French Property Owners Take Legal Action in Europe

The Union national de la propriété immobilière (UNPI) representing French property owners has lodged a complaint in Brussels against French public aid for the social housing sector. The objective is to establish conditions of fair competition in the rental market. At the moment the UNPI considers public landlords to be in direct competition with private landlords.

It also considers that the social housing sector in France is not serving its role of supplying social housing to the poorest households, but is applying eligibility criteria which allow numbers of wealthy families to have access to such housing.

An interesting question is the extent to which the Commission has competence in the matter of housing, as housing in general remains a matter of Member State competence. However the Commission is concerned by services of general economic interest. The UNPI is arguing that the aid given to the sector in France contravenes the rules on state aid.

There have been similar cases in the Netherlands and Sweden as a result of which the Commission asked those countries to make changes to their social housing policy. In the Netherlands, where more than one in three household was part of the social sector in 2011, the policy of restricting social housing to those on modest incomes was relaxed in 2005 by the imposition of a ceiling of revenue of 33 000 Euros per household per year. In Sweden, aid given by the municipalities to public landlords was aligned with market rates in 2010. The application of these rules depends on the public authorities in the particular country.