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When you buy a house in France, the notaire will quite possibly have mentioned a servitude - ‘easement’ in English - that is due to your neighbour, or that is due to you. An easement is the right to use someone else’s property for a specified purpose. Perhaps you are in disagreement with a neighbour over a matter of easement or have read your deeds and not understood the paragraph entitled “servitudes”.

Easements are a very old obligation of French law. They were already in existence under the “Ancien Régime” and were brought into the civil code in 1804. Today they are recognised under articles 637 and 686 of the civil code, but also elsewhere in specific texts (the code de l’urbanisme, for example).

Definition

An easement or servitude is an obligation of one property owner towards a neighbouring property owner to do, or not do, something. One of the owners has a responsibility to the other owner, either for use, convenience or benefit of his land. An easement therefore implies that there are 2 different owners. If there is only one owner involved, then there is no easement.

Examples of servitudes:

There are many types of easement, but here are the most well-known:

  • Servitude de passage - Right of way. The right of one owner to cross another’s land.
  • Servitude de vue – Right of view. The civil code defines the minimum distance at which it is forbidden to have a view of your neighbour’s property from your own. This prohibits any building work that would create a line of sight into your neighbour’s property - most commonly a window, door or skylight, or a veranda, balcony or terrace. For direct views (i.e. looking straight ahead from the opening), the minimum distance is 1.9 m from the property boundary. For an oblique view (i.e. one which requires looking to the left or right out of the opening) the distance is 60 cm. In certain cases where these distances are not respected it is possible that a “right of view” exists which prevents the opening from having to be legally blocked up.
  • Servitude d’écoulement – Right of flow/drainage. This refers to the obligation to allow water to flow naturally into the neighbouring property, for example rivers and streams.
  • Servitude de puisage – Right to draw water. The authorisation given to a neighbour to draw water from a well etc on your property.
  • Servitude de distance des plantations – Right to plant. See my article in November's edition of The Bugle regarding minimum distance requirements when planting trees and shrubs etc near property boundaries.

Important

  • An easement applies to a property (referred to as an “immeuble” in French legal terminology), whether or not a building is present. A right of way, for example, can equally apply to a field.
  • An easement is attached to a property and not an owner, thus all future owners will be bound by the same agreement.
  • There are a number of easements imposed by law of general interest, for example relating to the distribution/connection of water, gas and electricity, and others established for the benefit of individuals, like the right of way between two properties.