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French law concept of “Réception”

The French word ‘réception’ has a specific and important meaning in legal terms when used in the context of French construction law.

It refers, in this sense and context, to the formal handover by the constructor or builder (in the widest sense) of the ‘ouvrage’ (being the construction or the building again in the widest sense) to the ‘maître d’ouvrage’ (generally speaking the building owner but see below).

1. Réception amiable (amicable handover)

The ‘réception’ will normally come about at a formal meeting, on the site of the ‘ouvrage’, which is summoned, at least in theory, by the building owner and during which the works undertaken are formally handed over thereto . That said, it would not be unusual for the meeting to be organised by building owner’s architect.

The building owner or the architect would thus invite all the principal contractors to attend the meeting and would usually send out the notice to attend fixing the date and time by recorded delivery mail.

In practice, the participants will often include not only all the principal contractors but also the sub-contractors and/or specialised sole trader craftsmen who have worked upon the site.

At the ‘réception’ meeting on the site the building owner or his duly mandated representative (architect for example) will proceed to review each part or lot of the ‘ouvrage’ or overall construction with the entity or individual who carried out the work thereon.

The parties would thereafter agree, in the form of a minute of the ‘réception’ meeting to be signed by all concerned, the status of each part or lot (completed, to be completed etc) as well as any self-evident snags which need to be rectified.

The ‘réception’ is normally very much a consensual meeting, but it nevertheless has clear legal ramifications which are generally fully understood by all the parties present.

The formal minute of the meeting is known in French as the ‘procčs-verbal de réception’ and this document, when signed by all the parties, is legally binding.

2. Réception judiciaire (formal handover ordered by a Court)

In the event that it were to prove impossible to hold an amicable ‘réception’, if, for example, certain contractors refused to attend the proposed meeting or if there were disputes between some of the entities or individuals, the building owner may if he deems it necessary petition the Court to order the ‘réception’.

In response to the petition, in the form of a writ which would be served upon all the parties concerned, the French Court would usually appoint a single judicial expert (specialised in building and construction issues) and the latter would then formally summon all the principal contractors to attend the meeting. If any of the parties failed to attend, having been given due notice, then the judicial expert would usually proceed nevertheless with the formal ‘réception’ meeting, on the site of the ‘ouvrage’.

The comments and responses of those present would be noted by the judicial expert in the same manner as in an amicable handover, but the position of those who failed to attend, or to respond to the summons in any manner, would not normally be taken into account.

At the end of the handover meeting the judicial expert would usually require all those present to sign a formal minute of the ‘réception’ and this minute or ‘procčs-verbal de réception’ would then become binding not only on those who attended the meeting but also on those parties who failed to attend or to respond.

3. Legal ramifications of the ‘réception’

The principal legal ramification which is brought about by the handover meeting is that custody of the ‘ouvrage’ or site is officially transferred from the contractors to the building owner.

In other words, the legal risks which were hitherto borne by the contractor, for example the liability for the preservation, the maintenance, the upkeep and the insurance of the site pass from the contractor to the building owner as from the date and time of the ‘réception’; whether it be amicable or ordered by the Courts.

This transfer would also usually include such issues as ensuring that the building were appropriately heated or cooled and that it were connected to the utilities – water, gas, electricity.

It is also the date at which the various statutory guarantees start to run viz. the ‘Garantie décennale’ (10 year statutory guarantee), the ‘Garantie biennale’ (2 year guarantee aimed at insuring the proper functioning of the fixtures and fittings) and the ‘Garantie de parfait achčvement’ being a requirement to ensure that the completion of the building work is duly and fully achieved.

Thus, if there were snags or reservations noted upon the ‘procčs-verbal de réception’ by the building owner, then the period of one year in which these points need to be resolved also starts to run as from the date of the ‘réception’.