There are a number of laws and regulations that you'll need to be aware of if you're planning on building or renovating a house in France.

Unfortunately, the French do love their bureaucracy, so it’s definitely worth checking out the red tape before launching into anything. It is best to go armed with a list of questions, because you won’t necessarily be given any information you don’t request, yet you may find you get penalised for not adhering to all the regulations. And ignorance is not accepted as an excuse!

A few of the rules and regulations...

Planning Permission
The first step is to obtain Planning Permission for your building or renovation project. In some small towns and communes, the Mayor and his/her assistant will be able to help you and act as your liaison with the Direction Départementale de l'Equipment (DDE), who approve all applications.

Otherwise, you will need to go to the Hotel de Ville and ask for the Service d’Urbanisme, which is run by an architect familiar with all of the buildings and regulations in the area.

It is impossible to give a detailed overview of all of the rules and regulations regarding building work, as they tend to be specific to each town, village and commune. It is therefore necessary to talk to your local Mayor who will be able to advise you on the local laws.

However, the following regulations generally apply all over the region:
o You cannot construct a building or plant trees or shrubs within 2 metres of your neighbour’s property

o If a neighbouring wall is over 6 metres high, you must not build or plant anything that will exceed half that height

o Rainwater from your roof must not run onto neighbouring property

It is also important to make sure you obtain the right permit for the work you intend to carry out:

Permis de démolir
If you wish to tear anything down, even if it looks like nothing more than a pile of rubble, you may require a permir de démolir (demolition permit). You may also require une demande d'autorisation de coupe ou d'abbatage d'arbres or une autorisation de défrichement in order to cut fown trees or clear ground for building.

Déclaration de travaux
This is basically a permit to say that in order to do any work, you don’t need a permit. (Only in France!)

It basically covers minor work and alterations such as:

o The installation of dormer windows or skylights where there's no existing roof aperture (provided these don't overlook a neighbouring property)

o An extension of less than 20m2, e.g. a garage, car port, kitchen or conservatory

o Constructing an outbuilding (e.g. garage or workshop) of less than 20m2

o Replacing roof tiles or other features with identical or similar items or materials (du travail à l'identique)

o Raising the height or otherwise altering the line or pitch of a roof

o Adding or replacing external doors or windows

o Building a swimming pool of less than 20m2.

o Adding internal walls

o A structure of less than 2m2 and less than 1.5m high

o A wall less than 2m high

o A patio less than 0.6m high

o Greenhouses up to 2,000m2, if less than 4m high

o Temporary structures on a building site

o Statues, monuments and works of art less occupying less than 40m3 and less than 12m high.

Permis de construire
A building permit (un permis de construire) is required for any change to a property that affects its taxable value (valeur cadastrale), which normally includes the following:

o Any extension to a building, including a balcony or car port, of more than 20m2

o Changing the use of a building, eg: by converting a shed to a workshop

o Creation of additional accommodation, eg: by converting a loft or outbuilding

o Removing internal walls

o Construction of any outbuilding (eg: stables, kennels or garage) exceeding 20m2

o Enlarging existing doorways or windows or changing their style or inserting new windows (including most types of double-glazing)

o Changing the type of roof tile

o Erecting fences or walls or replacing a fence or wall with a different type of structure

o Installing a septic tank

o Digging a well

o Installing a swimming pool of over 20m2

o Installing a pond of over 50m2

o Installing a mobile home in the garden.

Planning permission may also be required for the following:

o Changing the colour of external walls, windows or shutters

o Removing rendering to expose external stone work or covering stone work with rendering

o Creating a roof terrace

o Creating a terrace or patio over 60cm high or covering more than 20m2

o Replacing front doors

o Installing security grilles

o Installing solar panels if they affect the external appearance of a building (ie: are mounted on the roof) - you may not need permission for panels at ground level

o Installing a satellite dish (une antenne parabole) more than 1m in diameter

o Removing trees (see Permis De Démolir above).

If you need any more information, the following site is quite useful:
Idees Maison A French site (in French only) dedicated to the technical aspects of building and renovating.

If you need any help with translation, or if you need someone to contact any of the authorities, just contact us and we'll be happy to help.