Garden tree rules, building on farmland: Five French property updates

We also look at taking out a mortgage on a property you buy with a friend and why a tenant lost a court case against their landlord after falling out a window

In this week’s roundup we cover mortgages on shared properties, trees and bushes on the edge of a garden, housing data and building on farmland
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Planting trees next to neighbour’s garden

With summer in full swing and many people taking to their gardens for a bit of maintenance or to plant new trees or shrubs, we recap the rules on planting vegetation close to neighbouring properties.

In France, trees, bushes or shrubs cannot exceed certain heights depending on the distance they are from other properties.

This is mainly to prevent your trees or bushes from blocking a neighbour’s views or preventing sunlight from entering their garden.

Read more: Is there a way in France to get my neighbour to tidy his messy garden?

These rules can vary by commune (you can check this with your mairie) but the standard rules are as follows:

  • If the tree is more than two metres tall, it must be at least two metres from the property edge

  • If the tree is less than two metres tall, it must be at least 50cm from the property edge

There are some further exceptions to this that can come into play, such as the age or status of the tree.

If you have a trellis on a wall or fence bordering a neighbour’s property then you can allow trees or plants to grow directly on it but the vegetation cannot exceed the height of the wall or fence.

If you think your neighbour is breaking any of these rules then the first recourse is to send a letter with recorded delivery and acknowledgement of receipt asking them to cut back the tree or bush.

If they ignore this, then you should call in a court arbitrator to mediate the dispute. You can find out more about calling in an arbitrator at this link.

If the situation escalates you may end up having to appeal to the tribunal judiciaire court.

Read more: Can I make my neighbour prune trees that overhang my garden in France?

Read more: Wildfires: French law may require you to cut back at-risk vegetation

Building houses on farmland

Buying a remote house surrounded only by farmland is a dream many people have when choosing their home in France, but there is no guarantee that the agricultural land will not eventually be turned into a property development area.

In France, only buildings related to farming can be built on agricultural land (zone agricole). This includes greenhouses, storage units, hangars, etc.

Other habitable properties cannot be built on the land, which is deemed ‘inconstructible’.

But the owner of the farmland or a neighbouring property owner can ask the commune’s mairie to declassify this land, opening up the possibility of turning it into a property development site.

The mairie will need approval from the Commission Départementale de la Consommation des Espaces Agricoles and possibly the Sociétés d'aménagement foncier et d'établissement rural.

Due to this lengthy process, Delphine Herman, founder of the property finder company Homeyloo, told French magazine Capital that conversions of agricultural land into property development sites do happen but are rare.

French housing data is ‘weak and unreliable’

The data used to inform housing policy in France is “insufficient,” France’s public finance auditor, the Cour des comptes, has stated.

The data is “too weak”, the databases are too complex and not sufficiently up to date and in some cases they contain unreliable or non-exhaustive data, the court stated in a May 12 verdict that was made public on Monday (July 18).

France’s housing policies cost an estimated €40billion per year.

The court highlighted the example of the government’s objective to build 500,000 new homes each year, which it says it “regularly put forward publicly”, despite studies showing that only 370,000 new homes are required each year.

The court also warned against the government’s growing dependency on data put forward by private companies such as real estate businesses.

It said that successive reforms to the taxe d'habitation have “deprived the government of essential data” as the tax used to make it possible to associate location-specific information on housing with the occupants’ financial situation.

The taxe d'habitation is gradually being phased out and only 20% of the highest-income households still had to pay it last year.

Read more: French taxe d’habitation: Who is fully exempt in 2022?

The Cour des comptes has recommended the government update its housing databases and make them more reliable.

It has also argued in favour of allowing greater sharing of the databases between different ministerial departments and with local authorities.

Financing shared purchase of a property

Since the Covid pandemic began in early 2020, it has become more common for people in France to buy a second property together with one or several friends. This is known as buying a house en indivision, meaning each person owns a certain agreed share of the property.

In some cases, one person has more upfront money than the other, meaning that they do not need to take out a loan or mortgage to finance their part while the other person does.

Paris-based notaire Charles Flobert has said that this is not a problem. The buyers are free to finance their share of the property in any legal way they wish.

He told Capital, though, that it could be useful to draw up a will with a ‘purchase option’ so that if one of the part-owners dies the other person has the option to buy out their share or even inherit their share.

Court sides with landlord after tenant falls from window without railing

Modern building safety features, such as railings, do not necessarily have to be installed in old properties that lack them for the building to still be characterised as ‘fit for habitation’, France’s supreme court of appeal, the Cour de cassation, ruled in a recent verdict.

The case came around after a tenant of a flat fell from a window that had a ledge of lower than 90cm and did not have a railing.

The tenant claimed this breached regulations and that the property was not up to standard, resulting in the accident.

But the court ruled that there is nothing in the law to state that old properties must be updated with modern features such as railings and that the landlord was therefore not liable for the accident.

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