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What you need to know about French holiday property insurance

France has its own rules when it comes to insurance. Therefore, if you are insuring a French holiday property, never assume that the same terms and conditions apply as in the UK or in any other country.

Insurance in France has many unique characteristics and rules. It can be a bit of a minefield if you aren't familiar with it, particularly if you are dealing with documents in French when you are not fluent in the language. Even if your French is perfectly adequate for day-to-day life in France, the small print in French insurance policies can present a challenge.

Understanding French property insurance terms can also be a complex task even when the policy in English. Unfamiliar laws and unexpected exclusions can further complicate the process.

However, it is very important that you understand the product you are purchasing to ensure that your property is adequately covered and that you are complying with all the terms and conditions. Always check the small print as not all French policies are the same.

Consider whether or not you want to use a French company for your insurance needs. Although they can work out cheaper, cover provided by French policies tend to include an array of terms in the small print which can leave you uninsured if you are not very careful.

What information will you need to supply to the insurance company?

A vital element in assessing the annual premium of your French property insurance is its dimensions. Therefore, if you are using a French insurer, you will be required to supply accurate measurements (usually in square metres) of every room in your property.

You will likely need to supply the dimensions of any cellars, attics, unconverted rooms and outbuildings.

The insurance company will also want to know the age of your property and how often it is likely to be left unoccupied. You will need to state whether you have an alarm system and/or smoke detectors and whether you have a conservatory. (If you have a conservatory, the door from the conservatory to the rest of the property is likely to be regarded as an external door and will probably be required to have shutters or bars if you wish to be covered by contents insurance.)

You will be asked whether you want specific cover for such options as electrical damage and for food contained in freezers.

Long term rentals

If, historically, you have only let your property to holidaymakers but decide to rent on a long-term basis, it will be necessary for you to review your insurance policy. Both you, as the owner, and the tenant will need to have specific policies that cover the property.

Be aware that laws in France are different to the UK and make sure you are familiar with your rights and obligations before you go ahead. French law is strongly pro-tenant. For example, a landlord in France is forbidden from evicting tenants during the winter months, even for non-payment of rent.

You also need to bear in mind that French property insurance companies do not cover damage by tenants or guests.

How to cancel an existing French property insurance policy

What do you need to do if you want to change insurance companies? Many overseas property owners believe they can cancel a French property insurance policy at their discretion. This is not the case - there is a particular process that must be followed. If you neglect to follow this process, you will find you have to wait another year before you get another chance.

In France, you can only cancel a policy from the renewal date and there are two ways to do it;

  1. By registered letter 2 months or more prior to the renewal date stating that cancellation is required from the renewal.
  2. If this window of opportunity is missed, a second chance is possible under the Loi Chatel. This is, again, by registered letter, requesting cancellation from renewal. However, it must be sent within 20 days of the postmark on the envelope delivering the renewal demand.

Is your property left unoccupied for long periods of time?

If your property is left unoccupied, perhaps during the winter months, make sure you check the policy you are considering. Some policies do allow for some non occupancy subject to terms.

Tips on the insurance and protection of your property

  1. Find out if your insurance policy requires that your property's shutters are required to be closed when guests vacate your property. Very likely, it will.
  2. Consider buying an alarm for your property.
  3. Turn off the electricity when your property is vacant for any length of time. Power cuts are very common in France, particularly during thunderstorms, and appliances may not switch themselves back on again.
  4. If you are planning on turning off your electricity, make sure your security alarm is on a separate circuit.
  5. If your property is going to be empty for a period of time, ask somebody to sort your post or get it diverted. A full post box advertises that the property is empty.
  6. Bear in mind that escape of water damage (caused by burst pipes) claims are often excluded when holiday homes are unoccupied. Check the small print of your policy and make sure you comply with any requirements. (Such as leaving the heating/radiators on a low setting.)
  7. Make sure you comply with your insurer's requirement regarding theft cover. For example, you may be required to have certain locks, or double locks and bolts, on your external doors.
  8. Home insurance sourced in France often doesn't protect holiday home owners when holiday letting. Accidental damage and public liability insurance is excluded. If you use a French insurance company, you will need to pay special attention to the need for security deposits. (See below for more information.)
  9. There are tight deadlines to submit storm and flood insurance claims in France.
  10. Check whether your insurance policy insists on shutters.

