Building in France: Planning, Forms and Permits

Explanations on the various French building permits needed when planning a new build, renovating or altering property...

On 1 October 2007 a new set of interlocking planning application forms have been implemented in France to replace previously-used building planning forms. This was accompanied by a new national planning procedural reform. Some of the forms retain the same name as the previous ones, however, all have been altered and only the new forms are now acceptable.

Forms

(Click the permit name to be taken to the relevant section on the page below)

Permis de Démolir - Demolitions Permit

demolitions permit must be submitted before a building may be demolished. However be aware that in France the planning permission is attached to the building and not the land (in many countries planning is with the land not the building).

This has consequences for those who intend to demolish an existing building and replace it with new one: once a building is demolished a permit will be required for the new building and the land will be considered "virgin". Despite an existing building recently being on the land this has no standing under French Planning Law.

A replacement building will be refused permission if the land is in a zone non-constructible. Therefore if a building falls into disrepair it may not be replaced with a new one if it is in a non-constructible zone. Work will have to be done to the existing building. Likewise if a building falls into a state of ruin, permission to renovate may be refused because the planning is with the building and not the land.

Dossier consists of:

  • Site Plan scale 1:5000 or 1:10000 that identifies the land within the commune
  • Plan Cadastral 1:2000/1000
  • Site Plan scale 1:500 of the property
  • Floor plans scale 1:100 of the existing building
  • All elevations scale 1:100 of the existing building
  • Two photographs existing
  • Photomontage/visual proposal after demolitions
  • A written submission explaining the visual impact of the project

Submission

  • 4 copies of the application form plus the dossier delivered to the Mairie
  • Response to application: 2 months

Certificat d’Urbanisme (CU) - Outline planning/planning in principle

The old Certificat d’urbanisme forms were poorly drafted with the result that many requests (50 percent) were not actually what the beneficiary required. An example: A request for the "renovation of an existing building" when the beneficiary wanted the "change of use (transformation) of an agricultural building to habitation". The former allows the renovation of a barn, the latter allows the barn to be converted to a house. This is particularly important to note for those who are in the process of purchasing a property for renovation.

In an attempt to rectify confusion the form has now been to split in to two applications - there are two forms for a Certificat d’urbanisme:

  • Form A - Informative (certificat d’information général)
  • Form B - Operational (certificat opérationnel)

An informative request is one that establishes the existing planning state of a building. This may be used if, in the case of a derelict cottage, the applicant wants to know if in planning terms it is still classed as a cottage or if it has been de-classified (many farmers did this to reduce taxes on their land). If it has been de-classified a permit is required to change the use (Changement de destination) of the building to habitation. Again, planning in France goes with the building and not with the land; if the building is classed as agricultural even though it clearly was, and looks like, a cottage then it is agricultural. The Informative form is simply a request to establish the existing planning state of a building, nothing more.

An operational request is a request to "perform an operation on a building" for example change an agricultural barn to habitation (house).

There is an additional Note descriptive succincte du projet that accompanies each operational request. It requires a short written description of the project and enables the applicant to add maps and photographs to support the request; it is imperative to mark on the plan which building the request is for if there is more than one building on a site. Ensure thattransformation de bâtiment agricole en bâtiment d’habitation is clearly written if the intension is to convert a building to habitation.

Dossier consists of:

  • Plan Cadastral 1:2000/1000
  • A written submission explaining the project + photos optional

Application A Informative

  • 2 copies of the application form delivered to the Mairie
  • Response to application: 1 month

Application B Operational

  • 4 copies of the application form and 4 copies of the dossier (plan cadastre, photos etc) delivered to the Mairie
  • Response to application: 2 months

Note: Certificat d’urbanisme is an approval "in principal" subject to the granting of a building permit (Permis de construire). An approval "in principal" does not guarantee a Permis de construire.

Déclaration Préalable - Minor works

This new form supersedes the Déclaration de travaux, and integrates lotissement, camping and tree felling permits. The new form is longer and has a section for the four permits that it replaces, with specific boxes for garages and swimming pools. It also has much greater emphasis on the SHOB (surface hors œuvre brut) or gross floor area and SHON (surface hors œuvre nette) or net habitable space calculations and covers commercial buildings, offices and industrial units as well as houses. It includes a demolitions section which avoids the need to submit a separate Permis de démolir.

