Trend for entering empty properties in France and taking photos

It is not illegal so long as the owner does not voice opposition and the person entering does not break anything to get in

It is the way people enter a property, rather than the simple fact of entry, that characterises forced entry

The international trend of exploring abandoned properties has gained a strong foothold in France, but many of the targeted properties are not abandoned at all, and some can be extremely dangerous

Five teenagers climbed into an abandoned factory in Unieux, Loire on April 27, passing through a hole in the roof. 

Their plan was to explore the building, which is famous in Urbex, or urban exploration circles, for its abandoned industrial aesthetic, of rust, oil, graffiti and girders.

One of the teens, a 17-year-old girl, fell to her death. Another was seriously injured.

What is Urbex?

Urban exploration is the exploration of old buildings, usually abandoned, neglected and off the beaten track.

It began to spread online in the early 2000s, in large part thanks to individuals sharing photos on social media.

Historian Nicolas Offenstadt, who specialises in Urbex, told French national research body CNRS that France in particular has some key locations for the practice.

“There are lots of castles and abandoned factories, “ he told Le Journal CNRS “These abandoned sites are usually, but not always, in areas with stagnant demographics, where the absence of real estate pressure explains why they are not demolished or restored.

“[Urbex practitioners] consider these places to be like metaphors for disappearance that demonstrate how nature returns despite man’s best efforts.”

Read more: Abandoned, not forgotten: Urbex trend and the lure of French châteaux

Entering private homes

In addition to the danger of entering abandoned factories, many Urbex practitioners, or Urbexers, also visit homes - which are not always as abandoned as they think.

In 2022, one famous Urbexer known as ‘Jo Urbex’ shared a YouTube video of his visit to the cellar of the so-called ‘Alchemist’s house’.

The title of the video was J’ai filmé des choses atroces dans ce temple, or I filmed horrible things in this temple.

The story made the news since the urban explorer discovered human remains in the property’s cellar. 

The police visit that followed came as a surprise to the property's new owner, the daughter of the original owner, a doctor who died in 2022.

“I told them that as far as I know all my ex-boyfriends are still alive,” Catherine Katkoff told Le Figaro.

The gendarmes were not amused, reminding her that it is illegal to keep human remains in a house.

Ms Katoff told the gendarmes that if there were holes at the ends of the bones, then it was a medical skeleton “which when my father was young were made of real bones.”

On this realisation, the interest of the gendarmerie in the case vanished. However, the interest of the Urbex community is not so easily satisfied.

“This might be the sacrificial knife…,” a breathless Jo Urbex tells his cameraman as his eye runs over some tools in the dark of Ms Katkoff’s cellar - the ‘Masonic temple’.

“I told them that there was an owner,” Ms Katoff told Le Figaro. “That it was a medical skeleton. I know that they have seen the messages because they mention them in their videos but they have blocked me.”

She has since placed a sign outside the house saying ‘Ceci n'est pas une maison abandonnée, il y a des biens de valeur’ (this is not an abandoned house, there are objects of value in it).

So far nobody has been successfully prosecuted for entering the property, since they say that they can get in through a hole in the cellar, and so commit no infraction.

It is not illegal to enter a property in France, so long as the owner does not voice opposition and the person entering does not break anything to get in.

“It is the way people enter a property, rather than the simple fact of entry, that characterises forced entry,” lawyer Mathieu Masse told Le Figaro.

“That is why Urbexers have no choice but to claim that they get into homes that they claim are abandoned because there was a hole or that a window had blown open.”

Read more: Couple who wrecked French chateau after pretending to be buyers jailed 

How to stop your home being used for urbex?

If a home has acquired fame as an interesting location, Jo Urbex told Le Figaro that he recognised it was difficult to put a stop to the visits.

“Talk to them,” said Jo Urbex “When houses are left empty for 30 years people imagine that there is no owner.”

For Ms Katoff, this did not help.

“Just outside the house I saw a lady once,” she said. “I approached her to ask her to leave and she said to me ‘do you know what happened inside this house?’” 

Ms Katkoff offered to let the gendarmes use her father’s old house for training, although even this has not stopped the Urbex visits from happening at night.