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How to get planning permission for your French property

The Local France
The Local France - [email protected]
How to get planning permission for your French property
Before you - or any tradesmen you hire - can start working on a building project, you may need planning permission. Photo by GERARD JULIEN / AFP

If you own property in France and you want to extend it, embark on a renovation project or even - in some areas - paint the shutters a different colour, you will first need to get permission from the mairie. Here's how the French planning permission system works.

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Certain types of building or DIY projects in France require planning permission, known as a Déclaration préalable. You may also need a building permit (permis de construire) depending on the type of project.

This article deals with the déclaration préalable.

Do you need planning permission?

The first step is to determine whether your project requires planning permission at all, which might be more complicated than it first appears.

As a general rule of thumb anything that changes the size of shape of the building - such as an extension - or any kind of structural change requires planning permission.

Likewise a change of use of the building (from residential to commercial, for example) requires a déclaration préalable.

If you're doing internal renovations they probably won't require planning permission.

But then there are a whole host of specific works like the installation of a swimming pool (if above a certain size), the installation of a skylight or roof shutter or the installation of a raised terrace that do require planning permission.

There's also the matter of where you live - if you are in a historic area or near a historic monument you may need planning permission even for small works like changing the doors and the shutters.

Speaking of shutters, some areas - mostly historic areas - have specific rules that say what colours you can paint your shutters and other external structures.

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If you live in a mountainous area you may be covered by the Loi montagne, which specifies extra safety standards for buildings (because of the risk of avalanches).

Helpful hints

Although the system is complicated, there are two ways that you can make it easier for yourself.

The first is to use the Service Public website - here - which has a simulator that allows you to click on the type of project you want to do, select whether you are in a protected area or not and then it will tell you whether you need a déclaration préalable.

The other is even easier - go and see your local mayor. The mayor (or their assistant) is usually a mine of valuable information and will be able to tell you instantly whether your project requires planning permission and whether the area is covered by any extra local regulations (historic area, mountain laws etc). 

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In smaller villages the mairie might not deal with all queries, but they can tell you which local agency you should direct your déclaration to.

What next

Once you have established that you do need a déclaration préalable, the next stage is to complete the form. 

As the building owner, it is your responsibility to make sure the paperwork is completed, but if you are using a builder or other artisan they might offer to do the forms as part of the service. You can also instruct a professional to act on your behalf in this matter - some real estate agents specialising in foreign buyers or relocation agencies might offer planning permission help as part of their service (which you will pay for, of course).

If you're doing the paperwork yourself, the next stage is to find the form.

Depending on the type of project there are different forms - the one for works being done on a private home can be downloaded here, and you can find the other options here

If you're in a commune with more than 3,500 inhabitants, your mairie might offer an online service to submit the form. In smaller places you will usually have to submit the form by post or in person, although some mairies offer an option to email it.

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The form

The form requires your personal details, plus the details of the property and exactly what works you intend to do.

If you're a second-home owner then the address asked for with your personal details should be your full-time home (even if that is outside France), while the property address is the French address you are working on.

You will then need to tick the boxes to describe the work you are doing. It's a good idea to add a little description of the works you intend to do, just so everyone is clear what you are doing.

Supporting information

The second section of the form is dedicated to pièces jointes - which are supporting documents to add. Exactly what you need to add depends on the nature of your project.

Decision stage

You then send the completed form to the mairie. In smaller villages there might be an arrangement where a slightly larger commune deals with planning applications. Your application won't be rejected if you sent it to the wrong place, but it will just take longer so it's a good idea to check with your local mayor where you should send it.

Your mairie should give you an récépissé (receipt) for your application with a registration number. If you make the application online you should get this via email.

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The mairie then has one month to notify you of any problems with the application, or to request more information.

Technically, if you don't get a response within a month then you can start work, but it's usually a good idea to check with the mairie before you start a project if it's complicated or expensive.

If the project is approved you can request from the mairie a certificat de non-opposition (certificate of non-opposition) which may be needed for insurance purposes or if you are taking out a loan.

The mairie can either approve your application, refuse it, authorise it with certain conditions or postpone the decision. The postponement can be made for us to two years, but only under certain circumstances - usually related to planned public works that your project could make more difficult or expensive. This postponement is known as sursis à statuer.

You have the right to appeal against a refusal, imposition of conditions or a postponement.

Completion

The final step, which is often forgotten, is that once your project is finished you must inform the mairie that the works are all done. This process - which is called a Déclaration attestant l'achèvement et la conformité des travaux (DAACT) (declaration of completion and conformity of works) is so that the mairie can check that your project is completed in accordance with local rules and the conditions of your planning permission.

You can find details of this here.

Other paperwork

As mentioned above, you may also need a building permit - permis de construire - for your works. If any part of your project involves people working close to a main road (for example painting the frontage of your house if it adjoins a road) you may also need to request a full or partial road closure, for safety reasons.

You can speak to your local mairie about arranging this. 

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