French Planning Permission
French Planning Permission rules are set out in the “Code de l’Urbanisme”.
How French planning permission can affect French property renovation
To put this into context let’s give you two examples of how the planning system can affect French property renovation. We decided that we would like to add two Velux windows to our roof. We were told by the contractor that they could not start without planning permission having been granted. We called into see our local maire, explained what we wanted to do and he nodded and said the magic words “pas de problème”. On our next visit a few weeks later there was a note in the door from the maire saying permission had been granted.
By comparison about four years ago our neighbours, a local French family, decided to convert an atelier into a home for one of their sons and just started work. The maire refused retrospective planning permission but the son moved in with his family anyway. Both parties are now locked into an expensive legal appeal process which has recently reached the Paris court of appeal.
Certificat d’Urbanisme – (Outline Planning Consent)
The most important type of certificate is the “Certificat d’Urbanisme” (CDU), which states whether the owner has the right, or not, to build on specific land and gives details about the taxation of the land and buildings. You should not try to obtain a French property renovation mortgage unless you are sure you have a “Certificat d’Urbanisme” (CU).
There are two kinds of certificat d’urbanisme:
- certificat de simple information (certificate of information), information on the existing rights of the property and
- certificat opérationnel (operational certificate), which shows you whether or not a specific development can be undertaken.
Once your house has been built, or if you buy an existing property, the need for further planning consents depends on the type of renovation.
Failure to obtain planning permission where it is needed can result in the demolition of renovation work, even of the whole building, and a financial penalty. The local maire has some degree of discretion here, so for small building works permission can be granted retrospectively provided the maire does not feel that there was a deliberate attempt to circumvent the planning system. With French property renovation work it is quite easy to complete a project without realising that planning permission was required. It can save you considerable inconvenience if you are on good terms with your local maire and you ask his advice before you start.
French Property Renovations that do not require consent
Renovations or improvements which take place inside the property, such as the installation of an en-suite bathroom, do not generally require planning consent.
Déclaration de Travaux: (Declaration of Building Works not Requiring Planning Permission)
Small improvements, which don’t alter the use of the building, only require a déclaration de travaux. This would include improvements such as adding internal walls, skylights, replacement windows and doors, installation of outbuildings such as garden sheds, greenhouses, conservatories, and additions of less than 20sq m floor space. Open-air swimming pools are also covered by a déclaration de travaux.
The paperwork is available from the Mairie, the waiting period for approval is about a month and the notice must be displayed for at least two months, (and during the whole construction period if longer than 2 months) with the note “absence d’opposition” (no disagreement).
French Property Renovations that require French Planning Permission
Large Renovation Projects
For any French property renovation project to renovate or construct a building over 170sq m Surface Hors Oeuvre Net (SHON), net habitable space, the law states that an application for a Permis de Construire cannot be investigated unless an architect registered under Architectes des Bâtiment du France has “established the architectural project”. This means that the architect has to draw up plans and make the planning application on your behalf.
Calculation of the relevant SHON must include all habitable areas and measurements must include the thickness of the walls, which must therefore be measured to the outside face. The calculation normally excludes open areas at ground level such as a porch, balconies, basements, garages and any habitable area where the headroom is less than 1.8m, such as rooms under the eaves.
Each French département’s Direction Départementale de l’Equipment (DDE) has a consulting architect (architecte conseil) who will provide advice on the type of building permit required, and confirm if a project constitutes more than 170sq m SHON and therefore requires the services of an architect. This service is free of charge, available by appointment, and is invaluable if you are planning a large scale French property renovation project.
The technical dossier which the architect has to produce must contain a written submission explaining the visual impact of the project, as well as site plans (scale 1:5000 or 1:10000 for the land and scale 1:500 for the property), floor, section and elevation plans (scale 1:100), photographs of the existing site and an elevation of the proposed improvements.
Permis de Construire – (Planning Permission)
The Permis de Construire is the main instrument of planning control. A permis is required for any change to a property that will alter its valeur cadastrale (taxable value). The Mairie can grant full or conditional permission. A letter of notification will be sent following submission with the application number. Details of the application will be displayed at the Mairie. A tacit approval may be assumed two months from the date of submission and the Permis de Construire will normally be delivered within three.
Work should start within two years after permission is granted. A 12-month extension is available; the request must be sent at least 2 months before the expiration date of the original planning permission.
Amendments to the original design after approval of the Permis de Construire require a Permis de Construire Modificatif. It is imperative that the work that is undertaken complies with the work described in the Permis de Construire or the Permis de Construire Modificatif.
There is no planning application fee in France, but the tax foncière payable on the property will be affected by any development.
When renovation work starts, a Déclaration d’Ouverture de Chantier (declaration that the work has commenced) must be lodged. The Permis de Construire has to be displayed on a panonceau (panel) at the entrance to the site so that third parties can object if you have failed to take their interests into account in the application. The authorities have the right to inspect the works to ascertain conformity with the terms of the Permis de Construire.
Once the renovations are complete, a Déclaration d’Achèvement des Travaux (declaration that the work has ended) must be completed within 30 days. The authorities will send a certificat de conformité within 3 months.
It is an offence to undertake renovation work without a Permis de Construire if one is required. This can result in a fine or in certain circumstances an order for the building to be returned to its original state prior to the unauthorised building work.
Any works carried out on the “Monuments Historiques” (historic building) require planning permission.
It is also an offence to carry out work outside that which is defined. If you had a Permis de Construire to convert a barn into a house and then decided to convert it into gîtes it would be necessary to submit a demande de Permis de Construire Modificatif or even a new Demande de Permis de Construire.
Permis de Démolir – (Permission to Demolish)
A demolition permit may be required to demolish a building, however dilapidated; this varies by French commune. A “demande de permit d’autorisation de coupe ou d’abattage d’arbres” may also be required to lop or cut down trees.
Some examples of renovations that would require French planning permission
Change of use of a building.
Creation of additional accommodation.
Construction of an outbuilding exceeding 20sq m.
Installation of a swimming pool of over 20sq m.
Installation of a septic tank.
Some examples of renovations that may require French planning permission
Removal of rendering to expose external stone work.
Covering stone work with rendering.
Creation of a terrace or patio over 60cm high or covering more than 20sq m.
Installation of security grilles.