Local politicians in both the south and west of France are demanding action to reduce the number of second homes in their areas.
Campaigns demanding a quota system and an end to homes being converted to holiday properties are under way in the Basque Country, where several communes now have as many second homes as main homes.
Brittany regional councillors are holding a survey this month to gauge support for a ‘resident’s status’, which would limit property purchases to people who live in the area.
They say such a law could apply to Brittany alone or be widened to any region with housing pressures if the regional council approves it.
Protests planned outside Basque second homes
Basque Country campaign group Se loger au Pays–Herrian Bizi says second homes have pushed up prices to an unacceptable level, forcing locals away. Some areas saw rises of up to 40% in the year after the Covid pandemic.
It demands that no more local properties be turned into second homes from this year.
If ignored, it plans to stage street protests outside such homes or symbolic actions such as dumping bread to show that homes left empty most of the year put bakers out of business.
Group member Peio Dufau said the campaigners might turn to unspecified stronger actions if their calls continue to be unheeded.
“People who want a second home here should at least buy a property that is already a second home,” said Mr Dufau, who is a town councillor for Ciboure, a commune of 6,000 residents near the Spanish border.
“For the moment, we are in a ‘communication’ phase. We are also speaking to notaires and estate agents, asking them to tell people that locals struggle and that they do not recommend turning a property into a second home.
“We are not against people from outside but we are forced to take action, as the law does not allow us to stop second-home purchases.”
‘Too many second homes kill the economy’
Some countries, such as Switzerland, have a quota system limiting, for example, second homes to 10% or 20% on a canton level, he said.
His group wants the same and is campaigning for the law to be changed to allow it.
“We know the local population is saying this is killing them and harming the local economy.
“Someone who lives here year-round keeps the schools, supermarkets, bakers and grocers going. When someone is only here a month or two per year, all that disappears.
“Today in the Basque Country, schools are closing because there are not enough children.”
‘Local people have to sleep in their cars’
Mr Dufau, Ciboure’s deputy mayor in charge of planning, said Se loger au Pays–Herrian Bizi is not opposed to existing second-home owners but wants limits.
“Nearly 45% of properties in Ciboure are second homes. We had 7,000 residents 10 years ago. Today, we have so many second homes we are losing residents.
“Rich people from abroad or the Paris area can buy expensive houses and flats, while more and more people working here are sleeping in their cars.
“Others go back to homes inland after work but it is having a knock-on effect and homes there are also going up in price.”
He said across the Basque Country 20% of properties are second homes but in some coastal communes, such as Guépary, it is 50%.
“Yet we have only 10% social housing, which is all that local people can afford.”
He added: “Our town council backs the ‘resident’s status’ idea, as do many mairies and local councillors.”
In their area, he said, there is already a disincentive to buying property to use for holiday letting due to a rule, similar to Paris, that it is not possible unless converting another building to residential use.
Residents in Brittany surveyed on second home restriction idea
In Brittany, left-wing autonomist party UDB is running a survey among a representative sample of the population to gauge support for a statut de résident and expects to have the responses mid-February.
Regional councillor Nil Caouissin says he has run 26 public meetings about the plan and says many ordinary people express support.
The idea is that in areas under housing pressure, including most parts of the coast, only people who have lived there for at least a year should be able to buy property “so as to strongly reduce second-home purchases”.
If the poll has support, they will canvass local MPs and senators to put forward a law.
‘There is a serious imbalance in Brittany’
“Since 2019, Brittany has been the area where the most second homes have been built, especially following the first Covid confinement period,” said Mr Caouissin.
“There is a serious imbalance, making it very difficult [for locals] to buy.
“At the same time, there has also been a rise in demand for main homes.
“People wanted to leave Paris and the large cities and more people were working from home. Since 1960, we have doubled the number of homes in Brittany but tripled the number of second homes.
“Recently, we have also seen more people buying to let as holiday rentals. This includes town properties, whereas holiday home-buyers before were mainly in rural areas or small coastal resorts.”
‘Tax expensive properties to fund affordable housing’
Mr Caouissin said the problem is less significant in the central, inland areas.
“Historically, the market there has been under much less pressure and there were also a lot of homes there falling into ruin, so it was not a problem having second homes.”
He is also proposing a regional tax on expensive properties to pay into a fund for pre-emptive regional council purchases to turn into social/affordable housing.
There have been increasing examples of anti-second-home graffiti sprayed on walls in Brittany, and other property attacks, including arson.
Several incidents last year were claimed anonymously to have been by the Front de Libération de Bretagne, a defunct Breton terrorist group from the 1960s-70s.
The public prosecutor has not yet made any findings on this public. Mr Caouissin believes it was isolated individuals who used the slogan as it is familiar.
One commune in Brittany, Kerbors in Côte d’Armor, is seeking to boost its active population by selling off council land as building plots at a discount €65/m2 to buyers who plan to live there year-round.
“Our goal is to give people the means to live here,” said mayor Gildas Le Béver.
France is world’s top tourist destination
With 3.3 million second homes, France has more than any other EU country – 10% of all properties being résidences secondaires. A lot (40%) of them are on the coast.
In 350 communes, 70% or more properties are second homes, with Germ, Haute-Pyrénées, registering 671 second homes and 38 residents, according to Insee.
Recent figures confirmed France as the world’s top tourist destination and it is the “only destination in the world to have returned to pre-Covid tourism figures”, the Elysée says, further boosting the demand for holiday homes and short-term lets.