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Do I need to declare changes to shutters at my French house?

Wooden shutters are a mainstay of many French houses, but the rules on changing their appearance (colour or material) are less obvious

You need planning permission to change the shutters on your house in France, except if you are repainting or changing them to be the exact same colour and appearance as before Pic: Sylv1rob1 / Shutterstock

Reader question: Do I need planning permission to change, or alter the appearance of, the wooden shutters on my house? If yes, how do I go about it?

If you want to paint, repaint, or change your shutters, you may need planning permission.

All work that alters the external appearance of an existing building requires planning permission under article R421-17 of the Code de l'urbanisme (French planning code). 

This includes if you want to change the colour or materials of your shutters. 

The only exception is if your work can be considered ‘ordinary maintenance’ – in regards to shutters, this would be an act such as repainting them in their current colour - and not making any other changes.

Article R421-13 of the code states that in this case, you do not need permission.

However, if your home is in a housing estate, wider building or development, specific rules may apply in addition to local regulations. 

Consult your building regulations, or ask your buildings or housing estate manager for more details before making any changes, if your property belongs to such a case.

How do I get permission?

You need to submit a déclaration préalable de travaux (a preliminary works declaration or DP) to your local mairie.

As a reminder, a DP is a case of tacit, and not explicit, approval – the local commune has one month to inform you of any opposition to the works (from the day your request is submitted) after which you can begin the project. 

It does not always grant written explicit permission for a project requiring a DP, however you can ask for them to give you a letter with written permission if you require it.

In addition, if your property is in a protected area or sector (zone or secteur protégé), you will also need an opinion - and in some cases, approval - from the national Architecte des Bâtiments de France

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

Can I choose any paint colour I want for my wooden shutters?

There are no regulations on a national level on specific colours. 

However, there may be local rules and restrictions with which you may need to comply, to respect certain characteristics of your town or region and preserve the regional identity of your home.

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).”

Your local mairie will typically be in charge of ensuring that planning permission is only granted for projects that comply with these conditions and are sensitive to the surroundings.

And even if your project is not within a protected ABF zone, you can still contact your local UDAP for advice on the recommended shades of colour that will respect local styles in the most sustainable way.

Can I be forced to change the material of my shutters?

No, there are no rules that your shutters must be a certain material; for example, plastic instead of the traditional wood, or vice versa. 

The code allows for the external appearance of buildings to be regulated, but does not specify particular materials.

However, in certain regions, you may be required to use swing-style shutters (volets battants) rather than roller shutters (volets roulants) to preserve the appearance or heritage of certain historical districts or protected areas. 

It is advisable to contact your mairie or local ABF unit before submitting an application if in doubt.

Can I repaint my wooden shutters if I rent my property?

Usually, tenants are not responsible for significant exterior maintenance such as the painting or repairing of shutters. This is typically the owner’s responsibility, and only they can decide how, when, and if to paint. The owner has a responsibility to keep the property in good condition.

Tenants will normally need the full permission of the property’s owner to make any changes to the exterior (and interior) of the building, including the material or colour of the shutters. 

The rules will typically be stated clearly in your tenancy agreement or lease, and you will normally need the owner’s agreement in writing before making any changes. 

You may also be required to remove all changes and place the property back to how it was when you took over tenancy, when your tenancy ends.

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

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