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French man faces legal battle over yurts he rents for free to families

The 60-year-old from near Nantes says he was forced to act due to skyrocketing rent prices. His local mairie says he must dismantle the yurts as he does not have a building permit

One of the yurts in Jean-Marc Perrigot’s near-6,000 square metre garden Pic: Cécile Valembois

A French man is engaged in a legal battle with local authorities to keep two yurts that he built in his garden, both of which are occupied, rent-free, by young families. 

Jean-Marc Perrigot, a 60-year-old choreographer and theatre producer, is due in court on June 8. Local authorities say his yurts contravene construction laws. 

But Mr Perrigot, who built the yurts without planning permission in his 5,800 square-metre property plot in Nort-sur-Erdre, 30 kilometres north of Nantes, says they are needed to help families struggling with soaring rent prices.

Two couples in their 30s, one of which has two children, live in the yurts. 

“I think that a landlord with a large plot of land who can share it without damaging farm land… that is the type of solution that should be aimed for,” Mr Perrigot told The Connexion.

He is also trying to raise awareness for a movement of small, eco-friendly homes in France as a direct consequence of failed bargaining with the mairie to legally recognise the yurts.

Both families have refused offers to move into alternative accommodation offered by local authorities, saying they did not want to skip ahead of others on the waiting list.

Cécile Valembois, an animation assistant, moved into one of the yurts in July 2018 with her husband, Louis Soumagnac, a cabinetmaker and piano tuner. They now have two children and Ms Valembois, 31, was pregnant with the first when they moved in. 

Before, the couple had been working on renovating an old house that they had bought but ran into administrative problems with the building permit, forcing them to sell the land. 

It left them with few options and they were grateful for the offer to live in Mr Perrigot’s yurt. 

“The freedom that came with living in a yurt appealed,” said Ms Valembois, 35, adding that they had at first hesitated about the move with the first baby on the way.  

Legal troubles

The two yurts have solid foundations and are connected to Mr Perrigot’s house’s electricity supply. They are both over 40 square metres. 

This means that legally a permis de construire is required for the structures, which are occupied year-round and are not temporary. 

Mr Perrigot built the first yurt in 2015 and the second in 2018. 

Police came to his property on July 23, 2018 to deliver a formal notice to stop the construction of the second yurt and to dismantle both of them, giving him 18 months to do so. 

Mr Perrigot said police came a second time in January 2019 to take pictures that were used to write up an official report, something he said he only learned more than two years after, while having never been shown any official document.

Mr Perrigot was notified of the official report on February 1, 2021 and asked to remove the yurts within two months. 

He said that he will abide by the law if he is officially sentenced and ordered to dismantle them. 

Ms Valembois said that uncertainty over the living situation is difficult.

“There is a Damocles sword over our heads. It is stressful to think we could be evicted and asked to leave at any moment,” she said. 

She added that police have come to the yurt six times.

But Guy David from Nort-sur-Erdre’s urban services said that the mairie had run out of patience and that discussions were no longer possible. 

He confirmed the mairie offered affordable housing solutions that were rejected by the families. 

Mr David said the town no longer allows construction permit applications while Mr Perrigot’s yurts would have needed construction permits at the time.

“It is very laudable to help people in need but there are rules to abide by,” said Mr David. 

Community support for yurt project

Claire-Hélène Vivier and Guillaume Riailland, both in their 30s, are the tenants of the other yurt, which they moved into in January of this year. 

Ms Vivier has launched a petition to demand legal recognition for the yurts and also for broader recognition of other small or light housing solutions in France. 

“Beyond our situation, we would like to see the recognition in France of small housing models that respond to the ecological and social emergency that we all face,” she wrote in the petition’s description. 

It has so far (May 20) been signed by 37,730 people. 

Mr Perrigot and the two families living in the yurts have become supporters of a movement known as Build In My Backyard (BIMBY), which promotes living in small or tiny houses to combat housing shortages, rising rent costs and tough mortgage conditions.  

Mr Perrigot said that their fight has been well received by the local community. 

“A small town life has emerged, something we would like to preserve,” said Mr Perrigot, listing a 120-square-metre space dedicated to recycling or a group buy-in system for  ‘boulangerie’ purchases.

“It enlightened us and helped develop the collective mindset by the thousands,” said Ms Valembois. 

Mr Perrigot said he organised a first meeting last November to raise awareness about the BIMBY movement, which resulted in the creation of a dedicated conference, an exposition and the creation of the ‘Libres Toits’ (Free roofs) collective.

Mr Perrigot’s story also received the support of Malice Nort-sur-Erdre, a local association created in 2004 aimed at defending local actions and citizen initiatives. 

He said that he hopes the yurt situation will be resolved and that the people at the mairie “return to their senses”. 

“If the mairie was open to discussion, I would be running there so that we could build the future of housing together.”

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