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Joint ownership of party walls, etc.

Joint ownership can be defined as a regime of forced co- ownership of dividing barriers such as walls, hedges and ditches.

These are not easements but genuine rights of ownership held in common by two people.

  • What is joint ownership ?

    • A party wall is a wall owned jointly by two neighbours. This does not mean that each neighbour owns their half of the wall ­up to the middle; the wall is their common property, they are its co-owners. The term forced co-ownership is used because the state of joint ownership is perpetual in theory.

    • When two neighbouring landowners decide to share the cost of building a barrier along the dividing line between their holdings, this is described as a party wall. The very existence of the party wall is the result of an amicable agreement.

    • It is also possible to purchase the joint ownership of an existing barrier on your land. Purchasing joint ownership constitutes a transfer of ownership and requires the drawing-up of a survey document and a notarised instrument drawn up by your notaire. Such purchases effectively move the dividing line between the properties because half the strip on which the wall stands now belongs to each neighbour. The buyer has to pay half the cost of the wall and half the value of the land on which it stands.

    • The joint ownership scheme does not apply to walls that are public property. Only walls that are the private property of a community or the State can be jointly owned .

  • How is joint ownership established?

    • Joint ownership can be established as follows (in descending order of precedence):

    • Acquisitive prescription : if you construct a building leaning against your neighbour's wall and your neighbour lets it stand for thirty years without complaining, this gives you joint ownership of the section of wall used.
    • Instrument of title: it is the notarised instrument which will state whether the barrier is privately or jointly owned, but if the instrument of title has not been signed by both neighbours, it only constitutes a presumption on which a judge must rule.
    • Signs that walls are not jointly owned (Art. 654 of the French Civil Code): in rare cases when the top of a wall slopes or has corbels on one side only, the wall is presumed to belong to a single owner, namely the owner of the side of the wall to which the slope faces or to which the corbel is attached.
    • Presumptions of joint ownership of walls (Articles 653 and 666 of the French Civil Code)
  • Rights of joint ownership co-owners:

    • Both neighbours are entitled, with the other owner's permission or if authorised by an expert, to construct buildings that lean against the wall and drive beams into it.

    • Each owner may also train plants up the wall provided they do not grow over the top of the wall.

    • Each owner may rent out the surface of the wall that gives onto its land for advertising purposes without consulting its neighbour and without being obliged to share any profits.

    • No openings such as doors or windows may be made in a party wall without the neighbour's permission.

    • Any co-owner may heighten an existing party wall. In this situation the owner carrying out the work is solely liable for the costs because the heightened section is its sole property. If the party wall is unable to stand the additional weight of being raised, the party who wishes to heighten it must rebuild the entire wall at its own expense.

  • Obligations laid on joint ownership co-owners:

    • Both neighbours must contribute equally to the cost of maintaining, repairing and rebuilding a party wall.

    • This rule is, however, waived when work becomes necessary through actions performed by only one of the owners; for example, an owner who demolishes a building must pay for a remaining party wall to be waterproofed if it is left unprotected against bad weather.