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Building or extending property in France

A guide to French building and planning regulations

Architects in France

Having bought your property in France with a view to improving or developing it, a decision will have to be made before you start work as to whether you employ an architect or not. And for some proposed work, this decision will be taken out of your hands, because in France, size counts! If you are intending to restrict yourself to a new floor area of 170m2 or less, then you do not necessarily need an architect, however, if you wish to build more than this amount, the application for a building permit must be made by an architect registered with the Ordre des Architectes.

Planning permission in France

In principle, planning permission in France (permis de construire) is much more straight forward to obtain than in Britain. All land in France is classified into various planning zones which range from NC (non constructible), through NA and NB on to UB and other urban classifications. Each classification is given a coefficient which determines the amount of floor space which will be allowed on that land. For example, a plot in zone NB may have a coefficient of 0.15, which means that 15m2 floor space will be allowed on every 100m2 of land. If you wished to build a house of 150m2, then you would require 1000m2 of land.

Classification of land in France

This classification should be set out in the Certificat d'Urbanisme (CU) which is normally one of the documents you will receive upon purchase of a property. This CU certificate is granted to property and land owners in France who want to build new buildings on their land, so is similar to outline planning permission in the UK, though in France additional permission and permits would be needed before actual building could commence. In country areas, the coefficient, known as the coefficient des occupation des sols, will be much lower than in towns, and so the density of development will also be much lower. Of course, it is always possible to buy more land to support a larger floor area, but this land must be adjacent and will also become expensive the moment your neighbours realise your intentions!

Further technical points to consider

Providing you have sufficient land, you will be permitted to build or enlarge a property within the rules set out. The only other considerations are generally technical, concerning drainage and public health, or aesthetic, where proximity to classified sites will require designs to be passed by the Architecte des Batiments de France. Providing you seek advice from the Mairie at an early stage, you should have little difficulty obtaining permission for any reasonable proposals.

French builders

Once you have your building permit, the next hurdle is to communicate your requirements to the person, or persons, who will undertake the work. If this is yourself (or your husband, wife, father et al) then you will have no more than the usual discussions. If you want a French builder to undertake the construction, there are two ways of describing the work. The first is to explain, in French, using technical and colloquial terms, your precise wishes. The artisan will then submit a written devis which describes your instructions and the cost to you, including taxes (TTC = touts taxes compris) and all labour and material costs. The advantage of this first method is that work can start quite quickly. The disadvantage is that it may not be quite what you expected in terms of standard, appearance or cost. The artisan knows what he intended, and you think you know what he meant, but are they one and the same?

Using a professional

The second method (if your french is not up to it!) is to ask someone to prepare plans and descriptive which will tell the builder exactly what you want. The builder (or group of artisans) will submit their prices as before. This second method takes a little more time, and usually requires the services of an Architecte, Geometre or Technicien du Batiment. It also requires a professional who speaks and understands English and French as well as you and your builder do. If you are able to find someone with these virtues, he/she will certainly wish to be paid, but you may be surprised at how little this may be in proportion to the overall construction costs. You will be more confident that your requirements are understood and are being communicated to the builder, and also that there will be someone to grumble at if the final result does not meet all your expectations. Builders are expert at becoming scarce when things go wrong, whilst architects cannot help but pick up the telephone when it rings (they always think it will be the commission to make them famous!).

Make sure you enjoy yourself!

I hope that the above gives some useful advice and food for thought before you start your project. Always remember that a little forethought is better than hindsight, and that the idea of living, or holidaying, in France is to enjoy yourselves. The French themselves will do their best to help you achieve this, in their own way!

For more information or advice, choose from a list of architects: Architects providing a service in France.

About the author

Roger Minost is a fully qualified Chartered Architect, a member of the Royal Institute of British Architects and registered with the Ordre des Architects in France. He is based in south-west England.

Additonal articles which may be of interest:


French Planning - new planning laws from 1st January 2012

your questions...

