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Capital gain tax win for couple who move 9 times in 12 years in France

Court finds in their favour over renovations. We also look at a ‘haunted’ castle for sale and rent control plans for south-west France in our Thursday property round-up

This week's wrap of property stories includes haunted castles, Basque rentals, and a lack of new build houses causing further concern in the property market Pic: Hadrian / Duncan Andison / Alberto Giron Photography / Jeremy Mincer / Shutterstock

1: Rent controls coming in for Pays-Basque

Communes in the Pays-Basque area of south west France will be able to impose rent limits on accommodation – but not until 2025. 

“In substance, it’s a done deal,” said the Minister for Housing Patrice Vergriete, but “questions of form and legal procedure” mean the implementation is not immediate.

The changes will see caps on how much homes can be rented for within applicable communes to long-term tenants (this applies to people who are renting as a home for a while and not just for the holiday season). 

The area will be the sixth place in France to implement rent controls, but the first where the controls are placed across an entire area, and not just in a city (rent controls are already in place in Paris, Lille, Lyon/Villeurbanne, Montpellier, and Bordeaux). 

The area is one of the most impacted in France by housing tension, with a demand for long-term housing outstripping supply.

This is in part due to the number of properties used for short-term holiday lets during the tourist high season, which thus prevents them from being let year-round to those who live permanently in the area.

Median rents in the Pays-Basque are around €10.5 per month per m², making it the 10th most expensive place to rent in France, alongside cities like Grenoble, Toulouse and Rennes. 

This is despite the entire area having a population far smaller than any of those cities.

The change is one of several in the area aimed at recalibrating the renting market. 

Since July 2022, any person putting a property up for short-term renting, also has to provide the market with a year-long property in the area as well. 

Read more: Second homes advert sparks anger along Basque coast

2: ‘Haunted’ 118-room chateau on sale

A 118-room chateau originally built in the 11th-century – and 12 hectares of surrounding land – have been put up for sale for €1.5million.. 

The Château de Veauce in Allier, Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, was originally the site of a fort built by Charlemagne before work on a castle began in the 11th century. 

Various additions and renovations mean the castle now totals around 118 rooms, and it is classed as monument historique by France. 

One sticking point for potential buyers, however, is that it is allegedly haunted by a number of ghosts, including a teenager called Lucie who used to work in the castle. 

Lucie died in one of the castle’s five towers around 500 years ago, and is said to still walk the halls of the property today.

Other ghost sightings reported from the storied castle include a 50-year old woman, with her hair up in a bun, allegedly witnessed by the current owner’s son. 

The main reason the château is up for sale, however, is because of the large number of renovation works that need to be undertaken. 

“I'm the president of the endowment fund that owns the property. We are a company open to the public and it's difficult to remain open to the public until the renovations are completed and the property needs work,” said Jeremy, son of the current owner – an Englishman who lives in the castle. 

Renovation works could cost between €10 and €20 million and include intensive repair work on the castle’s keep which collapsed in 2005. 

“We're not worried [about the cost of the renovations for potential buyers], the castle is magnificent, so it will find takers,” said Jeremy. 

Because the building is listed as a historic monument, up to 50% of the cost of the renovations could be reimbursed by the government. 

This reimbursement for historically listed buildings requires that they be in a rural area or protected town centre, easily reachable using public roads, and the property is renovated completely and not partially. 

Even if the steep price of the property may be putting people off, the ghosts are not.

“No one mentioned their fear of seeing ghosts when they visited the chateau to buy it. It is normal to see ghosts in such an old place,” said the owner’s son. 

Read more: A chateau for just €100? French mairie buys fairytale ruin

3: Couple move nine times in 12 years, no capital gains tax paid

A couple who moved almost 10 times in a period of 12 years and did not pay any capital gains tax have received a favourable ruling from the Conseil d’État. 

The court agreed with the couple from Bordeaux that each time, it was their main home that was sold, meaning they were not eligible to pay the tax. 

The tax authorities, who brought the case, argued that the “short period of time separating the completion of the construction work on the houses from their sale,” as well as the fact that the “real estate transactions were carried out with speculative intent.” showed they were not selling their own primary home.

They claimed that these two points meant the couple were acting as property traders, and not using the homes as their primary residence, thus making them eligible for capital gains tax on each sale.

The Conseil d’État ruled however that neither of these constituted a breach in the rules because the authorities did not “call into question the actual occupation of the property as a principal residence, or invoke an abuse of rights.” 

The evidence given did not provide enough evidence that the couple were acting as “property traders” nor that they were breaching tax rules.

The couple claimed that each of the nine houses acted as their primary residence for the duration they were bought, regardless of whether there were renovation works going on in the property or not.

The court ruled, however, that it was a ‘cassation avec renvoi’, meaning the issue could be viewed again provided the tax authorities bring evidence of the required charge.

According to lawyer blogger Margaux Dossin-Disant, all the tax authorities would need to prove is that the couple “had established their habitual and effective residence in the real estate sold with a view (exclusively or mainly) to evading capital gains tax,” to be liable. 

Read more: Sale of French second home causes capital gains tax worry

4: Number of building permits granted down over 20% 

The number of building permits granted to construct new houses has decreased by 22.8% in a year, new data from the Ministry for Ecological Transition shows.

Between August 2022 and July 2023, 397,600 building permits for homes were granted across France. 

This is 117,300 (or 22.8%) fewer than in the 12 months before that and is being seen as another sign that France’s property market is facing a slump. 

Read more: Is now the right time to buy or sell property in France?

This is even taking into account the spike in permits awarded in August 2022, caused by a backlog of applications in late 2021 (constructors handed in applications before building law changes came into effect in January 2022). 

In July 2023, 32,400 building permits were granted, slightly higher than the previous month.

Monthly, between 30,000 – 35,000 permits have been granted since the Covid pandemic. 

Prior to the first lockdown, however, the monthly average number of permits given was around 40,000. 

The number of new building constructions being started between August 2022 and July 2023 is also down 13.2% compared to the previous 12 months. 

Construction companies are citing rising costs from inflation and the cost of raw materials as one of the leading reasons for the drop, alongside the increased difficulty for buyers to get a mortgage. 

Read more: Is it true that squatters can sue property owners in France?

Other property stories from this week 

Alongside the four stories above, The Connexion has covered a number of other property-related stories over the last week. 

This includes the listing of an entire hamlet in the north east of France for €2.3 million (including its old factory), alongside potential plans for anti-heatwave renovations to fall under government subsidy schemes

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