Why I de­cided to ap­ply for FRENCH CIT­I­ZEN­SHIP

French Property News - - Real Life -

There’s a lot of talk at the mo­ment about Brits liv­ing in France ap­ply­ing for French cit­i­zen­ship so I was in­ter­ested to read about Bri­tish au­thor Charles Ti­money’s ex­pe­ri­ence. Those of you fa­mil­iar with French bu­reau­cracy won’t be sur­prised that it in­volves a lot of pa­per­work and queu­ing!

from time to time (for ex­am­ple, ev­ery three or four years) by a spe­cial­ist com­pany who will dis­pose of it.

By con­trast, a cesspit is es­sen­tially a tank that does not have an out­let; it will fill up as time goes by and must be emp­tied on a reg­u­lar ba­sis (per­haps once ev­ery three months de­pend­ing on its size). Cesspits are no longer al­lowed in France.

The water run­ning out of a sep­tic tank is not pure. The sep­tic tank might be re­garded as pro­vid­ing only ‘pre-treat­ment’; the water has to run through a net­work of per­fo­rated pipe drains so that it can be al­lowed to per­co­late into the sub­soil. Some kinds of sub­soil are more por­ous than others (sand, for ex­am­ple, be­ing more por­ous than clay) and it is this de­gree of poros­ity that dic­tates the to­tal length of per­fo­rated pipe drains that need to be pro­vided.

If you are in­stalling a new sys­tem, a poros­ity test has to be car­ried out and, in France at least, this has to be done by an ap­proved per­son, not any old Tom, Dick or Harpic. In many cases, where the de­gree of poros­ity is very low, such as in the case of a clay sub­soil, a sand fil­ter bed has to be pro­vided. This in­volves ex­ca­vat­ing a large area and fill­ing it with sand to ac­com­mo­date the re­quired length of per­fo­rated pipes. It can be ex­pen­sive or, in the case of a prop­erty with in­suf­fi­cient land, im­pos­si­ble to achieve. If you do have enough land, an al­ter­na­tive that might be worth in­ves­ti­gat­ing is a reed bed, ef­fec­tively a pond filled with cer­tain types of reed, for the sep­tic tank to drain into.

As for the sep­tic tank it­self, the rule of thumb is that you need a sep­tic tank with a ca­pac­ity of 1,000 litres (one cu­bic me­tre) for each bed­room in the prop­erty. In other words, a stan­dard sep­tic tank with a ca­pac­ity of 3,000 litres would be suf­fi­cient for a three­bed­room prop­erty.

Big­ger not al­ways bet­ter An al­ter­na­tive to a sep­tic tank, now ap­proved for use in France, is a‘ mini sta­tion d’épu­ra­tion’, which is es­sen­tially a minia­ture sewage works. It is a pre­fab­ri­cated unit about the same size as a sep­tic tank and the in­stal­la­tion cost is about the same. Units of this kind are ex­tremely ef­fi­cient to the ex­tent that the water run­ning out does not have to be run through an un­der­ground net­work of per­fo­rated pipe drains ( épandage) but in­stead can be dis­charged di­rect to a ditch or nearby wa­ter­course. Or you could, if you wish, in­stall a sup­ple­men­tary un­der­ground tank and use the out­let water on the gar­den.

A mini sta­tion d’épu­ra­tion has an elec­tri­cally op­er­ated air dif­fuser that bub­bles air up through the ef­flu­ent and there­fore re­quires a con­stant sup­ply of elec­tric­ity (the con­sump­tion of the elec­tric pump is quite low). How­ever, this kind of fa­cil­ity is suit­able only for prop­er­ties that are oc­cu­pied con­tin­u­ously, not for prop­er­ties that are oc­cu­pied for only a few weeks each year.

When car­ry­ing out pre-pur­chase sur­veys, I still come across prop­er­ties where the drains run straight into a nearby river, with no pu­rifi­ca­tion what­so­ever! Up un­til about 30 or 40 years ago, it was com­mon prac­tice for only the WC in the prop­erty to con­nect to a (rel­a­tively small) sep­tic tank with waste water from sinks, baths, basins or show­ers run­ning di­rectly into one or more soak­away pits, or even out onto the sur­face of the ad­join­ing ground.

Times have moved on though and all waste water, in­clud­ing that from sinks, bath, basins and show­ers etc must con­nect into an ap­proved drainage dis­posal sys­tem, whether a sep­tic tank or mini sta­tion d’épu­ra­tion. How­ever, it is usual for the waste water from the kitchen to first pass through what is called a ‘grease trap’ – which con­tains a weir that traps grease for re­moval at reg­u­lar in­ter­vals – to pre­vent fill­ing the sep­tic tank with grease.

SPANC the tank The ven­dor of a prop­erty in France that does not con­nect to a pub­lic sewer is obliged to have an in­spec­tion car­ried out, and a re­port pro­duced, by the lo­cal water au­thor­ity or an or­gan­i­sa­tion called SPANC (Ser­vice Pub­lic d’as­sainisse­ment Non-col­lec­tif) to de­ter­mine whether or not the drainage dis­posal ar­range­ments at the prop­erty are ad­e­quate.

As­pects such as the size of the sep­tic tank, ven­ti­la­tion of the drainage in­stal­la­tion and the ex­is­tence of a grease trap will nor­mally be cov­ered. If any­thing cov­ered by the re­port is lack­ing, the in­com­ing owner has 12 months in which to put it right or, if the prop­erty is not sold af­ter the Above left: As­bestos-ce­ment pipes were of­ten used for drainage above ground un­til as­bestos was banned in France, in 1997; look out for pipes of this kind that are dam­aged Above right: A modern ‘mini sta­tion d’épu­ra­tion’ is usu­ally smaller than a sep­tic tank, and more ef­fi­cient

in­spec­tion has been car­ried out, the ex­ist­ing owner must carry out the nec­es­sary work within a pe­riod of three years.

It has to be said that these in­spec­tions and re­ports do not nec­es­sar­ily cover such as­pects as the pro­vi­sion or qual­ity of the drains lead­ing up to the sep­tic tank or in­deed the qual­ity or ex­is­tence of in­spec­tion cham­bers.

Ex­ist­ing own­ers are some­times re­luc­tant to com­mis­sion and pay for the drainage in­spec­tion and re­port un­til the last minute be­fore the sale. I re­call once stand­ing in front of a very nice, large house and ask­ing the owner to tell me where the sep­tic tank was. He proudly stated that I was stand­ing on it, and as I looked around all I could see was some ex­quis­ite block paving lead­ing up to the garage. He had had the paving laid over the sep­tic tank – to which there was no longer any means of ac­cess at all. I never did find out the re­sult of the drainage in­spec­tion and the re­port that he had yet to com­mis­sion.

It all goes to show that un­less you have car­ried out your own de­tailed in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the drains, there might well be merit in ar­rang­ing for your own in­de­pen­dent sur­vey as part of the pre-pur­chase for­mal­i­ties. Drainage work can be ex­pen­sive.

Next month

Ian re­ports on roofs

Ian Mor­ris is a char­tered build­ing sur­veyor and an ex­pert agréé par la Com­pag­nie Na­tionale des Ex­perts Im­mo­biliers Tel: 0033 (0)4 67 89 43 46 french-sur­veys.com

If you are in­stalling a new sys­tem a poros­ity test has to be car­ried out and this has to be done by an ap­proved per­son, not any old Tom, Dick or Harpic

You might come across an old sep­tic tank in a cel­lar; this one is too small to com­ply with con­tem­po­rary re­quire­ments

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