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Building Your Own Home

France - Building Your Own Home


There is a set and strict code for building regulations in France. This is known as the ‘code de l’urbanisme’. All types of structures need planning permission in France. This includes even a basic garden shed and any developments must be in line with the local planning regulations and provided the application meets the regulations it will be granted.

All those who want to build a home will need to have a ‘permis de construire’ (a building permit). In order to get the permit you need to register an application with your local regional planning office – usually at the Mairie – who will provide you with application forms and details of the planning zone for the property you are building or altering. There are plans at local, regional and national level which govern exactly how much development can take place in one area.

Finding an architect in France is fairly easy. There is a national body called the ‘Ordre des Architects’ which governs registered architects. It is only those architects who are registered with the organisation and who are the principal architect at their practice that are permitted to submit planning applications. Care should be taken to use only a registered architect. Unregistered architects are breaking the law. You can find an architect through one of the 18 regional offices of the ‘Ordre des Architects’ or via the search facility on their website.

All architects must have professional indemnity insurance and need to have a contract of employment. This will give information on their registration with the ‘ordre’, details of their insurance, estimated costs for the planned construction work and fees for the architect and when and how these should be paid. This contract can be provided in English if you require.

If the property you are altering is being restored rather than rebuilt then you can find an architect through the ‘Architectes des Batiments de France’. These are specialists in conservation and restoration. Any building located within 500 metres of a listed building will fall under their domain. Approvals in this instance are not automatic and you should not think that an application for work will be granted permission. Decisions by this department are final and you have no right of appeal.

There are different types of permits which may be required depending upon the type of work that you are planning to carry out. For example, if you want to demolish an existing property you must apply for a ‘permis de demolir’. However, in France, planning permission is given only to the building and not the land. You cannot simply demolish a building and replace it, you need to then apply for further permissions to construct a new building. If the land falls into a ‘zone non-constructible’ you will not be granted permission to replace the building so you should simply apply for permission to renovate the existing building. Some buildings that are in ruins in these zones cannot get planning permission for renovation.

Before you purchase a property you can apply for planning permission in principle, a ‘certificat d’urbanisme’. This will give you the chance to find out what planning permissions you can expect to be granted. If you only want minor alterations carried out there is the ‘declaration prealable’. This covers small jobs such as cutting down trees, garages and swimming pools. If you want to carry out an attic conversion but there is already a permanent staircase to the attic then this type of permit is adequate. If you need to install a staircase then it is considered to be major works and requires the standard ‘permis de construire’.

When you apply for a ‘permis de construire’ you will need to provide floor plans, scale drawings and other documentation which describes in detail the work which is to be carried out on the building and describe how it will look afterwards. Four copies of the dossier and the application form should be taken to the Mairie and you should not expect a response within 2 – 3 months.

If you are new to the area one of the easiest ways to find a builder is to ask at the Mairie. They will not give you details of a disreputable person. You can also use the Qualibat database to find a registered builder. You need to use a registered builder in order to ensure that the work that is carried out is guaranteed. Some builders will be affiliated to the ‘Union Nationale des Constructeurs de Maisons Individuelles’, which is ideal for those who want to build a home from scratch. Checking a builder’s registration is easy. He should have a ‘Siret’ number and you can contact the local ‘Chambre de Metiers’ to see if the number is valid. In order to get this number, tradesmen must pass a course in good business practice.


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