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Rules for guttering and collecting rainwater in France

Regulations include the style of gutters allowed, how you can use collected rainwater, and the distance gutters should be to neighbouring properties

There are rules on the style and location of gutters on property in France, as well as the use of collected rainwater Pic: Sylv1rob1 / Shutterstock

Replacing and maintaining guttering, as well as collecting rainwater, can be positive actions to take at your home in France - but there are certain rules to follow. We explain.

Gutters play an essential role in protecting your property from water damage, improving drainage, and preventing flooding. You can also divert the water and collect it for watering your plants or other outdoors tasks, such as washing cars.

Here is how to install gutters and collect water safely and legally.

Is it compulsory to fit guttering to my house?

No, in most cases, it is not compulsory although some regions or areas may require it for planning or environmental reasons, so it is best to check with your local council to be certain.

Either way, Article 681 of the Code Civil requires that owners manage rainwater appropriately, within the boundaries of the property. 

It is illegal to discharge rainwater onto a neighbouring property although once it's on the ground, any water that runs off naturally can flow onto the neighbouring property.

Can authorities require me to use a particular material, style or colour?

Local authorities can impose certain aesthetic rules on gutters to ensure that they are in keeping with the surrounding style, architectural norms, or historical characteristics of the area. 

These rules can extend to material, style and colour.

Guttering is typically available in materials such as PVC, steel, aluminium, zinc, and copper.

There are also different styles, and your local authority may have rules on which are recommended or required.

Your mairie can advise if any restrictions of this kind exist.

Article R111-27 of the planning code states that colours must “be in harmony with external surroundings and not detract from the character or interest of the surrounding area, the sites, the natural or urban landscapes or the conservation of monument views (landscapes).”

Local regulations may be even stricter if your property is in a protected area or sector (zone or secteur protégé), you may also need an opinion - and in some cases, approval - from the national Architecte des Bâtiments de France (ABF). 

You can search for your departmental ABF unit (Unité Départementale de l'Architecture et du Patrimoine, UDAP) by postcode on the ABF website here.

Read more: Renovating a French property: be aware of planning rules before buying

Can guttering be installed on property boundaries?

If you are installing gutters on property boundaries, you must comply with the Code Civil. 

For example, the gutters must not encroach on the neighbouring plot (articles 640 and 641), and it is recommended that you keep a good distance from the neighbouring property to be sure.

As stated above, however, once on the ground any water that runs off naturally can flow onto the neighbouring property.

Where should water from the gutters go?

Gutter water must be channelled through an appropriate pipe, away from the foundations of the house. 

Certain building standards must be met to avoid flooding and drainage problems.

There are four legal ways of disposing of rainwater:

  • The public sewerage and rainwater network, or the separate public rainwater network. Depending on your area, you may also need to have a separate network on your plot. You can check with your local water management authority to be sure.

  • In a septic tank or via drainage ditches on your plot.

  • On a roof tank, if the roof is not made of asbestos.

  • In a ditch, with the agreement of the ditch owner (for example, the commune, or a private individual).

 

New laws on climate change also require construction projects to have plans for the sustainable management of rainwater, including the prevention and management of flooding.

Who should clean a house's gutters, the tenant or the owner?

Tenants must clean the gutters of the property they rent, as it is considered to be ordinary maintenance. 

However, any major repairs or significant works are the responsibility of the owner. Owners must also replace gutters if they are damaged or no longer working.

Do I need permission to replace my gutters?

Yes, if: 

  • The replacement changes the external appearance of the house (such as the materials, colour, or style), or it cannot be considered as ordinary maintenance or repair work to the existing gutters. In this case, you will need to submit a déclaration préalable de travaux (DP, or preliminary works declaration) to the mairie.

  • The replacement is on a building listed as a historic monument. In this case, any change of colour or materials will require planning permission (DP).

If the change will not alter the external appearance of the house, or constitutes ordinary maintenance or repair work, such as replacing old gutters with visually-identical new ones, no DP is needed.

Can I collect the water that falls from my gutter for my own use?

Yes, you can collect rainwater, but not for use as drinking water, personal hygiene or washing water, for washing dishes or food, or for laundry (Article R211-127 of the Code de l’Environnement). 

This is because it is considered to pose a risk to health.

For outdoor use, no specific authorisation is required to reuse rainwater. This means that you can use it to water plants, to wash your home or driveway, or to wash your car.

Read more: What are the French rules on using rainwater collectors? 

Read more: Practical tips for buying rainwater collector as sales surge in France 

You must make a declaration to the local council if you have a rainwater harvesting system used for domestic purposes, and which runs off into the public sewerage system (as you will need to pay the taxe d'assainissement collectif, or public sewerage tax). This is outlined in Article R2224-19-4 of the Code général des collectivités territoriale (the local authority code).

You are also banned from mixing rainwater and drinking water supplies, either in your own home or in any drainage into the public water network.

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