, or because the building is intended for demolition. A vacant and unoccupied house cannot be considered a home.

In fact, Article 226-4 of the French Penal Code does not aim to guarantee the immovable property from usurpation, but to protect the home as the factor enclosing and protecting a space of privacy.

In case of a squatted house, the judgment relies in the first instance on the legal concept of the home.
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The administrative appeal

The administrative route consists of asking the prefect to give notice to the occupant to leave the property. This is known as the administrative eviction procedure or the accelerated forced eviction procedure.

The law n°2020-1525 of 7 December 2020 on the acceleration and simplification of public action, known as the ASAP law, contains new provisions designed to facilitate the eviction of squatters. The system was clarified by an application circular of 22 January 2021.

To facilitate its implementation, since 1 February 2022 the owners concerned, or their assignees, may be assisted by a bailiff (now called a commissioner of justice).

The procedure for accelerated evacuation of a dwelling by administrative decision, aimed at obtaining the eviction of an occupant without right or title, is based on article 38 of the DALO law.

The implementation of this procedure requires two cumulative conditions to be met:

  • on the one hand, breaking into another person’s home by means of manoeuvres, threats, assault or coercion;
  • on the other hand, keeping the premises after unlawful entry.

Legal recourse

You have not been able to gather the evidence required to lodge a complaint or the prefect has refused your request: you will have to resort to legal action to try to obtain the eviction of the illegal occupants of your property and/or obtain an order to pay compensation for the occupation of the premises.

This is a legal decision that will allow the use of the police to forcibly evict the squatters. This solution is obviously to be preferred to eviction by your own means, which is punishable by three years’ imprisonment and a fine of 30,000 euros (article 226-4-2 of the Criminal Code). Indeed, no one is allowed to take the law into their own hands. Squatters may also be dangerous and armed.

Moreover, surprising as it may seem, the occupants of your squatted residence may even bring a complaint against you! This is the case if there is violence for example, the squatters can file a complaint for trespassing and you will incur a heavier criminal sanction than even the occupants.

It is therefore very important to follow the procedures to legally evict the occupants of your home.