7 things to know about planning in France   

1 - you must apply for planning permission!

Despite what your estate agent (or previous owner) tell you, you must apply for planning permission before you start converting (or building from scratch) anything in France.  This applies to fences and new entrances, extensions, swimming pools, render colour and anything that changes the outside look of your property. You can get away with a few exceptions such as repairing “restanques” and inside home improvements but that’s about it.

The good news is that the French administration has two sorts of planning permissions (also known as “Certificat d’Urbanisme”) depending on whether the work is a major transformation or just adding an extra personal touch to your property:

  • The permis de construire (also referred to as PC) covers everything involved in building from scratch and major transformations such as adding extra windows, changing the building’s footprint or roof space, in fact anything that is likely to offend your neighbours, and anything that exceeds 20m2 of extra space.
  • The déclaration préalable (also referred to as DP) is a lighter version of the Permis de Construire and covers less ambitious work such as changing the color of a render, changing your front entrance, or building a swimming pool. Note that the DP still requires 1  month to approve.

2 - why is it so important to apply for planning permission?

​​First of all, it’s against the law not to! If you don’t, you can be liable for a fine and in some cases, the demolition of the work newly done!

Secondly, an application is important for your local council to be able to estimate the amount of tax you owe them. Transforming your garage into a study or an extra bedroom is going to enlarge your living space and hence taxable surface.  The mayors in France like to keep an eye on this and are always looking for ways to keep  cash coming in!

Also, it will count the day you want to sell. If in your property deed all you have is one bedroom and you’ve built an extra three bedrooms and a swimming pool, and If you’re working with a notaire, you will not be allowed to sell the property if it is not up to date vis à vis planning permission.

Finally, you could have an issue with your insurance. Imagine the house gets burnt down in a fire or is damaged in a storm… you will not be able to rebuild your house as it was before and your insurance won’t pay the real value of what was lost.  Something to think about before diving into illegal building work.   

3 - so what is a PC (permis de construire)?

A permis de construire is the most elaborate type of planning permission.  You use it to build a house from scratch on a piece of land or to make substantial changes to your property such as adding on an extra floor or extension.  It is also required when you demolish part of your property or create windows where there once was a blank wall.

The permis de construire takes time to apply for. It is compulsory to have an architect help you for new build or increases in habitable space* over 150m² as you will have to supply plans, 3D before and after images, and a lot of paperwork (such as water waste management plans etc).  You can read more about what's involved in all stages,  here.

You’ll need to wait for at least 2 months for the Permis de Construire to be issued. Between the moment you apply for it and get your precious number, the application has to be approved by your local mairie and then by the local Prefecture. If the mairie request additional information within the first month, then the clock does not re-start until all the information is received. If you’re building near historical monuments, the “Architectes des Bâtiments de France” will have to give their opinion on it too – expect at least a month more, often two. 

It is always better to find a good architect to help you out with a permis de construire.  Preferably an architect who’s used to dealing with your local mairie. This will speed up the application process. Once you’ve received approval from the mairie, you will receive your file with a dedicated number.

Note you will have to wait an extra 2 months for due diligence, including giving neighbours time to object, before you can start working.
To find out more about a Permis de Construire, you can look up the information on the French government website.  

What is habitable space?
Habitable surface floor area (surface de plancher) of the property. In summary it is defined in French law as: the total enclosed and covered floor area of the building that has a minimum height of 1.80m, calculated from the interior walls of the building. It excludes garages. 

4 - and what is a DP (déclaration préalable)?

The déclaration préalable is designed for smaller jobs, for example :
  • construction of a small building : 20m2 maximum
  • extension of an existing building : 20 - 40m2 maximum, depending on the local plan, includes attic conversions
  • swimming pool
  • rebuilding your outdoor walls
  • creation of any openings in a building
  • changes to the exterior finish of the property including changing render colour
  • change of use of a building, even where no works undertaken (although planning consent required if external structure altered or structural work undertaken)
  • major excavation of land or raising of land levels
  • any new building or extension under or equal to 5m² does not require any formality, unless any of the other criteria above apply

The déclaration préalable takes 1 month to process. You will have to wait an extra 2 months for due diligence, including giving neighbours time to object before you can start work. In order to apply for a DP you will need to provide existing and proposed drawings, before and after 3D photos and plans but overall not as elaborate as a Permis de Construire. You can find out more about the DP on the government website (in French) here.

5 - what are the posters for?

The posters you often see attached to fences or buildings (panneaux d’affichage) are necessary when you are doing any building work in France.
They are the proof that you’ve received planning permission. They have to be visible to the public from the moment you’ve got the approval from the mairie until you’ve finished your building work. They list the owner’s name, the PC/DP number, the type of work, the surface that you’re adding, and other general information. You (or your architect) will have to fill these in and attach them firmly to the fence/building as soon as you receive your new PC/DP number. Failure to do so, and in the proper form, will grant potential potential opponents the continued right to contest the decision.
It is very important to hang these posters up as soon as possible because it is from this moment onwards that third parties have two months to object. Once those two months are over, third parties cannot legally oppose the work you’ve asked planning permission for.
At AlpStudio we recommend using a huissier de justice (bailiff) to act as an independent witness. For a fee they visit the site, take a photo of the poster on the first day, midway, and on the last day of the two month due diligence period prove that you complied with the law. 

6 - can I start work immediately?

Once the two month due diligence period (see above) is finished and no objections have been received, you can start working on your building site. Once work starts, there is no time limit for it to be completed by but there must not be a break of more than 12 consecutive months without work. The validity of your planning permission is limited to 3 years from the date of being given formal permission. This applies to both a PC and a DP. The permission may be extended twice by one year each time, however only if the rules applicable to your project have not changed in the meantime. The request for extension must be made by mail in duplicate at least 2 months before the expiry of the period of initial validity of your building permit. This mail must be sent by registered letter with acknowledgment of receipt or deposited in the mairie.

7 - what about when I’ve finished?

Once work is finished, you will have to fill in the forms that the mairie sent you in your planning permission folder. This is a statement that declares that the works are finished and comply with the plans you provided in the first place.

Why is it important?  The mairie has between 3-5 months (5 months if you’re close to a historical monument or in a risky area) to come and check if everything conforms. If they don’t turn up, you are clear and your new building is officially compliant. 

If the mairie finds that there are a few anomalies, they can ask you to apply for a new retrospective planning permission. In that case, it’s back to the drawing board with your Architect.

So, all though this all seems quite complicated, it can be simplified if you find the right architect to help you do the planning work as well as, of course, the design itself! 

Happy Planning !