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Renovating a French property: be aware of planning rules before buying

Rules and restrictions can vary from region to region. Helen Fullerton of Ashtons Legal answers a reader query

Building rules and restrictions can vary from region to region Pic: Mira Arnaudova / Shutterstock

Reader question: I am looking to buy and renovate a French property. Is there anything I need to know regarding local planning rules? 

Many buyers have big plans for their new French property.

The national planning rules (règlement national d’urbanisme) are supplemented or superseded by local planning rules (such as a plan local d’urbanisme).

The applicable rules dictate which works necessitate planning formalities, such as a declaration of intended works (déclaration préalable de travaux) or more onerous planning permission, such as a permis de construire.

Properties in a protected area (secteur protégé) can be subject to additional restrictions. 

Localities can be protected due to proximity to historic monuments, heritage site status or because they are within a nature reserve or national park.

In these areas, most projects, particularly those altering the exterior aspect of a property, require the additional consent of a specialist group, the Architectes des bâtiments de France (ABF). 

If consent is granted, it can be subject to conditions to ensure the visual harmony of the area is respected.

Read also: Which materials have gone up the most for home renovation in France?

Depending on how important the proposed works are to their future plans, buyers could make their purchase conditional on receiving a Certificat d’urbanisme d’information (CUa), which indicates a future planning application is likely to result in a favourable outcome.

We ask clients what their intentions are for the property and whether they would still buy it if they could not, for example, convert the cellar or barn, or extend into the garden. 

We also discuss additional costs and delays associated with planning requirements.

Based on the response, we can negotiate the necessary amendments to the initial contract to give them the option to withdraw from the purchase without penalty if they learn their project is not possible.

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