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

Living France - - CONTENTS -

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.


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.

Cer­ti­fi­cat d’ur­ban­isme

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-pub­

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.

Taxe d’amé­nage­ment

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%.


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.

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