The declaration is split into sections for:

  1. Alterations (Aménagement), lotissement, camping, trees
  2. Construction to existing and proposed building
  3. Demolitions to accompany the above

This form brings together all the other minor works application forms. For example: if applying for a Velux window or a new door simply cross the box in section 5 (construction) for work that alters the façade (there is an area for a written description to clarify the requirements). Only about 25 percent of the form is completed.

When to use the Déclaration préalable

Constructions that create between 2 and 20m² SHOB (surface hors œuvre brut) gross floor area

  • Walls over 2m high
  • Swimming pools less than 1.8 meters deep between 10m² and 100m²
  • Enclosure fence/railings within the visibility of an historic monument or site inscrit (conservation area)
  • Work that affects the exterior façade or roof of a building that does not require a PC
  • Change of use of an auxiliary section of a building so that the whole building has the same usage without altering either the structure or external surface.
  • Extension to a building that create between 2 and 20m² SHOB
  • Work that converts 10m² or more of SHOB to SHON (surface hors œuvre nette)
  • Two plots or less for a lotissement that does not create roads or communal space
  • Less than 20 people or 6 tents, caravans or mobile homes
  • Public car parks between 10 and 49 places

Note: Attic conversions

The conversion of an attic requires a Déclaration préalable if there is a staircase to the attic (that means no change of destination, but change of SHOB to SHON) if however, the house is attached to a barn and there is no staircase to the attic from the house but the "house attic" is joined to the attic of the barn then the "house attic" could be classed as agricultural (part of the barn) in which case a Permis de construire may be required because it would be a change of use and possibly a structural alteration or change to the external surface of the building.

Architects and the Déclaration préalable

Regardless of the size of the project, there is no legal obligation to employ an architect to submit a Déclaration préalable.

Dossier consists of:

  • Plan Cadastral 1:2000/1000
  • As existing and proposed drawings depending on the application
  • A written submission explaining the project + photos before and after

Submission

  • 2 copies of the dossier + application form delivered to the Mairie
  • Response to application: 1 month

Historic sites

A property within 500m of a historic monument, a conservation area, a historic centre defined by the local plan or acommune littorale (coastline): check prior to submission if any supplementary copies of the dossier or additional information is required.

Permis de Construire (PC) - Planning Application for Building Permit

The Permis de construire is the main instrument of planning control. There are two permits:

  1. for an individual house and annexes (Permis de construire maison et/ou ses annexes)
  2. for general purpose (Permis de construire generale)

Architects and the Permis de construire

An architect is required to submit any Permis de construire. The law states that a request for a building permit (Permis de construire) cannot be investigated unless a qualified registered architect has "established the architectural project", that is, prepared the plans and written documents, shown site plans, volume and layout, sections, and elevation treatment, as well as choice of materials.

Note: The exception to this is: an individual submitting an application on their own property if on completion it has a SHON of 170 m² or less (C. Urb. Art. L421-2). An individual house application is the exception to the law and in all commercial and other projects an architect will be required, regardless of the size of project, if a Permis de construire is required.

Permis de construire maison et/ou ses annexes (Planning application house & annexes)

The new Permis de construire maison et/ou ses annexes takes into account the possibility for the applicant to have a principal residence outside of France and an architect or third party can be sent all the correspondence instead of the applicant.

There are specific boxes for swimming pool, garage, conservatory and garden shed on the application form together with a demolitions section (a separate demolitions permit is not needed). It allows for the correspondence to be sent to either a future purchaser or neighbour if external works affect their property.

Correspondence between the planning department can now be by email and drawings may be submitted as PDFs.

As part of the reforms the details and registration numbers of the architect in now required together with their signature. There is a greater crackdown on architects signing other peoples drawings (an architect is suspended for three months, the client's permit is revoked and the author of the drawings working commercially is usually fined).

Conseils d'Architecture, d'Urbanisme et d'Environnement (CAUE)

A person who submits the application themselves should go to the local Conseils d'Architecture, d'Urbanisme et d'Environnement (CAUE) prior to submitting the application for advice on the architectural content of the project; there is a box on the new form that confirms this has been done and a project may be delayed if advice has not been given.

