Better safe than sorry

It’s impossible to avoid and you never know when you might need it so take care with your insurance, says Ian Blackshaw

Having completed an extension or a renovation of your French property, you will need to amend your house insurance, especially if you have added some extra rooms (pi�ces).

The cost of household insurance in France is based on the number of rooms you have, but, for this purpose, bathrooms and toilets don’t count.

You may wish to continue with the same insurance company or take this opportunity to change your insurance policy. In any case – like everything else in France – it is advisable to get two or three quotes (devis) to compare the terms and conditions, including premiums (primes).

Full-time residence

The representative of the insurance company or an independent insurance agent will need to visit your property to see what you have got and where you are located and to make a risk assessment, especially for fire if you have a wood-burning stove or a working fireplace. And do not forget that you will need to have your chimney swept every year and have a certificate from the chimney sweep (ramoneur). Otherwise, if you suffer any fire damage, your insurance policy against fire risk (incendie) will be invalid.

The representative or the agent will also want to know whether you live full-time at the property (r�sidence principale) or if the property is a holiday home (r�sidence secondaire). In the latter case, they will want to know how often you are there and how secure the property is when you are not there.

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For example, does a neighbour or a friend keep an eye on the place when you are away? Also, do you have an alarm system (alarme) and shutters (volets), which you are required to close firmly when you are away for more than 24 hours. Otherwise, again, your insurance cover against burglary (vol) will be invalid.

You will also need to cover the contents (meubles) of the property and state their total value, as well as asking for a comprehensive cover for the property and its contents (toutes risques). If you have a dog, you must cover the dog against public liability (responsabilit� civile) in case, for example, it escapes onto a road and causes an accident or attacks a person or another animal. Vets’ bills in France can be quite expensive.

You will need similar cover where the extension to your property is a g�te and strangers, in addition to members of your family and friends, stay there.

The household insurance quote will often be in two versions: one without an excess (sans franchise); and the other with an excess (avec franchise). Obviously, the first will be more expensive than the second but be careful with the quote for insurance without excess. This will be without any general excess (normally €130 per claim) and not all risks covered by the policy (police) will be free of excess – there will be some exceptions.

For example, storm damage (temp�te) and damage caused by flooding (d�g�ts des eaux) will be subject to an excess – as stated in the policy. Quite often, when you add things up and do a cost-benefit analysis, there is little to be gained from a so-called without excess’ policy.

Compare quotes

Having received and compared your quotes, you may decide to change your insurer (assureur). In that case, under French insurance law, you will need to give written notice – usually one month but check the notice period required in your policy – to terminate or not to renew when the insurance expires (�ch�ance).

This is normally 31 December and you will also need to give a reason; for example, an increase in the premium or the insurance has expired. This notice must be sent by recorded delivery post with certificate of posting, and receipt must be acknowledged by the insurer (lettre recommand�e avec avis de r�ception). These formalities must be followed to the letter.

A final point: do not forget to read the general terms and conditions of your household insurance policy – many French insurance companies will oblige by providing them in English.

Ian Blackshaw is an international lawyer