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Self-heating homes, holiday lets: Five French property updates

We also look at how energy ratings affect property value, the fraught sale of a historic fortress and the family who discovered their home was on heavily polluted land while gardening

We look at news affecting property-owners in France this week Pic: EricGr / Andrey_Popov / rifqa.j / Claudio Giovanni Colombo / Shutterstock

Lyon pioneers residential building without heating or air conditioning

The city of Lyon has an innovative solution to soaring energy costs – to build homes that need neither heating nor air conditioning to maintain a comfortable year-round room temperature of 22C to 26C.

Read more: How your gas and electricity bills will change in France in 2023

It is trialling the ‘2226’ concept – so-called because of this temperature range – in a new residential building along the banks of the Rhône in the city’s Confluence district.

The six-story building, designed by Austrian architectural firm Baumschlager Eberle, promises reduced CO2 emissions both in its construction and use.

It is based on the principles of bioclimatic architecture – that is, taking stock of environmental conditions and using them to benefit the needs of the building, offer maximum comfort, while avoiding high consumption of resources. 

The main heat source is the sun, which is maximised with good insulation and well-placed openings that draw on European architectural traditions.

"We didn't reinvent but observed what was done in the past and thought about how to adapt it to today's society,” Anne Speicher, French director of Baumschlager Eberle told Capital.

“The contemporary touch is intelligent management. It's a frugal design, we remove everything that is not useful in the buildings.”

A mix of triple-glazed windows and vents, all controlled by sensors, ensures a pleasant temperature in the rooms at all times, opening automatically if the temperature rises or the air quality is poor.

Intelligent software even takes into account the building's occupants, who are also sources of heat. 

Walls will measure 60cm thick, with a double layer of brick and a layer of lime.

Materials have been chosen for their high thermal inertia, storing or releasing heat as required.

Ms Speicher makes the comparison with caves: "By the time a cave heats up with the sun, summer is over and the rocks have stored heat for the following season. Similarly, in winter, it takes a long time for the cave to cool down.”

Work starts next year and is due to be completed in 2025.

Owners awarded €900,000 after discovering their home was built on polluted land

It is a property buyer’s nightmare: finding out your house sits on a site contaminated by industrial activity.

For the Devers family this became a reality in 2019 – nine years after purchasing their house in Grézieu-la-Varenne (Rhône) – when they noticed a viscous liquid in the subsoil while they were gardening. 

Closer investigation revealed worrying levels of pollution, particularly the solvents perchloroethylene and trichloroethylene, which led to two emergency rehousings and a temporary ban on drinking water in the neighbourhood.

Further tests also confirmed the presence of chemicals in the basement, which were linked to an industrial laundry based on the site between 1959 and 2000.

Lyon’s Court of Appeal has now ordered the seller and the two notaires involved in the purchase to pay nearly €900,000 to the owners, to cover the cost of cleaning the site as well as compensation for anxiety and being unable to enjoy their property.

"Our house was the company's garage/warehouse", Mélanie Devers, the owner, discovered after hours of research in departmental archives. However, there was no mention of this fact in the couple’s deed of sale.

They filed a civil complaint against the seller, Cyrille Mercier, and notaires in 2021. In that instance Mr Mercier was ordered to clean up the site and appealed against the judgement.

The ruling on October 20 found the notaires had also breached “their obligation to provide information and advice” to the purchasers, and had not carried out sufficient research. 

Several real estate transactions took place on the land after industrial activity ceased. The office of one of the notaires was "perfectly aware" of the site’s former use, according to the court.

The same criticism was levelled at the seller, the grandson of the founder of the laundry.

The case is the subject of six other civil proceedings, and a judicial investigation for ‘ecocide’. 

Ecocide – an action causing serious damage to the environment ­– became an official offence in France last year, with fines of up to €4.5 million and up to 10 years in prison for transgressors.

Read more: France introduces new ‘ecocide’ offence with €4.5m fine

Judges are also examining the conditions under which the commune's land-use plan was modified, which allowed the industrial site to be converted into a building zone.

Read more: Make sense of local rules governing planning permission around France

Low energy rating can reduce property value by up to 15%

As the ban on renting out houses and flats with low energy efficiency ratings approaches, its effect on property values has been quantified.

