Reader question: My neighbour told me he wants to build an extension, which I think will block sunlight onto my swimming pool. Can I do anything about it?
The first thing to bear in mind is what you can do before this extension is built.
If you believe a future construction from a neighbour might impact your property, you could try to find an amicable solution using a conciliateur de justice before work begins.
This is a free mediation service operating across the country.
Secondly, if the neighbour wants to go ahead he will have to apply to the mairie for permission, which depending on the location and the size of the extension, could either be a tacit approval process called déclaration préalable de travaux, or full planning permission (permis de construire).
In either case the neighbour should put up a notice of permission on their property before starting the work and you have two months in which you can contest it by sending a lettre recommandée registered post letter, setting out the reasons why you believe the extension should not be built. You should also send a copy to your neighbour.
If you receive no response in two months, this counts as tacit refusal and your only option is to apply to an administrative court to contest the planning permission, preferably with help from an avocat (lawyer).
You will need to argue based on the harm to yourself and potentially, any irregularities with regard to local planning laws.
You should also, regardless of what action you take, take photos of how your home and pool look now in the sunlight, in case you need proof of the difference afterwards. It is also possible to pay a bailiff (huissier) to visit and take an official note of the situation which could potentially be used later in court.
What if the extension is built?
If a construction or alteration is made to a property that affects your home one avenue is to argue that it causes a trouble anormal de voisinage (abnormal neighbourhood disturbance).
Aside from cases where such neighbour nuisance is related to noise or smell, this can also relate to a visual disturbance, such as to the landscape, or, as in this case, to the levels of sunlight entering a property.
Even when planning permission has been granted, those who cause a disturbance are still liable and could be forced to pay compensation or in some cases to remove the construction altogether.
As shown in a recent article by The Connexion, a neighbour nuisance complaint must be lodged within five years, or the case will be deemed invalid by the courts.
To do this, ideally the person filing such a complaint should hire a bailiff to assess sunlight levels before and after construction, to prove a concrete change.
It may be possible to succeed even without bailiff evidence, but it may be more difficult to prove your case.
What criteria are assessed?
If such a case is taken to court, the judge will use a list of criteria to assess whether the disturbance is ‘serious’.
In the case of sunlight blocking a part of a property, this includes if it impacts the owner daily or only seasonally, and if the former then for how many hours per day, the size of the construction, what part of the property is blocked, and the total surface area affected.
In short, there must be some continuity to the disturbance, affecting residents in the property on a very regular basis.
It also depends on where the property is located – a loss of sunlight from new construction is more expected in urban areas, meaning a ‘serious’ disturbance will be less likely to be found.
Alternatively, in rural and semi-urban areas it is easier to show that a loss of sunlight causes a disturbance because construction is less common.
If serious nuisance is found, a judge can order the construction to be destroyed, or compensation to be paid to the victim, to account for the estimated depreciation in house value due to the new structure.