Second home hotspots, pergolas, cracks: Five French property updates

We also look into one family’s three-year battle for planning permission to build a home on land they bought - only to find much of it has since been re-classed as non constructible

In this week’s roundup we are covering cracks caused by drought, building a pergola, second home hotspots such as Saint-Raphaël and more
Published Last updated

Three most sought-after coastal departments for second home buyers

The Covid pandemic has brought an increase in the number of people either moving out of cities to quieter locations or investing in a second home in a more rural setting.

Coastal areas have been particularly popular with a report from the Notaires de France stating that 2021 was “notable for the magnitude of the price hikes in the vast majority of coastal towns it studied” due to demand.

Read more: MAP: See where has benefited most from France’s coastal property boom

Now a new report from property listings site SeLoger has revealed the top three most sought after coastal departments in France for second homes.

This is based on places that people have expressed interest in buying in, according to SeLoger’s own data.

The top department is Var in the south of France, followed by the neighbouring department of the Alpes-Maritimes with Calvados in Normandy rounding off the top three.

In Var itself, Saint-Raphaël, Hyères, Fréjus are the most popular communes for people searching for a second home.

In the Alpes-Maritimes, Cannes is the most popular choice, home of the famous annual film festival. Next is Antibes, followed by Menton, close to the Italian border.

Finally in Calvados the most popular towns are Villers-sur-Mer, Cabourg and Trouville-sur-Mer.

Read more: Map: The 101 French communes affected by coastal erosion

French couple in three-year battle to build a house

French couple Cyrille and Myriam Leroyer have been fighting for three years for the right to build a house on their 7,000 square metres of land in Toutainville (Eure).

The couple, who have two children aged 13 and 20, bought the land for €30,000 in 2019.

At the time, it had the status of ‘constructible’, meaning houses and other living premises can legally be built on it.

But since they bought the land, they have had three 50-page-long applications for planning permission turned down by local authorities.

This has been for a variety of reasons, including missing photos -- although the mairie states this was because documents were not filed on time – and issues with the positioning of the sanitary sewer.

Following these refusals, the couple looked into selling the land but in doing so, they were told by the estate agent that the majority of their land – all but 500 square metres – was now deemed ‘non constructible’.

This is because in January 2020 the Plan local d’urbanisme – the town planning system – was replaced by an Plan Local d’Urbanisme intercommunal. Under the new plan, much of the area has been reclassified as ‘natural zones’, which cannot be built upon.

“There is a percentage of natural area to be respected in each commune,” a spokesperson for the local municipality said.

“A lot of constructible land has been taken away from us. We were not given a choice.”

Fortunately for the Leroyer family, a document called a déclaration préalable de division dating from 2018 ensures that they can still apply for planning permission to build a house on the land but they must file the application before April next year.

Mr Leroyer has said he will spend his holidays preparing the fourth planning permission application in the hope that it is successful.

Pergolas: Taxes and authorisations

A pergola is an outdoor garden structure that forms a shaded passageway or sitting area. These installations have increased in popularity in France in recent years. Last year, sales of pergolas increased by 25%, French magazine Capital reports.

One part of the popularity could be down to the fact that there is no need to pay any additional taxes on these structures.

They are exempt from the taxe d’aménagement, known as the garden shed tax, that is applied to many garden structures, such as sheds.

Read more: Must I pay France’s ‘garden shed’ tax on a replacement structure?

This is because pergolas are not closed structures.

A veranda, which is a sort of roofed porch attached to the main property, is subject to the taxe d’aménagement as it is a closed structure. This tax only applies when the veranda has a surface area of over five square metres and/or a height exceeding 1.8 metres.

Aso, the addition of a pergola to a property will have no impact on its valeur locative cadastrale, meaning that the annual taxe foncière bills will not increase.

Read more: Taxe foncière cap: why not all French property owners may benefit

Authorisation to install a pergola

Pergolas that have a base surface area of under five square metres do not need an autorisation d’urbanisme.

For pergolas with a base surface area of between five and 20 square metres, you will need to file a building application called a déclaration préalable de travaux. For pergolas with a surface area over 20 square metres, a building permit is required.

Drought leads to cracks in houses

More than 10 million homes across France are at risk of structural cracks developing after this summer’s series of heatwaves and droughts because they are built on clay soil, which contracts during dry spells, a report from the Ministry of Ecological Transition shows.

Read more: Ten million homes in France risk structural cracks after heatwaves

Dorothée Alloy, who lives in Douai (Nord), discovered a crack on the wall of her house several months ago which has continued to expand.

“Every morning, when I get up, I look at this part of the wall to see if at some point the crack will have gone all the way through the wall,” she told Franceinfo.

“It's been ruining our lives for months.”

This year’s heatwaves – and climate change in general – are exacerbating the problem, with droughts causing the soil to contract and cause subsidence and building foundations to shift, leaving significant structural cracks.

Read more: France’s fourth heatwave of the year forecast for this week

Read more: Drought map update: See the French departments with water restrictions

Before insurance will cover the cost of fixing the cracks, a catastrophe naturelle declaration must be made by the government.

This means homeowners sometimes have to wait a long time before undertaking work.

Read our article here to see the process of what to do if cracks appear in your house’s walls: What to do if structural cracks appear in your French property

Elderly couple trapped in flat for six months due to broken lift

An elderly couple from Montpellier who have health issues have been trapped in their 10th-floor flat for six months because the building’s lift is out of service, French newspaper Midi Libre reports.

Mohamed and Rahma Ben Dohhou, both 78, have been stuck in their flat since February 2.

Mr Ben Dohhou suffers from respiratory failure while Mrs Ben Dohhou has breast cancer and uses a walker due to a problem with her leg.

Their son, Abdelmjid, 45, has had to quit his job and move in with them to help out.

“They get depressed,” he told Midi Libre.

“Especially my mother, due to the isolation. They feel that the situation is unjust. They pay their bills and they feel that they have the right to a better service.”

The couple have hired a lawyer to help them find a solution. They are hoping to receive financial compensation and have also put in an application to find alternative housing with the Société d’Aménagement de l’Agglomération de Montpellier.

Jean-Marc Pons-Hermant, the deputy director of Citya Cogesim, the building’s syndic, said that repairs will cost around €6,000 and should begin this month.

However, Midi Libre reports that the quote for the work has not yet been signed and repairs are unlikely to begin before September.

In addition, the syndic reportedly has several unpaid bills that prevent the company that manages the lift from being able to make the necessary repairs.

Related articles

How are French authorities informing people of water restrictions?

MAP: How to see where wildfires are in France in real time

Bungalows in France at most risk of drought-related subsidence