Commercial premises: work prescribed by the authorities is the responsibility of the lessor

Unless otherwise stipulated in a commercial lease, the landlord is responsible for any restoration work ordered by the administrative authorities on leased premises. This was reiterated by the French Supreme Court in a ruling handed down on June 15, 2023.

A reminder of the facts

In this case, a company renting premises used as a furnished hotel had undertaken in the lease contract to carry out all the restoration work on the building. A few years after signing the contract, the owners were notified of a municipal by-law requiring them to carry out restoration work.

The general meeting of the syndicat des copropriétaires then decided to undertake the work and asked that the tenant be made responsible for it. A dispute ensued, after which the lessor and the syndicat des copropriétaires appealed to the French Supreme Court.

Work to be carried out by the lessor unless expressly stipulated otherwise

In a ruling handed down on June 15, 2023, the Third Civil Chamber of the French Supreme Court (Cour de cassation) ruled that the work required by the town hall to restore the building's facade was the responsibility of the lessor, not the lessee, unless expressly stipulated otherwise. In this case, however, the lease contract only required the lessee to carry out façade restoration work. It made no provision for work ordered by the authorities.

The judges added that the decision of the general meeting of the syndicate of co-owners had been taken by virtue of the municipal by-law and not freely. Consequently, the lessor could not rely on the clause under which the lessee had undertaken to pay for the restoration work. In view of these factors, the Cour de cassation dismissed the appeal and ordered the syndicat de copropriétaires and the société civile immobilière to pay the costs.

A carefully worded clause

Work prescribed by the administrative authority is covered byarticle 1719-2 of the French Civil Code, and by the lessor's obligation to deliver throughout the contract.

In this case, only an express provision in the lease could have transferred the obligation to carry out the work prescribed by the town hall to the lessee. The clause in the lease stipulating that the tenant was responsible for the restoration work was incomplete and ineffective. Particular care must therefore be taken when drafting this contract, which commits both the lessor and the lessee.

Essential clauses include :