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Boilers, walls, widows: Five updates for property owners in France

More money is made available to convert gas boilers, a dispute about a garden wall is settled and a court rules on the controversial eviction of a deceased man’s wife

In our weekly property roundup we look at changing gas boilers, garden walls, eviction rules and the Sables-d'Olonne Pic: Christine Bird, Ruslan Ivantsov, Tap10, page frederique / Shutterstock

Extra €1,000 in grants to replace gas boilers

The French government has announced this week an economic plan aiming to mitigate rising energy costs caused by the Ukraine war and to reduce France’s reliance on Russian gas and oil.

Read more: Energy, fuel, transport: France’s ‘resilience’ financial aid plan

As part of this, people who apply for green renovation grants to help them replace a gas or oil-powered boiler with a more environmentally friendly heating system will be eligible for up to an extra €1,000. 

Eligible heating system alternatives include heat pumps (including hybrids) or biomass boilers.

Read more: Explained: How to apply for a renovation grant for your French home

The extra money will be made available from April 15 and run until the end of 2022. 

Currently, an air-to-water heat pump costs €10,000 to €15,000 (including installation). Very low-income households looking to purchase one can get total grants of up to €8,000, and low-income households up to €7,000. 

Around half of this money comes from the MaPrimeRénov scheme, and the other from Certificats d’économies d’énergie (CEE)

Anyone who owns a house in France and lives in it as their main residence or rents it out can benefit from the MaPrimeRénov’ grant. However, it is income based, so the more a household earns the less money it is eligible for. You can read an explanation of the breakdown of costs in our article here

Ecological Transition Minister Barbara Pompili has said that switching from gas boilers to more eco-friendly alternatives can make your annual energy bills three times lower. 

MaPrimeRénov’ ‘failing to reduce number of low energy performance homes’

France’s main renovation grant for making properties more eco-friendly, MaPrimeRénov’, has meanwhile been criticised for not being effective enough by France’s public finance auditor the Cour des comptes.

It said that out of 644,000 applications for funding under the scheme in 2021, only 2,500 grants had helped badly-insulated homes, known as passoires thermiques, to improve their energy efficiency enough to move out of the category, one of France’s key environmental aims.

Properties in France are evaluated for energy efficiency with an energy performance certificate system known as the diagnostic de performance énergétique

Houses that are very energy efficient are given a score of A, while poor-performing households (passoires thermiques) are given a rating of E, F or G, with G being the worst. 

France had set a target of getting 80,000 passoires thermiques up to at least a rating of D in 2021. 

In a report published yesterday (March 16) the body noted the objective to reach more people with the MaPrimeRénov’ grant and said the scheme was making a wide-ranging contribution to improving homes’ energy efficiency. However “the verification of the quality and effectiveness of the work in the fight against passoires thermiques and fuel poverty is not guaranteed”. 

The average amount people receive in grants from MaPrimeRénov’ is around €3,200. This is far less than the estimated €40,000 to €50,000 needed to cover the costs to convert a passoire thermique into an energy-efficient home. It suggests many grants are going towards small jobs rather than major renovation work.

Additionally, the system can be slow to reimburse households. In last week’s property update, we covered a couple who are still waiting for €16,000 to be paid out in renovation grants. You can read about it here (second update on the list): Shortages, grant delays: Five updates for property owners in France.

Manuel Domergue, director of studies at the housing support association Fondation Abbé Pierre, said the report “confirms our fear”. 

“It is possible to carry out renovations on a large number of households through small and simple jobs: A change of boiler or windows, for example,” he told Figaro Immobilier.

“There have certainly been many renovations [through the MaPrimeRénov’ scheme], but they are not of a very high quality. More generous public aid is needed to carry out expensive work.”

France’s Housing Minister Emmanuelle Wargon said that the process will take time. 

The government is aiming for 800,000 new MaPrimeRénov' applications in 2022 and has set aside €2billion for the scheme. 

By 2023, there will be a ban on renting out the worst G-rated properties. This will be extended to all other G-rated properties in 2025, and then to F-rated properties in 2028.

There are estimated to be around seven to eight million passoires thermiques in France. 

Read more: Explained: How to apply for a renovation grant for your French home

A high wall is not necessarily a nuisance to neighbours

A wall between two neighbouring properties that exceeds the height set by planning permission is not necessarily illegal, a French appeal court ruled in a decision issued in January this year. 

It comes after a couple demanded that their neighbours’ wall, which is between 2.22 and 2.35 metres high, be demolished as the height exceeded that listed in their planning permnission. They also sued for €5,000 in compensation. 

But this has been rejected on the basis that the wall still complies with the town planning regulations, the Le Plan Local d’Urbanisme (PLU). 

The PLU only regulates the height of walls or fences that look onto public streets, and not those dividing neighbouring properties. 

Additionally, the court found that the newly constructed wall did not block any sunlight reaching their neighbours’ garden, restrict their neighbours’ view or violate any aesthetic regulations. 

Widow evicted from property for not officially stating her intention to stay

A woman whose husband died has been evicted from the flat they lived in together as she did not officially declare her desire to remain in the flat for the rest of her life.

The flat was left to the man’s children from a previous marriage. 

In France, even if you are not the inheritor of a property, you can state your wish to remain living in it after the death of your spouse. You have one year to state this officially. 

There is no particular process for expressing this desire, but it is best to inform the notaire handling the deceased’s will, with a letter with recorded delivery and acknowledgement of receipt being the most fool-proof way of making the declaration official. 

In this recent case, the widow claimed that the fact that she chose to continue living in the property was proof enough of her intention to stay there. 

But top appeal court the Cour de cassation, which has jurisdiction over all civil and criminal matters, ruled against the woman. 

Seaside town agrees to quotas on tourist lets

Les Sables-d'Olonne, a commune grouping several seaside towns in western France (Vendée), has introduced quotas on the number of properties that can be rented out as short-stay holiday lets in each neighbourhood. 

The move aims to increase the number of long-term rentals (of at least one year) in a location where holiday lets are said to be swamping the market. 

Seven neighbourhoods are included in the new plan, voted through on March 10.

In four of them, Passage, Cours Blossac, Saint-Pierre and Les Présidents, no new tourist lets are allowed. 

If someone with a second home in these districts wants to convert it into a tourist let, they will have to wait until the owner of a tourist let converts their property into a second home, in a ‘one in one out’ system. 

In three other districts there are caps on the number of new holiday lets that can be created.

Owners of second homes in the commune have, since January 1 2020, been obliged to declare to local authorities if they want to rent out their properties to tourists. They are then required to pay a yearly tourist tax (taxe de séjour). 

Landlords who rent out their second homes to tourists without declaring risk a fine of up to €50,000.

Between January 2018 and January 2022, the number of landlords officially declaring their properties as tourist rentals has increased from 1,150 to 2,273. 

Les Sables-d’Olonne estimates that the revenue from the tourist tax has risen from €800,000 to €1.5million a year in the past five years.

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