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France wildfires: Does mandatory garden clearing apply to nearby land?

Many parts of France require property owners to clear undergrowth to prevent forest fires from spreading

Clearing undergrowth is important to prevent the spread of forest fires Pic: Dmfomich161 / Shutterstock

Reader question: If the débroussaillage perimeter around my property extends into a neighbour’s land, whose responsibility is it to do the work there? If they refuse, what can I do? 

In certain rural areas, the clearing of undergrowth around your property (débroussaillage) is mandatory, as part of rules to minimise the occurrence and spread of forest fires. The process includes cutting weeds, long grasses and shrubs as well as pruning low-hanging branches on trees.

The perimeter limit is generally between 50 to 200 metres from any built property you own (houses, swimming pools, sheds etc), and 10 metres either side of private roads leading to your property, but in some situations, this means it can overlap into a neighbouring piece of land not owned by you. 

Even in these cases, however, it is primarily the responsibility of the property owner, and not the other landowner, to clear this land. 

This is for two main reasons. 

Firstly, débroussaillage measures are in place to protect properties, not unbuilt land, from damage, and so the responsibility falls on the property owner to clear land nearby. 

Secondly, the other landowner may not have chosen to have a building put up so close to land they have not built on and it would be unfair for them to bear the brunt of costs for clearing it. 

The Forestry code (articles L131-12 and R131-14) prohibits landowners from barring entry to their land for neighbours to conduct débroussaillage

When two or more separately-owned properties have perimeters that overlap, each landowner clears out the section closest to theirs within their land borders.

If there is a third piece of land with buildings on it, which sees two neighbouring properties’ perimeters overlap onto it, each landowner is responsible for the section closest to their property.

You can check which areas of France are required to clear their garden on the map here, but if in doubt you should contact your local mairie to check the specific rules in your commune. 

What do I do if a neighbour refuses entry to their property? 

Even if the land within your property’s débroussaillage perimeter is far away from any buildings of another landowner, it is in everybody’s best interests to keep the land cleared to minimise forest fires. 

Most landowners will allow you to clear their land, especially if you ask first.

Read more: Can I get help meeting France’s mandatory garden clearance rules?

In cases where your neighbour is not welcoming, however, there are options for action. These are similar both in the case of you needing to clear parts of their land that fall under your property’s perimeter and when they have not cleared land within theirs when they should have done so and you are concerned that this may put your own property at risk.

Firstly, you should send a lettre recommandé avec avis de réception (registered post letter) to the neighbour outlining the situation (your avis de réception receipt slip is proof of delivery). One possible template in the case of wishing to do your own débroussaillage on their land can be found here – it asks that the neighbour either let you know within a month that you may do the work, or otherwise that they should carry it out themselves. 

You could try to use a mediator (conciliateur de justice) to find an amicable solution, or another third party, such as the mayor of the commune – in this case, you should send a request for intervention (demande d'intervention) to the mayor via a letter.

You can also ask the mayor to send a formal notice requiring the landowner to clear the land if they refuse to let you do so. 

If the land is not cleared after this, the landowner could face fines.

If the landowner cannot be contacted or is unknown (for example, the land belongs to a second home that has not been visited for a long time), you can send a letter to your local council or the DDASS (Direction départementale des affaires sanitaires et sociales) requesting that the land be cleared. 

Related articles 

Why the French government wants you to clear up your garden

France wildfires: MPs vote to hike fines for not clearing your garden

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