What does holiday home buildings insurance cover?

It is important that property owners understand what holiday home buildings insurance covers as confusion can lead to homes being under insured.

If you have a mortgage on your property, the lender will insist you take out buildings insurance. If you own your property outright, then buildings insurance is not compulsory. However, being uninsured is a foolhardy risk.

Buildings insurance covers the structure of the building, such as walls, windows and roof and usually also includes outbuildings, garages, fixed oil tanks, swimming pools, tennis courts, garden sheds, drives, patios and gates and fences.

If something can reasonably be removed and taken to another home, it means that is is likely classed as 'contents' and it will not be covered by buildings insurance.

What risks does French holiday property buildings insurance cover?

Buildings insurance typically covers the cost of rebuilding or repairing damage to your holiday home (other than that arising through wear and tear) against a number of specified perils.

These perils include fire, flood, subsidence, earthquake, storms, lightning, theft (or attempted theft) involving forced entry, vandalism, escape of water or oil and damage caused by falling trees.

Will insurance protect my buildings against every disaster?

Not necessarily. Also remember that not all holiday home policies provide similar levels of cover. Protect yourself and your property by checking your policy wording carefully to understand what is covered and, very importantly, what is not.

Be sure to check the terms and conditions relating to periods when your holiday home is left vacant, paying particular attention to any heating and security warranties that could leave you uninsured for burst pipes.

Buildings policies often only cover subsidence damage to the house itself. Patios, garden walls, driveways and swimming pools may well not be covered. Gates and fences may also not be covered for storm damage.

What does holiday home contents insurance cover?

There is no legal obligation to take out holiday home contents insurance. However, it could be false economy not to insure your contents. Imagine what would happen if your property was flooded?

What exactly are contents?

Content scover applies to everything you would take with you if you moved house such as furniture, household goods, electrical equipment, curtains and garden furniture.

Carpets tend to be treated as ‘contents’, even though they are usually fitted.

What risks does holiday home contents insurance cover?

As well as the perils that are covered by buildings insurance, contents cover will pay out if your belongings are damaged by fire, flooding, escape of water, storm or if they are stolen by burglars.

Most contents policies will also allow you to include accidental damage. However, if your property is used for holiday letting, check that your accidental damage cover extends to tenants. Policies from French companies do not. (See below.)

Some insurance companies offer two types of contents policy - new-for-old policies, (sometimes referred to as ‘replacement as new’) and wear-and-tear policies (also known as 'indemnity'). In the first case, the insurer pays the cost of repairing damaged items or replaces them with equivalent new items. Under a wear-and-tear policy, the insurer replaces or repairs the items but with a reduction for wear, tear and depreciation.

A wear-and-tear policy will likely be cheaper but will leave you worse off if you have a large claim and have to replace everything as new.

Holiday property owners beware

Holiday homes are, naturally, viewed as a high risk by insurers and many impose exclusions in the small print which can invalidate cover. Most French insurers will decline theft claims unless there are signs of forced entry – in other words, theft or damage by guests or tenants is not covered.

Many insurers will also exclude escape of water damage cover when the holiday home is unoccupied for more than a certain number of days. Many stipulate that just 30 days of non occupation will invalidate cover.

There is also likely to be a limit on how much you can claim for specific items.

Warning on French insurance chimney sweeping clause

One important issue that many French holiday property owners are unaware of is the requirement of some French insurance policies to have chimneys swept annually.

