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Ownerless real estate and vacant successions


Since 2004, municipalities have been able to assume ownership of real estate presumed to be ownerless.

Taxes are no longer paid for this type of property.

  • What is ownerless real estate?

    • Ownerless real estate is vacant property whose owner is either unknown (no title deed registered with the land registry, no cadastral documentation), has disappeared or is dead.

    • Real estate of this type falls into two groups :
      - Ownerless property that forms part of a succession that was opened more than 30 years ago and in respect of which no heir has appeared: in such case, the property is incorporated in the property of the local authority, by law. If the local authority waives this right, ownership of the property is transferred to the state ;
      - Ownerless property that has no known owner and in respect of which land tax has not been paid for more than three years (or has been paid by a third party): in such case, the property is incorporated in the property of the local authority following a specific procedure.

  • Does this apply to assets included in vacant successions?

    • No. Local authorities may only acquire property when the owner has been dead for at least 30 years.

    • A succession is deemed to be vacant when:
      - the deceased has left no heir, nor any will naming a third party as beneficiary;
      - all the heirs have waived their rights in the succession;
      - the heirs have not exercised their right to accept or forgo a succession within a period of six months as from the opening of the succession.

    • In these circumstances, the deceased's estate is managed by the state, which takes responsibility for discharging the liabilities. Once this procedure is complete, the state inherits the deceased's assets and the succession is said to be vacant, provided no heir has appeared. The local authority may only attempt to take possession of a property that forms part of a vacant succession, which is known as ownerless real estate, 30 years after the death of the former owner.

  • Can the owners of a property claim it?

    • The procedure for the acquisition by a local authority of an asset that is presumed to be ownerless does not stop the real owner from claiming ownership of their property in order to have it returned to them. Any asset that is presumed to be ownerless will only be definitively acquired by the local authority after a period of 30 years (which corresponds to the limitation period for real estate transactions). Nevertheless, the return will be dependent upon the owner (or their assigns) paying the liabilities that have not been paid, along with the expenses incurred by the local authority that were necessary to conserve the property.

    • Exceptionally, the former owner will no longer be able to require the return of their property if it has been sold or converted for some other purpose, particularly in the general interest. In such case, the former owner will be entitled to receive compensation equal to the value of the property.

  • What is the procedure by which the local authority assumes ownership?

    • First of all an investigation will be conducted in order to check that the property that the local authority proposes to take possession of really is ownerless. Once this is complete, the local authority will have to determine the procedure to be followed in order to include the property with its own assets.

    • If the property is part of a death estate: no special formality is required. However, in order to avoid any difficulties at a later date, local authorities are advised to pass a resolution making a formal record of the acquisition.

    • If the owner of the property is not known, three legal instruments must be prepared:
      - a first decision by the Mayor recording that the conditions determining that the property is ownerless have been met;
      - a resolution by the municipal council (no more than six months after the first decision);
      - a decision recording that the asset has been included with the assets of the local authority. As this instrument will be definitive, it will be effective against any action brought after the expiry of the time limits within which to appeal the decision. However, the time limit within which to lodge an appeal will only begin to run when all the property registration formalities have been completed (particularly notification of the decision to the owner).
    • At the end of this procedure, if the property has been incorporated in the property of the local authority, the rules specific to land registration require the relevant documents to be filed at the land charges registry. Local authorities usually call upon their notaire to complete this formality

Do not hesitate to contact your notaire. These situations are often complex and very similar to each other. The various procedures require a detailed knowledge of succession law. Furthermore, your notaire will often be the only person who is fully cognisant with the material and legal situation of the property concerned. They will be able to advise you and guide you towards the appropriate solution.