GUIDE TO RENOVATION
If you’re considering buying a property in France that will require modifications, or perhaps total renovation, you’ll need to know how to obtain planning permission and what to consider when hiring tradespeople. Kate McNally explains what you need to kno
Cover story From applying for planning permission to finding the right tradespeople
We’ve all seen the television programmes featuring complicated overseas renovations that provide excellent schadenfreude viewing. But for plenty of others, it can be relatively straightforward. With careful planning and even more careful budgeting, a renovation project can be enjoyable and fulfilling. Yes, you may have to bat away a few more curve balls when navigating French regulations and building methods, but if you follow the right processes you’ll be able to handle them.
So, let’s take a look at some of the key issues that would be useful to bear in mind.
OBTAINING PLANNING PERMISSION
Whatever you do, don’t start anything without first checking if you need planning permission. If your extension or alterations turn out to be counter to the local plan or national regulations, you risk a hefty penalty.
In general, any extension work that increases the surface area by less than 5m2 will not require any permission, as long as you are not changing the external look of a building, increasing the height of any outside walls, or changing the use of the building (e.g. from barn to gîte).
Similarly, any building or renovation work that increases the surface area by more than 150m2 (reduced from 170m2 on 1 March 2017 – see new regulations) will automatically require planning permission.
There are various levels in-between that will require either planning permission ( permis de construire) or a building works declaration (déclaration préalable de travaux), depending on the nature and extent of the intended work.
Perhaps the first place to start is by requesting a free certificat d’urbanisme from the mairie or relevant authority. Effectively, this provides a general outline of what is and isn’t permissible on a particular site, in accordance with the local plan drawn up by the mairie. If there is no local plan, then national planning regulations apply. The document will give you a good idea of whether you need planning consent, but don’t take it as a definitive guide because there can be exceptions.
Another option is to seek free preliminary planning advice from the regional Conseil d’Architecture, d’Urbanisme et de l’Environnement (CAUE). This not-for-profit organisation aims to improve the quality of architecture and the environment.
Permis de construire – planning permission
Rules differ in urban and rural areas, and in conservation, coastal, mountain and forest areas, so you will need to check with your local authority. As a general guideline, you require planning permission for large-scale projects, including:
• New buildings or developments that are not attached to an existing building (except smaller pools and garden sheds smaller than 5m2).
• If in an urban area with a local urban plan – plan local d’urbanisme (PLU) – development or extensions of existing buildings that add a new surface area of 40m2 or more, or that will take the overall surface area to more than 150m2.
• In non-urban areas, the same as above for creating a new surface area of 20m2 or more, or for changes of use involving the modification of any supporting walls or the facade.
• Listed buildings (monuments historiques).
Déclaration préalable de travaux – works declaration
This is usually required for smaller extensions and renovation work, including:
• Small new buildings (e.g. a garage or conservatory), or development of an existing building that creates a floor space of between 5m2 and 20m2. For existing buildings, a works declaration is also sufficient for floor space up to 40m2 if in an urban area which has a plan local d’urbanisme.
• Construction of a wall that is 2m or higher.
• Construction of a swimming pool that is 100m2 or smaller.
• Development that changes the original exterior aspect of a building, e.g. new colour for the facade, a different type of window or door.
• Repointing work if a listed building or in a conservation area.
• Change of use for the building, but without major structural changes.
• Change of boundaries in order to create a separate plot.
Where to apply?
In most places, you should apply to the local mairie for planning permission or a building works declaration. In some smaller communities, the mairie may not have drawn up a plan or may not have a planning service, in which case you need to apply to the Direction Régionale de l’Environnement, de l’Aménagement et du Logement (DREAL) in your region. Application forms for planning permission can also be downloaded from the government website service-public.fr.
The mairie must put up a notice concerning your proposed building work within two weeks of receiving your request in order to inform local residents. You must also display the authorisation notice on-site for the whole of the renovation/construction period.
You will usually receive a reply within one month. Be aware, however, that any approval (even if in writing) can be withdrawn up to three months later if it is subsequently found to have been granted incorrectly.
Any work that requires planning permission or a works declaration is subject to a development tax ( taxe d’aménagement), that is paid in two parts – the first after 12 months, the second after 24 months.
The tax is calculated based on the taxable surface area of the construction or extension, which includes all closed and covered space with a height of 1.8m or more. The calculation is then: taxable surface area x standard tariff ( valeur forfaitaire) x rates ( taux) that are fixed by the authorities.
For 2017, the valeur forfaitaire is €705 (€799 in Île-de-France) per square metre, though some alterations are subject to a fixed price. The taux are usually between 1% and 5% for the mairie’s share (but can be up to 20% in some areas), a fixed rate of no more than 2.5% for the county’s share, while the regional authority’s share cannot exceed 1%.
WHO TO USE?
Those who are pretty handy around the house may decide to embark on a major bit of DIY. If you’re attempting a larger project, make sure you are aware of French regulations regarding electricity and water, for example, and are reasonably au fait with French building products – they aren’t always the same, and even if it does what it says on the tin, you might not understand the finer detail of what it says on the tin!
Also, bear in mind that there are a host of tax breaks in France for different types of building improvements (see below), especially for energy-saving initiatives, but they are only granted if the work is carried out by registered tradespeople. So, depending on what you’re doing, it might prove simpler and more costeffective to call in the professionals.
If you go down the tradespeople route, you need to decide whether to use local French professionals or bring in English (or English-speaking) tradespeople working in France. The choice will probably depend on your level of French. Either way, ask around if possible for recommendations and ensure that whoever you use has the requisite level of insurance for the work involved – as a minimum they should have l’assurance responsabilité civile professionnelle to ensure cover for potential damages or errors.
For larger projects, notably if you are unable to be on-site, it might be worth employing a local project manager ( maître d’oeuvre). In this case, the person can probably recommend good tradespeople, although you will be directly responsible for any contracts and payments.