1. A visitor to the site asks about grants (added 11/5/07)...

I am trying to find information on the Internet about applying for a grant for restoring an old farmhouse. Currently, we are planning major modifications such as additional windows (we know we need planning permission etc), but I heard that this sort of work, including a new roof, re-pointing, new windows, doors, stairways etc. could be supported by a grant. I would be most grateful for any information or address of suitable web sites.

Jo Rhodes, editor of French Property Links, replies...

Thanks for contacting us about grants relating to French property. And you are right, there are grants that can be applied for, though each grant has conditions that must be satisfied.

You may be eligible for a "Prime pour l'Amélioration de l'Habitat" (home-improvement grant) depending on certain criteria, including the age of your property and your level of income. For example your farmhouse must be more than twenty years old, no grants can have been allocated to the property within the last ten years, you must not earn more than a certain amount a year, and it must be your main residence.

For further information on these grants, I would suggest you look at a website www.anah.fr (Agence National pour l'Amélioration de l'Habitat), where the agency's regional and departmental offices are listed. You can then contact the relevant ones. (If you are awarded this grant, you may be entitled up to 40% of the renovation cost, though there is a maximum amount which is normally paid out. Bear in mind too, that you must apply for this grant before you start work on your renovation.)

There are also other grants which you can apply for, if you are thinking of renting out your property (www.anah.fr), developing gîtes (www.gites-de-france.fr), or your property is of a certain type eg: listed building (www.habitat-developpement.tm.fr).

I hope this information is of use.

2. A question about wooden chalets (added 7/6/2007)...

I am considering buying a riverside property and would like to install a wooden chalet within the land. What are the regulations regarding the erection of wooden chalets? Can these be erected without planning permission if they are kept under a certain size? I have been told various sizes by different estate agents varying from 20m2 to 40m2. They cannot all be right! What is the correct size limit before planning is required? And what planning permission is required for a structure beyond this size? Many thanks for you help.

Our reply...

Thanks for your email. Getting planning permission for a wooden chalet depends on certain things apart from size, for example, if you are planning to live in the chalet full-time, if there is no other house on the land etc., but usually the Maire would be the place to start asking whether you need planning permission or not. (I think if you can make it technically movable there is no need for planning permission.)

Places within France vary so much and there doesn't seem to be standard rule, except always ask the Maire first! What he/she says usually goes.

3. A visitor to the site asks about illegal builders (added 17/7/07)...

My husband and I recently bought a property in France and have hired an English builder to do some of the renovation work, for which he has started and we have paid him an installment of money. We have since found out that he is not paying income tax in France or in the UK, he is in fact working on the "black". His work is very good and although we are aware he is not actually a registered artisan, we wanted to hire him. But we have now been told that we, as his employer, are liable for paying income tax for him should he be found out - is this true? Please can you tell me the legalities on hiring someone who is working on the black.

Jo Rhodes, editor of French Property Links, replies...

Thanks for your email. I have been in touch with my colleague in France who vehemently advises you not to employ someone who is not paying their taxes. She says:

"Yes, people do it, but if you get caught as an employer you will have to face up to so many problems that it may be easier to leave France. You will have to pay all his charges as well as a fine, and this will amount to a lot of money. And don't think that no-one will find out."

As mentioned in our article, Jobs in France (http://www.frenchpropertylinks.com/essential/jobs-france.html), " "working on the black" is greatly frowned upon in France, and it is common practice for reports to be made to the authorities resulting in a visit from the gendarmes!

My colleague says: "The reason the French will turn you in is that they, and everyone living in France, pay such high social charges and taxes that they in turn have to charge higher prices for work. And if your builder is cheating the system and putting others out of work as consequence, he will become unpopular. The responsibility lies with you... not him. The person who employs him is held responsible. (If he is working in France permanently he needs a SIRET number to show he is legitimate.) And it really does happen, the gendarmes are pretty hot on it, and we have seen it happen many times here, with unpleasant consequences."

Finally , should you wish to speak to an expert in the matter, you may wish to look at the Services section of our site, and contact a solicitor (http://www.frenchpropertylinks.com/memberscat.asp?category=LEGAL).

All that remains is for me to wish you the best of luck!

