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FAQ - Building & Planning

What types of building works require planning permission?

Any new construction will require a full planning permit. All works or changes to existing buildings, and any changes to the external appearance of a property requires a permit of one kind or another. Changes include things like the fitting of velux windows; altering a window into a doorway (or vice-versa) or creating new door or window openings; building a conservatory; constructing an extension and so on. All changes to the overall size of living space also need a permit, so if you’re thinking of converting the attic, or an attached barn, you will need to apply for permission before you begin. Also, any change of use of all or part of the property (or the land) - eg, converting a garage into living space, or vice versa, or turning a field into a campsite.

What types of permit are there?

There are a number of different types of permit, and the one you need will depend on the type of work being undertaken. There are three main types of planning application, and these cater for almost all the permits you are likely to require. However, planning is a complex issue in France, so we suggest you consult our planning and bulding expert for personal assistance:

Permis de Construire: This is the most common type of permit and can be used for most planning applications.

Permis d’Aménager: Mainly to be used in connection with changes to the use of land - eg permission to use land as a campsite, or to develop land into a housing estate (lotissement).

Déclaration Préalable: For minor changes to property, and small extensions or conversions/changes of use.

Certificat d’ Urbanisme: This the rough equivalent of “outline” permission in the UK and is used primarily to apply for permission to build on a piece of land, or to check whether existing structures can be developed into habitable buildings.

Who can apply for a planning permit?

For the purposes of this article, we’ll concentrate on permission for private dwellings only. In this regard the law specifies that the planning dossier must be presented by an architect who is registered in France. However, subject to certain conditions, if the property has a total habitable floor area of less than 170m², then anyone can prepare and present the dossier. Be aware though that the plans, drawings and supporting documentation needed for a complete dossier have to submitted in a specified format and that if they are incomplete or incorrect, your application will be delayed or refused altogether

How long does a permit last for?

A certificat d’urbanisme lasts for 18 months from the date of issue. It can be renewed at the end of this period provided local planning regulations have not altered to the point where the property is adversely affected. Most other permits (permis de construire, déclaration préalable. . . ) last for a period of 3 years. They too can be renewed on an annual basis provided the works for which the original permit was granted have commenced.

Where do I apply for a permit?

In the first instance, all applications need to be submitted to your local Mairie (Town Hall), who are responsible for presenting your dossier to the planning authority. Your Mairie can advise on what is required for your dossier, but are unable to help with the dossier itself.

How long will the planning process take? Most planning applications take between 2 and 3 months from the date that you submit the dossier to the Mairie. However, some may take up to 6 months if the property is located in an architecturally sensitive area, or close to a historic monument for example. Unlike in the UK, there are set time limits within which the authorities MUST respond to your application. If they do not, then subject to certain criteria, you will have an automatic right to proceed, and to request a “tacit” approval.

What does it cost to apply for a permit?

Unlike in the UK, there is no cost for the application process itself. You will of course have to pay your architect or project manager for their work. If permission is granted, there will be a one-off tax to pay for the approval, based on the area in which the property is located, and the size of the development.

How do I find a builder?

One of the best ways is to ask people in your locality for recommendations. As with anywhere in the world, there are good tradesmen and not so good tradesmen. Ask around, then go and see the quality of their work for yourself before you decide. If you opt for French artisans, you will probably have to look for someone from each trade- electrician, plumber, mason, roofer, etc. There are very few french general builders. You can of course opt for British tradesmen living in your area, and you may find fewer problems because of the language barrier. However, it isn’t always wise to choose someone just because they speak your language. Check carefully before you make that important decision.

Can I carry out works myself?

There is no legal reason why you cannot carry out work yourself. However, many types of work are regulated, meaning they have to be carried out in accordance with defined standards, and in some cases, certified as meeting those standards. You should also be aware though, that whoever carries out the work is legally responsible for it for a period of 10 years following completion. Tradesmen in France have to be registered and carry a 10 year insurance backed guarantee for many types of work, which is designed to protect both themselves and their clients against future problems. Whilst it is possible in theory to arrange insurance for works carried out by yourself, it is expensive and doesn’t always provide the level of cover you need. Don’t be lured by the pull of a “cash” discount - always ask for a written quotation, clearly showing what works are to be carried out, at what price, and when. In the event that you pay cash for work that later proves to be unsatisfactory, it will be very difficult to successfully claim compensation.

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