For adverse possession to be successful under French Law, there must be unequivocal possession.
The below legal matters were considered by the Court of Cassation (High Court) in a recent decision (Cass. 3ème Civ. 10th of September 2020, n°18-23.448). There is a basic principle in French law, according to which, ownership is transmitted by contract, through an exchange of consent (principally as to the property and the price).
In France, the intervention of a Public Notary has become a condition for the transfer of ownership to be enforceable against third parties by ensuring that it is done publicly. In France, there are different ways of acquiring ownership of real estate, but here Property Law in France considers the possibility of acquiring so-called squatter’s rights.
Property Law in France: Adverse Possession
The French Civil Code provides that: "The limitation period required to acquire ownership of real estate is thirty years. However, a person who acquires real property in good faith and by rightful title is entitled to ownership after ten years" (art. 2272).
This means that a person who legitimately believes he is the owner is the owner after a period of ten years. Good faith therefore plays a very important role in the acquisition of ownership and “it is only necessary that good faith existed at the time of the acquisition” (art 2275). Good faith does not prevent the acquisition of property but reduces the period of limitation.
Other conditions are nevertheless required to allow this acquisition of ownership and the Court of Cassation, in the above-mentioned judgment, recalls all these conditions. To get the ownership after ten or thirty years, possession must be:
- continuous and uninterrupted
- peaceful (not acquired by violence)
- unequivocal /undisputed
- as owner.
Indeed, in order to acquire property by adverse possession, it is necessary to have animus (the intention of the possessor to behave as an owner) and corpus (the fact that the thing appears to all to be owned).
The absence of ambiguity is deduced from the adverse possessor's intention to become the owner. In this case, the persons claiming ownership of the disputed plots had not paid the property tax, had not produced the declarations of areas dedicated to equestrian exploitation, had included the land claimed in plots separately acquired and had tried to reach an amicable agreement with the defendants on a project that remained unclear, so that their possession as owners was equivocal.
As a result, the Court of Cassation rightly held that they could not acquire by usucapio (acquisitive prescription).