4. Some questions about building on land (added 15/11/07)...

Hi - I am looking to buy building land in France - can any one help and give me some answers? What does NA NB UB stand for and also how many different types of planning permissions are there?

Our reply...

Thanks for contacting us. I have just heard back from Roger Minost who wrote the above article, and he says that these letters describe three basic land classifications for planning purposes; "U" for urban/built areas, "A" for agriculture and "N" for natural land uses. Each has sub classifications, with numbers further attached to allow a different set of regulations to be applied.

He says the process of creating local plans is a bit haphazard still - some Mayors have refused to allow a local plan to restrict their right to develop their commune as they see fit!

He says NC is paraphrased non constructible as it refers to natural land of class C that is rarely if ever built on. N type land is also very difficult to build on, whilst A type land is generally reserved for agricultural buildings and dwellings.

Meanwhile, in answer to your second question, there are two types of planning permission; a) Certificat d'Urbanisme (Outline Planning) and b) Permis de Construire (Full Planning permission). Having said that, every planning consent is different and often involves quite different issues.

5. A question about planning permission boards (added 8/9/11)...

I have looked at your web site on this subject but it does not quite anwer my question so have emailed. How long does the Planning Permission Board (with builder, owner's name etc) have to be displayed on the land before building can commence? I understood it had to be displayed for two months to allow for any comments to be made by anyone who may wish to make some form of objection. Is this what Article R600-1/2 du Code de l'Urbanisme refers to?

Jo Rhodes, editor of French Property Links replies...

Thanks for contacting us. I agree with you, and think that you must display your board for a minimum period of two months, though I am unsure if this is what Article R600-1/2 du Code de l'Urbanisme refers to.

As I am not an expert in these matters, however, I would suggest you contact your Mairie who would know all about this, and indeed they are the ones who decide the rules to follow. (Incidentally, they also have to display a notice about your permission on their notice board.)

I am sorry not to be of more help.

6. A question about inspection regulations (added 8/12/11)...

I have read your comments on your website and have found them to be very helpful and informative. I am however unclear on the following and would ask for advice:

I employed a French architect and despite the language barriers eventually received a permit to build two extensions onto a 25 year-old property in the St Tropez area. I have displayed the permit board and I am planning on starting to build soon but I am not going to use my architect again due to communication difficulties. My question is, what are the rules regarding inspections (ie foundations, electrics, plumbing etc) once building work starts? I look forward to your comments.

Jo Rhodes, editor of French Property Links replies...

Thanks for contacting us. Though as I am not an expert in these matters, I would suggest you contact your Mairie for the rules regarding inspections, once building work starts. Or you may wish to look at the Services section of our site to find builders or architects who may also be able to offer advice.

7. A question about building a new house rather than renovating (added 31/7/12)...

I currently own a 60m2 dwelling that is habitable, however I have applied for CU and been told that I cannot demolish and rebuild new, but I can "renovate" and extend. How do I get round this and build a new house on the existing footprint. As the current property is in desperate need of rebuilding.

Jo Rhodes, editor of French Property Links replies...

Thanks for contacting us. Though in this instance, as I am not an expert in these matters, I would suggest you contact your Mairie for advice on this, or an architect or builder, perhaps using our Business Directory.

8. A question about using land for a campsite (added 4/10/12)...

I have recently asked the Marie if I can run a five caravan campsite on my property. It is my understanding I only have to declare this to the Marie under "Land declared". However he tells me this is not possible as the land is NR. Can you tell me what this means?

Jo Rhodes, editor of French Property Links replies...

Thanks for contacting us. Though I'm afraid I do not know and can't find what NR stands for. I would suggest you ask the Mairie, or perhaps get in touch with an architect using our Business Directory, for their advice.

9. A question about stud work (added 4/10/12)...

My husband and I have been renovating our house in Brittany. We are about to do the stud work inside, with wood. We have heard that there is a new law that says you can't use wood any more and have to use metal stud work. Is this true? You are our last resort we can't seem to find out anywhere.

Jo Rhodes, editor of French Property Links replies...