Data specialist PriceHubble surveyed the 20 largest cities in France and found an average difference of 6.5% in sale value between an A-rated flat and another rated G. The price difference is twice as high for houses, reports BFM Business.

Under the Loi Climat et résilience, people who own properties which consume over 450kWH per square metre per year – described as ‘passoires thermiques’ (thermal sieves) in France, will no longer be able to rent them out on long-term contracts. 

Read more: Home energy efficiency: Key dates for property owners in France

This rule will extend to all properties with an energy efficiency rating (Diagnostic de performance énergétique) of G – the lowest possible score – from 2025, all F-rated properties from 2028 and all E-rated properties from 2034.

Research found 6% has been slashed from the value of passoires thermiques apartments in Lyon, Marseille, Nice, Nantes and Angers over the last 12 months.

A notable exception, however, is Paris where properties show no marked loss of value. The report attributed this to the fact that more than half of the properties sold in the city are classified as E, F or G, giving buyers little choice.

Strasbourg, on the other hand, which is proud of its green credentials, has seen slides of 10% on sales prices for the worst-rated flats.

The research found the biggest loss in value is found in smaller cities, particularly on houses. 

It reports 15% has been knocked off the value of the poorest-rated houses in Dijon, Reims, Rennes et Angers in the past year.

Holiday lets will not be restricted near Disneyland Paris

Plans to restrict holiday lets to just 1% to 2% of properties in the vicinity of Disneyland Paris have been put on hold after authorities were unable to prove tourist demand was leading to a general housing shortage in the area. 

The measures were due to come into force in the Val d'Europe Agglomération (Seine-et-Marne) on January 1 but have been suspended by the courts, pending another hearing.

They were aimed at regulating Airbnb-type rentals, but the European Court of Justice, while agreeing in principle to such legislation two years ago, said that municipalities must prove with "clear" and "transparent" arguments that there is a housing shortage, linked in particular to tourist numbers, first.

Read more: The French tourist cities taking a stand against Airbnb-style lets

Suspending the scheme on October 31, the Administrative Court of Melun said that "in the absence of statistics… it was not proven that the alleged increase in short-term rental advertisements correlated with a corresponding decrease in long-term rentals".

The court’s decision was welcomed by the National Union for the Promotion of Holiday Rentals.

Victor Steinberg, a lawyer representing an association of landlords and concierge companies, also hailed the ruling “an important victory against the most restrictive ‘anti-Airbnb’ regulation in France.”

He told Le Figaro: “The court reminded us that municipalities must be more rigorous and proportionate in their regulations. I have a feeling these restrictions are an easy way to mask the inability of mayors to build more housing." 

Fortress sells for second time in as many years

A historic fortress in south-east France, previously listed on auction site Leboncoin for €2.8million and beset by sales problems, has finally sold for €811,000.

Fort Queyras, built in the 13th century, is perched on a hilltop in the commune of Château-Ville-Vieille in Hautes-Alpes.

It includes traditional ramparts, turrets, arrow slits, barracks, a chapel and dungeons, as well as a standalone four-bedroom house, which serves as a private residence. It is listed as a historic monument. 

Originally valued at €2million, it was put on the market in 2009, 2015, and 2018, and never found a buyer.

It was the subject of major online ‘hype’, with one valuation placing it for sale at €2.8million in 2019 but there were no takers.

Finally, in 2019, a sale was agreed, but it fell through due to the Covid pandemic.

It eventually sold at auction in April 2021 for €661,000 to SCI Melma, a property company managed by Stéphane Maestro Villa. 

Read more: Hautes-Alpes: Battle for €2m French fortress auctioned for €661k

However, when the payment fell through it was placed on the market again.

This time the public auction at the judicial court of Gap (Hautes-Alpes) was won by local entrepreneur Nicolas Chabrand. It took place on November 3, with a starting price of €400,000.

“This (€811,000) is already a slightly better price than last year, but it is still not enough in our eyes," the fort’s owner, François Marty, told BFM DICI

“It is an exceptional and priceless site."

Other potential bidders have 10 days from November 3 to make a higher offer (at least 10% over the currently-agreed amount) before the sale becomes binding.

The fortress was previously owned by the army, but was sold to private owners at the end of World War Two. 

It has been owned by the Marty family since 2001. 

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Paris sells French chateau and holiday village for just over €200,000

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