'Demolish your rebuilt house'

Permission to renovate does not cover rebuilding if your property collapses mid-work

Permission to renovate does not cover rebuilding if your property collapses mid-work, rules court

WHEN the roof fell in – literally – on a couple’s plan to renovate and extend their property they possibly thought that things could not get any worse.

They were in for a shock, as their decision to push ahead with the work and rebuild their property has led to them being fined in the Cour de Cassation and ordered to demolish the newly-reconstructed building.

It is a situation that could affect anyone who is planning a major refurbishment project which hits structural problems.

Central to their problem, is the French supreme court ruling on planning consent for rebuilding a property.

The couple had thought that their civil right to reconstruct the property would exempt them from the need to obtain planning permission.

They had presumed that the original planning permission obtained to carry out the renovation and build an extension on to their existing residential property would carry through for the new works. The court disagreed.

Their problems started during renovation work on the roof that was being carried out by a contractor.

The central beam of the roof gave way, leading to the substantial collapse of the house.

After brushing the dust off their clothes, the owners decided to continue with the works to reconstruct the house, in an identical manner before it had collapsed.

However, the planning authority insisted they submit a new planning application for the works, something the owners felt was unnecessary.

Work proceeded to complete the reconstruction of the house, by which time the authorities had started legal proceedings against the owners.

A hearing before the local tribunal found the couple guilty, fined them e1,500 and ordered them to demolish the property, a judgement that was later confirmed by the appeal court in Grenoble.

The Cour de Cassation confirmed the judgment and said it considered that the original planning consent for renovation and an extension of the property could not be used for what was now something completely different: a reconstruction project.

French planning law grants owners the automatic right to rebuild a property destroyed by fire, storm or other catastrophe, provided it was built within the previous 10 years, and that it is not contrary to the local plan.

In the case of an older property it would be necessary to submit a planning application.

However, the courts have now clearly stated this automatic right does not allow an owner to forego the need to obtain planning permission for works.

Local authorities argue that this is necessary in order to ensure that the planned works are carried out in a proper manner.

Planning permission

Although not all building work to your property requires planning permission, some work still needs the consent of the local council to ensure it complies with local planning regulations.

The rule applies particularly to building work that creates a structure of between 2m² to 20m². Such work requires the submission of a simplified form of planning consent, or notice of building works, called a déclaration préalable de travaux.

Such a notice is required for:
- Any construction of at least 12 metres high;
- A conservatory or greenhouse less than 4m high;
- Walls at least 2m high;
- Change of use of a building involving no major works;
- Installation of submerged swimming pool;
- Holiday chalets less than 20m² located outside of designated holiday camp;
- Changes to the external facade of a property, including new openings;
- Poles or pylons at least 12m high.

The rules are tougher for properties in conservation areas, or to listed buildings, when you should discuss your plans with the local council.

There is no requirement to use an architect, as is generally the case with a planning application, but the process can still be quite daunting.

Although in most cases you just complete tick boxes on the application form, you will also need to submit scaled drawings of the existing and proposed developments, as well as a written description.

As a result, professional assistance is likely to be necessary in most cases.

If the application form is not submitted correctly it will be returned to you, with the inevitable delays that will then occur to your project.

The council has one month to consider the application and may approve with conditions, or refuse it altogether.

If no reply is received within a month, then the application is deemed to have been approved. The idea of “tacit consent” is used to try and speed up the process, and if you are at all concerned that you have nothing in writing, you can ask the mairie for a letter of “non-opposition”.

Once approved, you will need to keep a notice on the site until completion of the works. You also need to start the works within three years, or the consent is invalid.

If you start but later stop the works for more than a year, then strictly speaking, the consent can be withdrawn, although this rule is not always enforced.

This three year period of grace runs for all applications approved up to the end 2010, when the government may decide to revert back to a previous law that works must begin within two years.

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