Thanks for contacting us, though I'm afraid I cannot be of much help, as I am no expert in such matters. Building regulations change all the time, and there may be local laws to abide by. With France being so vast and diverse, different conditions apply to building regulations in different parts of the country. Is there no local respected builder you can ask?

If not, you could try one of the builders we have listed on our site, in the Business Directory section. They may be able to advise.

10. A question about developing land and planning (added 27/11/12)...

I have four acres I want to divide for outline planning for two dwellings. I live on an adjacent one acre in a chalet. What is the procedure please?

Jo Rhodes, editor of French Property Links replies...

Thanks for contacting us. However, as I am no expert in these matters, I would suggest you contact your Mairie for advice on this, or an architect or builder, perhaps using our Business Directory.

11. A question about planning permission for camping and caravans (added 24/1/13)...

Please could you direct me to information on planning permission required for tent camping and caravans? All information seems to be related to building rather than land use. We are looking at a farm property with out buildings for potential conversion into a shower and toilet block and would also like to provide some electric hook up facilities.

Jo Rhodes, editor of French Property Links replies...

Thanks for contacting us. I would suggest you contact the Mairie for information on this. The people there deal with planning permission and should be able to advise you on this.

12. A question about time limits on building projects (added 25/3/13)...

I'm thinking about buying a building plot in France. I would intend to do most of the building myself, except electrical and heating of course. I would be progressing the work only during Easter and summer periods, so the building phase would take quite long, perhaps four, five or even six years. Once permission to build is granted, is there a time limit within which the building must be completed?

Jo Rhodes, editor of French Property Links replies...

Thanks for contacting us. I would think that there may be a time by which you have to start work on your property once planning permission is granted (I think this is two/three years), but I am not aware of any time constraints on finishing a property. However, I am no expert in these matters, so I would suggest you contact your Mairie who should certainly be able to tell you. If you aren't yet sure where you will be buying land, you could also try our Business Directory and ask some architects/builders for their advice.

I'm sorry not to be of more help.

13. A question about property taxes payable (added 25/3/13)...

I'm aware of two annual property taxes in France -Taxe Fonciere, I understand to be paid when a property is empty, or when it's only a piece of land. Taxe d'Habitation, which I believe is paid when a house is lived in. My question is, do you have to pay both taxes, or is it either one tax or the other, not both?

Jo Rhodes, editor of French Property Links replies...

Thanks for contacting us again. Our article "Taxe Foncière and Taxe d'Habitation - property tax in France" (http://www.frenchpropertylinks.com/essential/taxe-fonciere.html) should answer your questions.

14. A question about building regulations when installing UPVC French doors (added 31/5/13)

Are there any building regulations which have to be adhered to when installing UPVC French doors in France? I am FENSA registered and part of GGFI. Any advice would be much appreciated.

Jo Rhodes, editor of French Property Links replies

Thanks for contacting us, though as I am no expert in these matters I would suggest you check with some builders, perhaps some of those listed on our site in the Business Directory section.

Should anyone reading this be able to offer advice, please do get in touch.

15. A question about offering building services in France (added 25/7/13)...

Hello - I am an English builder with my own limited company in England. I am trying to find out if I am at liberty to advertise and undertake my building services in France with the object of serving the British community there. I know that it is prudent for me to ask as I have experience of other European countries where you either have to apply for a special licence (Germany) or you have to be an indigenous company (Spain) before you are allowed to trade as a builder.

Jo Rhodes, editor of French Property Links replies...

Thanks for contacting us. Our two articles "Jobs in France" and "Builders in France" may be of interest to you. I understand that advertising and undertaking your services in France would be fine, but you should be registered in France with the Chambre de Metiers. I don't believe this to be mandatory, but people employing builders who are not registered, run a risk in employing them, as they may be fined.

It may be worth contacting some of the building companies listed on our site (under Business Directory) for their advice.

You could also check with a legal advisor, as to what is involved, perhaps using the following page on our site:

http://www.frenchpropertylinks.com/frenchlegalservices.htm

16. A question of neighbours' rights (added 25/7/13)...

We have a house in France and there is land to the right and rear for sale. Building on the rear plot would restrict our view. Can we object and stop the development?

