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This is specific to France (and maybe other countries, but I doubt that there is any other with such a surrealistic legislation like ours)

In France, when someone breaks in to your house and stays there for more than 48 hours, the house becomes their permanent residence and you need to go through hoops to have them evicted (and god forbids if there are children or otherwise protected populations among the squatters). EDIT: the 48 hours always apply when you do not live in the house, and is often applied by the police forces in other cases (see the second link below)

Relevant information (in French):

  • a lawyer article summarizing the current (post 2018) state of the law:

  • a Le Figaro article which discusses the 48 hours delay:

A comment on another question where I brought this up asked whether me breaking into my own house and changing the locks makes me a squatter too. Can the squatters sue me for removing them the possibility to get back into "their" house?

I am interested in the scenario above, not one where you come in by force and throw them out. This is not a good idea, legally speaking, and all the articles about squatters specifically advise you against this.

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    Interesting question. I have no idea what the answer is but look forward to seeing it in an answer from someone. U.S. law on the topic is not consistent in all jurisdictions.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Jan 12, 2022 at 17:45
  • Can you clarify "when someone breaks into your house…" please? To claim squatters rights here in the UK, you would need to find a door or window open; breaking in would rule you out. Can you also clarify "the house becomes their permanent residence", if you first drop "permanent" and then "residence"? That is, which part of French law says that the house becomes theirs, residence or not, permanent or not? Commented Aug 26, 2022 at 21:35
  • @RobbieGoodwin: a squatter becomes a squatter when they are in your house - it does not matter how they got in there. This includes breaking in. As for "permanent residence" - this is the primary place they live in, which is particularly protected (as opposed to a secondary residence for instance). It means that they can hardly be thrown away without a replacement. The law is very slowly changing from the insanity we currently have, but if for instance the squatter has a baby/young kid you are royally screwed.
    – WoJ
    Commented Aug 26, 2022 at 21:51

1 Answer 1

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This answer uses the term "squatter" to refer to someone who broke in a home or otherwise entered with no legal title whatsoever. Inhabitants that entered legally but stayed illegally (such as a tenant that failed to pay rent, or a tenant’s relative staying against the will of the tenant and/or landlord) will be deemed "overstayers". The distinction has some teeth in French law.

Changing locks is illegal

A quick online search turns up multiple sources such as this one that claim a landlord changing locks in a rented house is guilty of home violation (CP, art. 226-4, cited and discussed below). I am not entirely sure that is correct without reference to a court case on that point, but assuming it is, it applies to squatters as well: the statute refers to inhabitants, which includes overstayers and squatters (as well as legal tenants).

That’s it for the question asked, but the post also covers other aspects which are worth covering.

"48 hours" does not exist; flagrance does

As a very general rule, the police is allowed to do more things than usual when acting "on hot pursuit" of a recent or still-occurring suspected criminal activity. That is an exception to general principles, justified by the need to prevent irreversible harm and/or undue difficulties in the collection of evidence. Similar exceptions exist in other countries.

The exact definition of flagrance is in CPP, article 53. It is limited to eight days (which is more than 48h), but that is an upper bound on the duration of the enquête de flagrance ("hot-pursuit" inquiry).

It is possible that police (either in general, or in certain cities) are under orders to not pursue flagrance inquiries beyond 48h, either as an expense-cutting measure or because prosecutors have found it hard to justify late-start flagrance procedures in court. Similarly, police might be under orders to not pursue squatting cases with zeal when the landlord does not live in the squatted home, because that is considered a less urgent case.

I assume, but have not searched the jurisprudence hard enough to be sure, that it is legal for police to remove the occupiers and their stuff from the premises during an enquête de flagrance. (There is little doubt that the occupiers can be taken to the police station, but it is less clear to me that removing their belongings is justified by the necessity of the enquiry and/or prevention of further crimes.)

Criminal statute for squatters

The basis for criminal prosecution of squatters is CP, art. 226-4:

L'introduction dans le domicile d'autrui à l'aide de manoeuvres, menaces, voies de fait ou contrainte, hors les cas où la loi le permet, est puni d'un an d'emprisonnement et de 15 000 euros d'amende.