If you fail to do this, you face the risk of being uninsured for damage following a chimney fire.To provide proof that your chimneys have been swept, you must obtain a valid 'Certificat de Ramonage' from your chimney sweep each year, as it is likely that the terms of your policy will require you to produce it in the event of a fire.

Although you can sweep your chimneys yourself, this is unlikely to be accepted by some insurers.

Public liability insurance for holiday lets

Do not assume that, just because you inform your insurance company that you do holiday lets, that your policy automatically includes public liability insurance. Always check to make sure.

If an insurance policy does not provide public liability insurance, then it is likely that accidental damage by guests, loss of rental income, employer’s liability insurance and provision of alternative accommodation are also not covered.

These are all features that a specialist holiday let policy can provide but this is where things can become rather complicated if, as many French property owners do, you use a French insurance company but let to UK holidaymakers.

This is why.....

If you are an owner of a French holiday rental or gite and are insured via a French insurer, it is likely that you are uninsured for liability claims against you and damage or theft by guests.

This is because residents in France are required to have their own public liability insurance – Assurance Responsibilite Civile – which is usually included in general home insurance or available as an add-on. This covers the person if they damage another person's house in France. Thus the owner of the damaged home claims on the individual's insurance, not on their own, as French rental insurance does not cover damage caused by guests.

This is why many French holiday let owners ask for proof of insurance from guests, a standard practice in France.

Problems arise, however, if the holiday guest is from the UK because it is likely that they will not have such liability insurance. It is very difficult for a person based in the UK to get cover specifically designed to cover their liability for a house they are renting in France. Therefore, if you want to rent to visitors from the UK and ask for such insurance as a condition, you are very likely to lose out on bookings.

If the renter has a travel or a home insurance policy, this may include public liability insurance for damage to third party property. However, this is no substitute for a property owner having comprehensive home insurance that covers their own property and heir guests.

French holiday rental insurance tends to assume that all visitors will be French and that damage by guests will be covered by the renter's own insurance.

However, if your French rental insurance doesn’t cover guests and if UK guests don’t have insurance, then you will have a very serious problem if they accidentally burn down your holiday home. You will be uninsured!

If such a situation occurred, you, as the property owner, would have no alternative but to pursue the renters through the courts, at your own cost and with no guarantee of success.

The same applies if a claim is made against you by somebody injured on your property. A liability claim against you can total hundreds of thousands of pounds, if not millions.

The solution, therefore, is to protect yourself and your property by taking out a specialist French holiday let insurance policy. These can be obtained from companies within the UK.

Making a claim

Do you need receipts for your belongings to make a contents claim?

The short answer to this question is, ideally, yes, although you may not find out for sure until you need to make your first claim.

We all know that, in the real world, we cannot always put out hands on receipts for every single item we possess, especially if they were purchased years ago.

However, claims can be, and often are, turned down if receipts cannot be produced for lost or damaged items. Some insurers refuse to process claims unless proof of ownership is provided. It is not difficult to see both sides of the argument here. Whilst this issue can be impractical for the home owner, a recent survey revealed that almost half of the people questioned felt it was acceptable to submit a receipt belonging to someone else in order to make a claim. Insurance fraud is a problem that affects us all and leads to an increase in premiums.

In the event that you have a claim, your insurer is likely to ask for proof of purchase or supporting evidence of ownership. This varies and can include receipts, credit card statements or even, sometimes, the box or instruction manual.

If you already know that you will not be able to produce all such relevant evidence, take photos of all your belongings. This will not guarantee a pay-out – that will depend on your insurance company and how strict they are.

Ideally you should store receipts away from your home so that, if you have a fire, they will be safe. Scan or photocopy receipts as most till receipts fade in time.

Any evidence you can provide will boost your claim’s credibility.

One advantage of choosing a UK rather than a foreign-based holiday home insurer is that the industry is highly regulated and you have the benefit of the Financial Ombudsman Service in the event of a dispute with your insurer.

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