Jo Rhodes, editor of French Property Links replies...

Thanks for contacting us. I would think the best thing to do would be to talk to your Mairie and see what the situation is. They should be able to advise what you can and cannot do.

17. A question about grants (added 18/10/13)...

Good afternoon - would you have any idea what % the French government allows for a grant for renovating property.

Jo Rhodes, editor of French Property Links replies...

Thanks for contacting us. Our article "Property grants available in France" (http://www.frenchpropertylinks.com/essential/property-grants-france.html) should help you with this.

18. A question about regulations for wood burning stoves and flues (added 18/10/13)...

Are there any regulations about how much clearance is required around a flue for a wood burning stove in a domestic setting? Especially where the flue passes through a ceiling.

Jo Rhodes, editor of French Property Links replies...

Thanks for contacting us, though I'm afraid I can't be of much help. I would suggest you contact your Mairie for advice on this, and some builders and/or architects, perhaps using our Business Directory.

Should anyone reading this be able to offer any advice, please do get in touch.

19. A question about building regulations and having friends help you build (added 26/3/14)...

I have noticed there are serious consequences to paying someone to work on the black market, however, are these to be paid if I were to carry out work myself and involve friends who are tradesmen from the UK who I would not be paying? I'd only be covering their travel expenses as in the future they would more than likely be looking at free holidays in return. Also what regulations would I have to comply with as far as electrics, plumbing, glazing etc and what and where would I be able to obtain this certification as my friends would not be able to offer this. I would generally be looking to use a French architect as the property I intend on building is approx 200m2, and would initially require me to knock down the existing barn of a similar size.

Our reply...

I would not think you should have a problem, getting friends to help you with work, as long as they are not paid. For regulation rules and certification, it would be worth contacting your Mairie, but also if you are employing a French architect they should be able to advise. Otherwise you could check with architects using our Business Directory perhaps.

20. A question about selling a house mid-build (added 26/3/14)...

I have a piece of land in Fontaine Charendray for which I have a permit and plans to build a bungalow. So far we have built the first level, had water connected to the site. Next step would be to put roof on. Due to my husband's health, if we were to sell, are the plans transferable and would it be worth more to put the roof on? Any advice would be appreciated.

Our reply...

Thanks for contacting us. Though I'm afraid I can only suggest you contact some estate agents/builders/architects for their advice on this, perhaps using our Business Directory. Or maybe your Mairie might also be able to help.

Should anyone reading this be able to help, please do get in touch.

your comments...

1. A comment about classification of land and planning permission (added 13/2/08)...

Hello. I am English and have worked for five years for a French estate agent.

With regards to the classification of land in France (Agricultural, Natural, Urban etc). I am not sure if it is normal throughout France, but in my area, Poitou-Charentes, the Mairie meets once every five years to decide which land is classed as what. This date is not fixed, each commune fixes its own date for the meeting. Once the land has been classified it is very difficult to alter the ruling. However, the classification can be altered on certain land at the next meeting, ie: in five years time.

So if you are refused planning, because the land you want to build on is classed as not in a building zone, then check with the Mairie when the next date for deciding the "carte communale" is and when the land is next up for review, you may be able to get the classification changed.

2. A visitor to the site recalls his experiences of his extension plans (added 5/3/14)...

Hi - a couple of points to make about your assertion that a trip to the Mairie will sort out the requirements. Didn't work for me - I spoke to the municipal architect, who consulted the ZAC (its a relatively new lotissement) and told me that I would have to extend out to the neighbours' house wall. The clown omitted to tell me that our house is in a Zone Bleu Bg1, and would thus require an etude de faisibilite and that the size of the extension is limited to 30% of the existing footprint - this was revealed when the permis de constuire for 50% extension was rejected. My advice would be to discuss your scheme with a local architect, find out the rules in your case, then talk to the Mairie. ZACs and Zone Bleu or rouge limitations - and whatever the Mairie tells you - need to be checked before spending money on plans! Bon courage.

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