Owning a French monument historique has its advantages
If you want to buy a chateau, you will need to know the rules and regulations – but also the financial rewards – of monument historique status.
Importantly, not all chateaux are monuments historiques.
If you buy one without the status, you are free to do what you want with it, subject to the usual planning permission rules.
Roughly corresponding to the UK’s listed buildings, monument historique status covers 43,500 buildings and gardens which represent “sufficient historical or artistic interest for their protection to be desirable”.
They are listed on the culture ministry website at www2.culture.gouv.fr/culture/inventaire/patrimoine
Two-thirds of them were put on the list by regional préfets, following the advice of a Commission Régionale du Patrimoine et des Sites (Crps). Owners do not have a say on whether their building is listed or not.
The rest were listed by Culture Ministry decree on the advice of the Crps and the Commission Nationale des Monuments Historiques (Cnmh).
Here, the owner’s consent is needed and if there is difficulty the listing may be withdrawn or forced through by France’s highest administrative court, the Conseil d’Etat, but this is rare.
If you own a listed building, there are four different state appointees, and their staff, with whom you might have to deal if you plan any work.
Most important is the Conservateur Régional des Monuments Historiques (Crmh), who is part of the Direction Régionale des Affaires Culturelles (Drac).
The Crmh oversees administrative, financial and technical procedures for the upkeep, saving and restoration of monuments and makes sure standards are met.
Getting the Crmh on your side can help ease many problems.
Then there is the Architecte en Chef des Monuments Historiques (Acmh), one of 40 state appointees who work independently on listed buildings.
Thirdly, the Architecte du Patrimoine (Ap), another state appointee, working privately, is a specialist in conservation and restoration.
Finally, each department has an Architecte des Bâtiments de France (ABF), a state employee in charge of maintaining the environment within 500m of a listed building, and advising on any permis de construire for work on the building and within 500m.
They also head the Unité Départementale de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine (Udap), the successor of the Service Territorial de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine (Stap).
For most work, Udap is the first stop for administrative formalities, with an exception for ordinary maintenance or replacing elements, such as gutters, with like for like.
A file detailing the work is submitted with plans approved by Acmh or Ap architects, and a delay of six months is imposed for a decision. After that time, tacit approval can be assumed.
If the work needs a permis de construire, as it will if an extension is proposed, for example, a normal application is made to the mairie but it must be backed by approved plans from a Acmh or Ap qualified architect.
A six-month delay also applies, but importantly, no decision means a tacit rejection of the application.
Workers on a monument historique site must prove they have the skills needed. Most have the state-recognised OPQCB-Qualibat label and normally charge more than others.
Non-Qualibat artisans can be employed but must convince state officials of their capabilities.
State help from Drac is limited to a maximum of 40% of the bill, but department, region and culture ministry grants are also available.
Another source of funding comes from accepting individual or comp-any sponsorship under mécénat rules, which open the way to tax deductions.
However, these usually involve undertaking to open the building to the public for 50 days in the year, including public holidays and Sundays.
Expenses related to the monument historique, including building work, insurance, taxe foncière and interest from loans, can be deducted at a 50% level from income tax, and 100% if the building is open to the public.
Ownership of a monument historique must be included in calculations for wealth tax but the constraints imposed mean the valuation is reduced.
A final benefit is that monuments historiques may not face inheritance tax.
More information is available from the Demeure Historique association for monument owner-managers, with some key documents also in English.
Crowdfunder saves sites
Some of the 28,000 sponsors who raised €2million to save the Château de la Mothe-Chandeniers (pictured left) in Vienne from demolition have been able to enjoy the first summer of visits to the building
They were part of a crowdfunded rescue bid to save the chateau, which was abandoned after a devastating fire in 1932.
Visits to the site, at Les Trois-Moutiers, between Tours and Angers, continue until mid-October, with work going on to preserve the site as a living ruin.
Crowdfunding was organised by the Dartagnans.fr website, which has many projects appealing for funds this month.
Examples include €10,400 to start to save the stained glass and the church of L’Hermenault in Vendée (see photo above, right) and €5,000 in Ardèche to deconstruct the conciergerie at Château de Montivert (main image above) so it can be rebuilt later.