Contracts in France

Reading the small print may seem like a chore now, but it could save you time and money in the long run, explains Mary Hall...

We're always told to read the tedious small print on every contract we sign, from car rental to gym membership, but how many of us really pay attention, or query something which niggles us? What’s more, if a short, simply worded contract looks okay, we tend to sign it without asking for elaboration. In either case, disputes can cause hassle, worry and money.A typical proposal to build an in-ground swimming pool illustrates some of the common issues. Let's assume you get quotes for the same size and shape of liner pool from three specialists. You want to compare the price, but to do this you need to find out what is/isn't included in each of the contracts.The first and most obvious question, which does nevertheless sometimes get overlooked, is whether digging the hole and building the pool structure are included. Some firms only supply pool equipment; they don't get involved in the basic construction. Note that where more than one contractor is involved, responsibility for any defects may be disputed, so you may prefer an 'all in' contract. What about housing the filtration equipment: is there an existing suitable building, and has the contractor agreed to use it, or are you to build a shed, or what? Think now, otherwise there will be a lastminute panic.Options to be priced up and considered include:• Choice of filtration system • Choice of purification system• Liner quality, colour and pattern • Underwater lights • Margelles (coping stones) and pool terrace • Poolside shower and lights • Pool security: alarm, cover, fence or shelterThat's a lot to think about, and, meanwhile, don't forget to submit the d�claration pr�alable (planning papers). And by the way, you should have told them if the pool was for shared use rather than for your own private use, as different rules apply to public pools. Yes, a pool shared by you and your holidaymakers or shared by several g�tes is classed as a public pool.Later, you have an annual contract with a guy to open, service your pool for five months and close it, and the price includes chemicals and TVA. Your pump fails, and the pool man sends you a quote from a French supplier for a 'like for like’ pump. You find a cheaper version in the UK, which you bring out and ask him to fit. It's not a simple job; the connections are different and the pipework needs altering and it takes him five hours, which he bills you for as an additional item. You think he should do it as part of the contract, he says no, he would have fitted the like for like’ in half an hour as part of the contract, but not this one and it's not his fault this took so long. Who's right? He concedes that yes, in retrospect he should have warned you about potential additional cost, but he didn't know there was a problem until he had unpacked it and started the job, and once begun, he had to finish it. How does your garden grow?Another chap has a gardening contract with you – no hours specified, it just refers to 'tonte et entretien � l'ann�e' (mowing and maintenance for the year). But you met the guy, agreed when best to prune the hedges, explained that you wanted the ivy kept out of the gutters and the driveway to be weed-killed regularly. All seemed tickety-boo then when you arrive, you can't open the gate for thistles and he's only mowed half the garden, the rest is out of control. He turns up the next day asking for half the contract fee for what you see as three months of shoddy work. Many arguments and several lawyers later agreement is reached. Another time he'll write a better contract, and you'll get everything down in writing.Build me up, buttercupExtras on a building contract are always a potential source of conflict, and renovation projects throw up more issues than straightforward new builds especially if the client doesn't live nearby. If uncovering a stone fireplace reveals major structural problems, you'd expect the builder to tell you and to explain and cost out the works required, but he may have to act quickly when you are unobtainable. A sensible chap will grab a camera, itemise what he does, and produce copies of bills for any additional materials he has had to buy. Smaller problems are not always easy to categorise into 'included within the contract' or 'essential extra', and this is where having an onsite independent local agent who can inspect problems and take decisions on your behalf can help. If you do have someone acting for you, choose carefully: there are some unscrupulous people around who work with the builder to cheat clients through hiding shoddy work and by using lowerquality materials than specified.Let it beTerms and conditions of holiday rental property are another matter which need careful attention, whether you are the owner or the prospective holidaymaker. You can find standard holiday letting contracts on the internet or, if you advertise with a holiday directory, they may offer you a contract to use.If you let your home to a holiday company which then rents it out, you will have to meet their terms regarding the condition of your property, and the level of equipment supplied. Check what support they offer you, as owner, and to their guests. If your house is rendered uninhabitable after a storm for example, whose responsibility is it to rehouse the guests, and at whose cost? Absentee owners should make sure their contract with their caretakers clearly defines their general duties, and also the scope of their involvement with the holiday company and their guests.Mary Hall is a chartered surveyorTel: 0033 (0) 565 246 646