Le maintien dans le domicile d'autrui à la suite de l'introduction mentionnée au premier alinéa, hors les cas où la loi le permet, est puni des mêmes peines.

Entering into another’s home thanks to maneuvers, threats, acts of violence or coercion, except when allowed by law, is punished by one year of prison (...).

Remaining in another’s home, following the entry described in the previous paragraph, except when allowed by law, is punished similarly.

Evicting squatters based on flagrance

The enquête de flagrance is only allowed for crimes carrying a penalty of at least one year of prison. We’re in luck, that’s the penalty of CP 226-4.

The second paragraph was added with the specific purpose of allowing the flagrance procedure to apply past the short delay after entry (link to the parliamentary file), by making remaining in the home a continuous violation.

Administrative eviction

An administrative eviction procedure is possible since 2007, under these conditions.

That procedure is rather quick (24h notice to occupiers) but it requires the support of the préfet, and is therefore limited by the availability of law enforcement resources, how clear-cut the case is, etc. (Yes, the law says "le préfet doit..." (the prefect must...), but there is no real recourse against him/her not doing it.)

Standard eviction

The standard procedure is indeed relatively long. Here is the relevant section of the Code des procédures civiles d'exécution. It requires a court order, then a 2-month notice period for overstayers (not for squatters), then police intervention. Furthermore, the two-month delay can be extended by up to three months "due to the time of the year or atmospheric circumstances" (in practice, during winter).

The 2-month period for overstayers, and its winter extension, is obviously a political compromise between avoiding to kick out families into misery and enforcing property rights. However, securing a court order before that often costs much additional delay.

Civil claims

The landlord may pursue monetary claims against the occupiers on various grounds (lost rent, the costs of going through the expulsion procedure, damage to the home etc.). While they will most likely succeed at court, squatters are usually not the sort of people with large financial resources; such procedures are usually not worth it.

Some political commentary

...which I will indulge in, because neither Le Figaro nor their leftist counterparts usually present the legal situation honestly.

One should definitely separate the discussion of squatters and overstayers and not lump them together. Whether the two-month protection for overstayers is "surrealistic" is in the eye of the beholder. I would certainly find it reasonable to modify that delay to be up to two months, left to the judge’s discretion depending on the particular situation. One could also argue that no-fault evictions (i.e. a landlord wants to stop renting, without fault from the renter) are too hard in France (but that’s not really relevant to the squatter case).

Needing a court order to evict someone is certainly not a French peculiarity. I would argue that some judicial process with a contradictory debate is a necessary protection against undue evictions. The time it takes to secure a court order is a legitimate problem, but that is due to the abysmally-low justice budget, not a problem of overbearing legislation.

Similarly, police not vigorously pursuing squatting cases is not due to legal barriers (as explained above, the flagrance procedure is available without time limit since 2014), but to underfunding and/or a choice of enforcement priorities.

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  • Thank you for the extended answer. As for the political commentary: it is certainly the ethics of a country to prefer the misery of squatters to the misery of someone coming back home from vacation and seeing their house occupied. I have no doubts that the squatters should be forced to leave on the spot and immediately arrested. This is exactly like a burglary. Another perspective is the misery of squatters vs the misery of someone whose income is based on renting. I am sure that the defendants of that law would not be happy if I came in and saccaged their home in the name of solidarity.
    – WoJ
    Commented Dec 10, 2022 at 9:24
  • @WoJ your scenario describes squatters, who have no legal protection (unlike overstayers). What protects squatters is the lack of funding for the justice and police system. When and if you write to your MP, make sure to clearly ask for enforcement resources, not a new law.
    – KFK
    Commented Dec 12, 2022 at 9:12
  • When and if you write to your MP, make sure to clearly ask for enforcement resources, not a new law the problem is that the existing law does not protect the owners enough (+ the lack of resources you mention are there too). A squatter is not assimilated to a burglar, though they do exactly the same thing. A burglar is arrested on the spot - a squatter is given days to move (if of course this is not winter, they do not have children and whatnot)
    – WoJ
    Commented Dec 12, 2022 at 9:26

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