New law to stop ‘townie’ complaints over French farm smells and noises

MPs who voted for the law hope it will free up courts from cases about farmers ‘just doing their jobs’

Farming union FNSEA says there are currently 490 cases where farmers are fighting such complaints

MPs have voted in favour of a proposed law protecting businesses – especially farmers – if a new neighbour moves in and complains about noise or smells caused by their work.

It is reportedly aimed at ‘neo-rural’ townies who move into the countryside, though it is not explicitly stated.

It is also hoped it will help free up courts from what Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti has called “useless cases” about farmers just doing their jobs.

Previous law widely judged a failure

The text restates a general principle from case law that people should not cause their neighbours ‘unusual disturbance’ but says they are exempt from prosecution if the issue relates to activities pre-dating the complainant moving in.

Only 11 MPs from far-left group Nupes voted against the proposal, which would add two new articles to the Code Civil.

It will now go to the Senate.

The law, launched by MP and farmer Nicole Le Peih (Morbi­han), builds on a previous law laying down a principle that countryside ‘sounds and smells’ are part of the nation’s heritage.

That law also aimed to stop excessive complaints but is widely judged a failure as regional councils are meant to make lists of which local smells and sounds are typical, which only two have done so far.

Read more: New French law will tackle ‘phoney’ rural noise complaints

‘Irritable neighbours complaining about mooing cows’

Mr Dupond-Moretti told MPs the new law is “common sense”.

“At the Salon de l’Agriculture, I told farmers about my intention to put a stop to the abusive legal cases that are going on over neighbour issues,” he said.

“Some people go to court because of the sounds of combine harvesters – how are we to eat bread if we don’t cut wheat?

“One can count several hundred cases under way against farmers by irritable neighbours complaining of nuisance linked to their work – smells of cattle, noises of tractors, songs of cockerels or mooing cows.”

Read more: French farmer fined €105,000 over ‘ugly’ tractors

2,800m2 cow barn built 100 metres from homes

Farming union FNSEA says there are currently 490 cases where farmers are fighting such complaints.

It would have preferred the law to go further and explicitly note that business activity might ‘evolve’ with time.

In a recent case, the top appeal court confirmed damages of more than €100,000 payable by a far­mer to neighbours due to a 2,800m2 cow barn built, with permission, in a village centre 100m from homes.

The farmer said the new law might have helped, as the farm existed before the complainants moved in, even if the building did not.

A court is now considering if measures can be taken to reduce the nuisance or if the barn must be demolished.

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