I’m sure you’ll understand why I’m about to share a story with you. It’s the story of a family who live in my village and who have been living out a nightmare which I’m hoping to share for several reasons. Firstly, I’m hoping that someone out there has some experience and knows what to do in cases like this. Perhaps somebody can offer legal advice, or share this story further. If you can help, please do. Secondly, I wanted to share it as a cautionary tale.
Essentially, the Bécourt family bought a house six years ago. It was all above board and things went fine. Then they had a visit from a bailiff looking to collect upon a debt from the former house-owner. It was a 26,000€ debt.
Now you wouldn’t think that you could be held responsible for somebody else’s debts, but both the civil court in Angouleme and the appeal court in Bordeaux have agreed that the house should be auctioned to pay off the former owner’s debt. She was in compulsory liquidation when she signed the house over. She should have declared this. She didn’t. As a result, the debt has passed on to the Bécourt family, who are about to have their house auctioned from beneath them.
I’d read the story in the Charente Libre last April and when one of my lovely neighbours had asked me if I could translate the story and pass it among the English-speaking community, how could I do anything but that?
Nobody, but nobody, would think that a mum at the school gate was about to be evicted from the house she legally owns and has paid for because of somebody else’s debts. And nobody would want that to happen to their friend, their family, their neighbour.
Here’s what they say:
“It’s very difficult for us to write to you today but we no longer have any other options and we really hope that someone can come to our aid.
Here’s our situation:
We are going to lose the house that we bought, completely legally, six years ago in the Charente We are going to be removed from our home, which has infuriated us because it’s a situation that is completely out of our control.
All of this has happened to us because of debts on the house under the original seller’s name. The seller omitted to tell us when we bought the house that she was subject to a compulsory liquidation fourteen years before the sale of the house. Today, the liquidator wants to sell the house in order to reclaim the debts owed by the previous owner, despite us having bought it and living here. We have already lost once at the Tribunal de Grande Instance (the civil court) and once at appeal, and unfortunately since then, nobody has been able to offer us any help.
It’s become more and more urgent because the house has been put up for sale against our wishes and our whole family, including our children, will be made homeless when this happens.
We need legal help and publicity, and we hope that thanks to your social networks, financial aid or donations, we might be able to fight our corner. Unbelievable as the situation is, if we want to save our house and save ourselves from eviction, we need to pay the debts of the previous owner. If you could please pass on this message to your close friends, family, colleagues, acquaintances and anyone you think might be interested or be able to help, we would be eternally grateful. We want this message to be read by as many people as possible in France, even abroad, because it’s shameful that this is happening to us.
We wouldn’t wish anybody to be in our situation, but if anybody else is or has been, together we might be able to make things move forward more quickly.
Thank you to everyone who reads this; we really need you.”
Not only this, but it made me wonder how it is somebody can be held responsible for someone else’s debts. Inheritance and property is a complicated matter in France. I have already signed the paperwork to say that should my business go bankrupt, my house is safe, which shows you what part of the problem is. Your home is considered part of your assets as a business, especially for certain business types. So it’s legal for debt collectors or liquidators to seize it as part of the estate, then to auction it off.
You would think that the notaire would have been aware of this, and while I’m astounded that somebody would lie about their financial situation, I would have thought it was the notaire’s duty to find out if any debts were due on the property and to sort those out before the sale. Surely, any debts connected to the property should cease when the property changes hands? Or so you would think. Unfortunately, the notaire must purge the debts on the property and because the liquidators had put the file on the back-burner and done nothing with it from 1992-2005, the notaire wasn’t even aware of the debt.
So should the liquidators chase up a debt from 1992 on a property that no longer belongs to the debtor, when they did nothing for 13 years?
Should the notaire be held accountable because he didn’t discover these debts before the Acte de Vente?
How is it that the original debtor, who laughed in Sébastien Bécourt’s face when he contacted her, is no longer responsible, despite the fact it is her debt, her lies and her dishonesty that have caused this mess?
I don’t know.
But the courts decided that the liquidators had the right to chase the debt despite the sale of the house to an unconnected party, and the people affected by this debt from the early 1990s are the Bécourts, a career soldier, his childminder wife and their two children, who attend our local school.
It’s incredible and ludicrous, but surely someone out there knows someone who can bring this to the right people’s attention?
And if not, if you are buying a house, make sure your notaire has done his due diligence!