Protests against second homes have taken place in Brittany this weekend, with protesters accusing second homeowners of destabilising the market and making it harder for locals to find good housing.
Marches took place yesterday (November 20) in Guingamp, Saint-Malo, Morlaix, Roscoff, Huelgoat, Locmiquélic and Belle-Ile-en-Mer; and are set to take place today (November 21) in Guérande, Trégastel, and Vannes.
Protesters are calling for purchasing restrictions for second homeowners, and a call for restrictions around short-term rentals, such as accommodation offered on platforms such as Airbnb.
Among the protest organisers were UDB (Union Démocratique Bretonne (UDB)), who in July this year called for communes in the region to introduce rules that would stop people from buying homes in Brittany unless they had already lived there for one year.
Leader of UDB, Nil Caouissin, is now a regional councillor in the area. He has previously said that second homes should be considered as “non-used housing stock” and that reducing their number would rebalance the housing market.
The group’s demands also include raising taxes (la taxe d’habitation) on second homes, and turning second homes into main residences.
Mr Caoussin has previously highlighted that “13% of properties in Brittany are second homes, rising to more than 20% and even 80% in popular seaside areas”.
He said that these properties are “only lived in for three months of the year”, but that “competition from wealthy second-home buyers puts prices up, so lower-income residents can only find housing a long way from their work.
“Mayors build homes in their communes, but that uses up valuable agricultural land.”
He said: “If we want to house the growing population decently, one solution is to turn holiday homes into main residences.”
He has called for the gradual eviction of second homeowners, or a ban on any property being sold to non-permanent residents.
He said: “The idea is not targeted at the British, or any other population, and anyone who wants to make Brittany their permanent home is very welcome.”
The housing market has been particularly dynamic over the course of the pandemic, with more people moving away from urban areas and looking to relocate to rural and coastal regions.
The best properties are being snapped up quickly, sometimes before they have even officially appeared on the market, and prices on the coast are soaring.
‘An attack on individual property’
Yet, some local figures disagree and have called Mr Caouissin’s stance “an attack on individual property”.
Loïg Chesnais-Girard, president of the Brittany region, said: "Beyond the feasibility [of a second home law], which is largely doubtful in the current state of national and European law, this statute would be dangerous, ineffective and contrary to Brittany, its interests and its values.”
Yet, Mr Caoussin’s calls for change and this weekend’s protests have reignited the debate over housing stock in the region.
Ronan Loas, mayor of Ploemeur, has said any such property restrictions would be “a sham”, and downplayed Mr Caoussin’s figures.
He said: “65% of people who buy in Ploemeur are from here. And 85% are from the Lorient. Since 2014, we have had 20 to 25 homes bought by Parisians out of 300 to 400 sales.”
Vincent Lemée, communication lead for regional notaires group la Chambre des notaires de l’Ouest, said: “We are seeing people from Ile-de-France coming to the Breton coast because they have greater purchasing power there. But it's not the ‘big rush’ we hear about.”
Brittany is not the only region raising the issue of second homeowners, especially since the pandemic. In Pays Basque, many mayors have decided to increase taxes on second homes; while in Saint-Malo, rules have been put in place to limit the number of short-term rentals.
Since July 1, authorities have restricted short-term rentals to 12.5% of available accommodation within the city walls.