France is one of the most beautiful countries in the world. It is no surprise that hundreds and thousands expats come flocking to this gorgeous country with the dream of having their own “chez-soi” and enjoying our wonderful food and wine. Many property owners in France like to make a few changes, build a pool or have a total makeover. In this article you will find out why it is important to file for planning permission and what to do. We’ve tried to make this article as short and simple as possible but every town has its own specialities, so please consult your local mairie for more information. But, here are some basic rules, tips and tricks to help you understand the whole system a bit better:
1/ You have to apply for planning permission
France is no exception when it comes to planning permission and in order to make any changes to a property, whether it’s converting the garage into a granny flat, changing the render color or building something new, you have to ask for permission first. Don’t be fooled by unscrupulous real estate agents who will convince you into believing the opposite. It is a legal obligation to apply for planning permission.
2/ Getting conformity planning-wise will enable you to insure your property properly
If you built that extra wing on your chateau and it burns down in a fire, you will not be insured, as it is not legally part of the building listed in the French building’s database. The same thing applies if you converted the garage into a spare bedroom, you will only be paid back for the restauration of a garage. In the same sense, if you didn’t apply for planning permission and your building starts falling apart, you cannot file a claim against your builder because technically the new building didn’t exist (see our Building insurance article for more).
3/ Having planning permission is a sine qua none condition for owners to be in a position to sell the property without having to compromise on its value
This is a very important part of the equation. If you wanted to sell your 350m2 property and didn’t declare the extra 50m2 extension you built illegally, your notaire will probably refuse to proceed with the sale until everything is regularised. If you’re in a hurry, you may have to lower the price before selling. Likewise, a building that didn’t get planning permission isn’t applicable for the 10 year guarantee Dommages Ouvrages insurance policy, so the buyer will be inheriting your un-insured property too.
4/ The risk is getting your un-compliant buildings demolished
This has happened, believe me! In certain villages with historical monuments or sacred paths, maritime areas or trails, illegal buildings have been torn down, so it’s not something to mess around with.
5/ How do I apply for planning permission?
There are 2 different planning permissions you can apply for, depending on the type of work you need to do. Before filing, you must check with your local mairie if your plot of land is large enough for an extension or if your land is a “terrain constructible” (farm land – aka “terrain agricole” – are not constructible in theory).
In France there 2 degrees of planning permission:
A “Permis de Construire” ( aka PC) which is the most comprehensive type of application. When you are enlarging the surface of the habitable space of over 20m2, you have to file for a permis de construire. Likewise, if you are adding in new windows or doors, you have to file for a permis de construire. And of course, if you’re building on an empty plot of land, you will be making this sort of application too.
You will need to fill in a PC form, provide plans, floor plans and before/after photos so it is best to be assisted by an Architect. If the building exceeds 175m2 floor space it is obligatory to have an architect and you will be obliged to hire a technical surveyor (controlleur technique), and a thermal surveyor (bureau d’études thermique) but that is another story….
If your property does not have a “tout à l’égout” (city drains service), one of the most overseen parts of the Permis de Construire is to detail how you are going to recycle drains and waste water. You will need to conduct a study of the soil (Etude de Sol) by a geologist to determine how water is going to be evacuated or treated and then provide a technical solution for approval.
On the other hand, the “Declaration Préalable” (aka DP) is a simplified version of the Permis de construire. It applies to small jobs such as a small extensions (under 20m2), swimming pools, changing the render color, changing the destination of a place (i.e. changing a barn into a spare bedroom) changing a front gate. In fact, anything that is visible from the outside. If you’re redoing your bathroom, then you won’t have to apply.
You will have to fill in a DP form, and provide plans and photos of the before/after project.
A DPs and PCs do not apply to indoor works though (technically, it’s none of the French administration’s business).
6/ What’s next?
Once you have consulted your architect, finished your plans, filled in the appropriate forms, it’s time to take your paperwork to the mairie (Urbanisme Department). You will come home with a “récepissé” which is proof that you have filed for planning permission.
Then you must wait for the file to come back via the post with an “Avis Favorable” (OK) or “Avis Défavorable” (not OK) and a number that starts with DP or PC. If you did get an avis défavorable, it doesn’t mean all is doomed, but you will have to review your project a little.
However, DO NOT start the works just yet: you have to wait for the Due Diligence period to expire. If you don’t, you run the risk of your building site getting shut down by the gendarmes (police) and months to years of procedures before the site reopens.
7/ How long does it take to process?
In general :
A PC takes about 6 months to process: 3 months to be reviewed by the city council and (if applicable) the prefecture and then an extra 3 months for the neighbors to do their due diligence
A DP takes 1 month to process and then 1 month of due diligence.
These durations can be extended if your property is in a historical town or village or by the coast. If you’re next to a historical monument or in a chartered neighborhood, you will have to wait an extra month for the Architectes des Batiments de France (French Building Heritage administration) to give their approval. Count an extra month too if you are building by the sea, the DDTM (French Maritime administration) are extremely strict about building near the “littoral” (coast).
7/ What are these for?
These are what the French call a “panneau de chantier”. You can get them at hardware stores everywhere (sometimes they are given away for free). Using one of these is an extremely important part of the procedure and is necessary for the Due Diligence period (and until the end of the works).
You have to fill it in manually and attach it in front of your property (where everyone can see). It is proof that you have got an “avis favorable” on your planning permission. It is from the date you put this panneau de chantier up that the due diligence period starts (not when you get your avis favorable through the post). So the longer you wait to put this poster up, the longer your due diligence period will be. We generally recommend our customers to hire a bailiff (Huissier de Justice) to certify the date the poster was put up, and to come back on the last day of the due diligence period. This way, nobody can claim that your panneau de chantier did not respect the due diligence dates.
The panneau de chantier must be left up in front of your property until the works are finished.
So, now you know your way around the French planning permission process, you can start dreaming of that new extension! Don’t hesitate to visit the mairie and discuss your project prior to filing for planning permission, and if you don’t speak the language, find a local architect who knows his/her way around the system. It can be a good idea to see the mairie before you buy real estate as well, because you can get some pleasant surprises (and some unfortunate ones too). In the mairies, the civil servants are usually very friendly and helpful (but you have to have the right attitude with them), so knowing these basic rules helps to manage your frustration.
Last but not least, if you are thinking about buying property in France and you want to do some works that fall under the PC or DP conditions, make sure you specify, as early on as the compromis, that you’ll only buy the property if you can get planning permission. This will give you an extra safety net and avoid unpleasant surprises once you become a home owner here.
For information in French, you can visit the Service Public site.
We hope you found this article interesting and we’re happy to answer any questions you may have, just leave a comment below: