Squatters! On 20 August, a retired couple arrived at their second home in Théoule to discover that squatters occupied the premises and even changed the locks. Since then, events have not ceased to be surprising, causing outrage over French habitation laws. Unable to evict the occupants without a civil court order and knowing that a landlord who evicts squatters risks three years of prison and a fine of 30,000 euros, the 75 years old couple had to return to Lyon.
Three weeks ago, Marie-Thérèse and Henri Kaloustian, the owners of a house in Théoule-sur-mer, discovered that locks were changed and squatters now occupied their holiday home. These squatters, consisting of a couple with their two children, were not forgotten tenants; they had broken into the house and took up residence there. Yet, to the homeowners and the surrounding villagers’ shock, even if the occupancy is illegal, the choice to evict them is impossible without a judge's intervention, which doesn't usually occur automatically. Disappointed by the lax in the legislation regarding evictions, the couple will have to wait until 2.30 pm on 27 October when the court hearing will occur.
The family who had taken up residence in the Kaloustian's home is being defended by Emilie Bender. As a foreigner's law specialist, she has described her client's situation as a "social distress." The husband, Abdellah Z, explained that his occupancy resulted from a meeting with a stranger who had given him the keys to the house and had told him the home was unoccupied. He also argued that he was not responsible for the damages done to the premises. This fact is relevant as in France, home invasions are considered an offence when characterised by: "the introduction into the premises through manoeuvres, threats, assault or coercion."
Since then, the events evolved with a shocking turning point: the squatter's wife had left the house due to conjugal violence suspicions and was escorted to a safe hostel in Nice. The husband, as a result, was taken into custody. However, the wife was surprised to hear that the keys were now in the police’s hands. She had all the intentions to return to the house until the court decision had been taken. Being pregnant and with two children, she explained that she saw no other solutions for her family's safety, despite claiming to understand the owner’s situation.
This situation seems almost unthinkable. Yet, these misadventures are not that uncommon, with dozens of similar occurrences happening every year in France. Witnesses of the Kaloustian's situation have commented on their hopes that this would stimulate a change in the legislation. After all, even when the owners return, they worry about how their home was maintained.
Henri Kaloustian told Nice-Matin: "They told me I couldn't go in, even though the squatters have left. I thought we had taken a step forward. At the same time, I am worried about the state of my house. We're going to have to throw things out, change the bedding, clean. I have no idea what we're going to find…"
Grasse’s public prosecutor, Fabienne Atzori, has summoned the squatter family for 27 October to resolve the case. In the meantime, changes have arisen with the Deputy of the Alpes-Maritimes, Eric Ciotti, confirming that he would introduce a law proposal to alter the lenient legislative regarding home invasions.
As presented Wednesday, 09 September, the proposal expresses four articles that would need to be applied to strengthen the owner's right to their own property. Firstly, the judicial procedures should be accelerated to give a ruling within 24 hours of the events being revealed. Secondly, judicial protection should be equally applicable for first and second homes. Thirdly, the owners’ requirement to give evidence that squatters have entered their homes using manoeuvres, threats, assault, or coercion for an eviction to occur should be removed. Lastly, the penalty for squatters should be changed to three years and a fine of 30,000 euros.
These events, which are far from reaching a conclusion, have at least brought to light the disparities in protection for homeowners. As a result, the outcome might do more than evict the squatters from the Kaloustian's home; it might also change legislation.
- Charlotte Gillet