Considering a renovation, remember to get your
We are not experts on planning rules and you will need to seek advice for circumstances particular to your particular property. Nonetheless there are some guidelines you should be aware of - the basic rule is always ask at the local mairie before making any change:
At the time of buying a property you can specify that the purchase is conditional on receiving the appropriate CDU or planning permissions. This needs to be written into the contract (ie not a verbal agreement outside the contract). Your notaire will then be able to help submit the appropriate applications, and the mairie will respond within two months. Specifically, ask for a ‘clause suspensive’ to be inserted to this effect.
Obtaining permission to carry out renovation work is a complex subject. It's therefore essential that before starting (or even planning) any renovation work, you check the procedures that apply in your commune.
In all cases, you should go first to your local town hall and ask for the service d'urbanisme. In a large or medium-size town, this may be a separate department manned by an architect who's familiar with the buildings in the town. In a small town or village, the mayor himself and his assistant may deal with everything and will act as your liaison with the Direction Départementale de l'Equipment (DDE), which is responsible for approving all planning applications.
Failure to apply for planning permission can result in the demolition of renovation work and even of the whole building (within a short time) and the payment of a penalty, followed by endless, costly and often agonising negotiations with French administration.
Planning applications, however, aren't something to be afraid of. In most cases, reasonable requests for permission are sympathetically received and, unless your plans are outrageous or your property is listed, are unlikely to be rejected, although certain modifications may be required. In fact, any modifications are likely to be in your interest, and you're likely to receive helpful advice as to the best way to carry out your renovation, which will save you both money and time, as well as ensuring that the result is in keeping with local style and tradition.
Preparing a planning application can also be beneficial in helping you with your own planning.
NOTE: Unlike in the UK, it is usually civil servants who decide your planning application and not the local politicians.
Rules and regulations
Although there's general legislation governing planning applications that applies throughout France, detailed rules and regulations vary considerably from region to region, department to department, commune to commune and even village to village, which makes it impossible to list them all here. For example, in Côtes d'Armor in Brittany, you cannot usually obtain a permit to build a house less than 100m from a farmer's field. This may not apply in the heart of France.
Those planning to buy property for renovation in Brittany should note that planning regulations have been considerably tightened in recent years. Many small towns and villages have joined the Commune du Patrimoine Rural de Bretagne, which aims to maintain properties to their original specification, eg: only traditional fittings may be used and even the terrain may not be altered by tree planting without permission.
For this reason, it's essential to seek advice from people who know your area and can provide information specific to local regulations. Your first port of call, as in most matters to do with renovation, should be your local town hall. Nevertheless, certain rules apply in most areas, including the following:
Don't rely on estate agents, builders or other individuals to give you the correct information; you will be liable for any mistakes, not them.
There are essentially three types of permit (described below), and the first thing you must ascertain is which of these you will need (if any) and whether you can submit the application yourself or must employ an architect to do so on your behalf.
Using an architect
For any project to renovate (or construct) a building over 170m2 you will need a professional architect to draw up plans and make the planning application on your behalf. (You may of course use the services of an architect even if the area of the building is less than 170m²).
Calculating the relevant area, known as the 'surface hors d'oeuvre nette' (SHON), is more complicated than it might seem. All habitable areas must be included (eg: the first floor or roof if you're planning to turn this into bedrooms, as well as the ground floor) and measurements must include the thickness of the walls, which must therefore be measured to the outside face. However, the calculation normally excludes garages, basements, open areas at ground level (eg: a porch or terrace), balconies and any habitable area where the headroom is less than 1.8m, eg: in rooms under the eaves.
The cost of using an architect varies according to the size and complexity of the project, but normally starts at around 1,750€.
Permis de démolir
A 'demolition permit' (un permis de démolir) may be required when you wish to demolish a building on your land, and you should check at the town hall before knocking anything down, irrespective of how dilapidated it is. A permit may also be required to lop or cut down trees or to clear ground for building (une demande d'autorisation de coupe ou d'abbatage d'arbres or une autorisation de défrichement).
Permis de construire
A building permit (un permis de construire) is required for any change to a property that affects its taxable value (valeur cadastrale), which normally includes the following:
Planning permission may also be required for the following:
Déclaration de travaux
A 'declaration of work exempt from a building permit' ('une déclaration de travaux exemptés de permis de constuire', often referred to simply as une déclaration de travaux) is a kind of simplified building permit, which may be all that's required for work that doesn't change the use of a building or create new living space, or for minor alterations to a building, including the following:
Some words to the wise, it is far easier to employ local tradesmen than to bring in tradesmen from the UK, unless of course they are relatives or friends. But be aware that some work such as drainage, electrical, sanitary, gas, and water require certification so ensure that your tradesmen are qualified. Also the majority of building supplies are a lot cheaper in France than the UK, do not be tempted to purchase electrical, gas or water fittings and accessories in the UK and import them into France as they will NOT comply with local regulations.