When to use the Permis de construire maison et/ou ses annexes

  • Constructions that creates over 20m² SHOB gross floor area
  • The work that modifies a load bearing structure/wall or the building façade when accompanied with a change of use of an auxiliary section of a building so that the whole building has the same usage
  • Work that modifies the volume of a building and that creates a new opening or increases the size of an existing opening in an exterior wall
  • Swimming pools less than 1.8m deep and over 100m²
  • All swimming pools over 1.8m deep

Dossier consists of:

  • Site Plan scale 1:5000 or 1:10000 that identifies the land within the commune
  • Plan Cadastral 1:2000/1000
  • Site Plan scale 1:500 of the property existing and proposed
  • Floor plans scale 1:100 of the existing building if applicable, dimensioned
  • All elevations scale 1:100 of the existing building if applicable with windows /doors, dimensioned
  • Section of building scale 1:100 existing if applicable
  • All proposed floor plans scale 1:100 dimensioned
  • All proposed elevations scale 1:100 windows /doors dimensioned materials indicated
  • Section scale 1:100
  • Section scale1:200 that indicates the levels of the proposal within the site
  • Two photographs existing and/or photomontage/visual proposal
  • Angled drawing of the proposal at it most representative that includes the access drive, landscaping and plantings
  • A written submission explaining the visual impact of the project on the surrounding area.

A written submission explaining the visual impact of the project on the surrounding area

This area of the application needs to cover:

  • The land use of the general area
  • The surrounding area (hamlet, street, countryside) outside of the property
  • The existing building and landscaping within the property, including, hedge, gardens and existing materials
  • A description of the architectural content of the project including materials and colours (there are no longer boxes in the application form for this information). A consultation with an architect from CAUE should be mentioned in the project description letter

Submission

  • 4 copies of the dossier + application form delivered to the Mairie
  • Response to application: 2 months

Under the new procedure additional copies of the dossier and/or supplementary studies accompany the dossier in certain situations, this is generally for larger projects however there are situations that this will apply to a domestic situation.

  • Within 500m of a historic monument
  • Within a conservation area
  • Within a national park
  • Within a historic centre defined by the local plan
  • Within a seismic or cyclonic zone

Within 500m of a historic monument

  • 4 copies of the dossier + application form + additional copy of dossier to the Architecte des Bâtiments de France(ABF)
  • Response to application: 6 months

Within a conservation area or historic centre defined by the local plan

  • 4 copies of the dossier + application form + additional copy of dossier
  • Response to application: 3 months

Within a national park

  • 4 copies of the dossier + application form + 2 additional copy of dossier
  • Response to application: 3 months

Within a seismic or cyclonic zone

A supplementary study is required with the application that establishes the structural stability of the proposal in a seismic or cyclonic zone, this involves greater detail design input than normally required for a PC application and calculations by aBureau des études to support the application.

  • 4 copies of the dossier + application forms + supplementary study
  • Response to application: 2 months

Permis de Construire Generale

The same information for a Permis de construire maison is required for a Permis de construire generale, there is however the likelihood of additional information being required for specific buildings that are too numerous and complex to mention. An architect would be required for any application and it would be better to contact them on an individual basis for a specific non-domestic project.

Submit

  • 4 copies of the dossier, application forms, additional copies and/or supplementary study
  • Response to application: 3 months

Permis d'Aménager (PA)

This is a new permit that supersedes the lotissement application and brings together camping/caravanning parks, sport and leisure applications and public space including parking and parks.

When to use the Permis d'aménager

  • More than two plots on a lotissement and the creation of roads and/or communal space
  • Creation of roads and/or communal space
  • Creation or extension of camping site for more than 20 people, 6 tents, caravans or mobile homes
  • Creation or extension of wooden chalets and mobile home park
  • Creation or extension of holiday park including accommodation
  • Modifications to sports fields go-kart circuits
  • Amusement parks greater than 2 hectares
  • Golf courses greater than 25 hectares
  • Public car parks greater than 50 places

Planning law (Code de l'Urbanisme) Environmental Law (Code de l’Environnement)

Many of the above projects not only require planning law but also environmental law approval and in many of the above cases multiple studies are required with the Permis d'aménager.

A golf course for example requires an environmental impact study (European directive and environmental law) and possibly a tree felling application (défrichement and environmental law), water legislation (loi sur l'eau) and various other dossiers submitted simultaneously with the Permis d'aménager.

Anyone considering a project that changes land use then consult with an architect and/or environmental Bureau des étudesat a very early stage because it can take between six and twelve months for some environmental permits to be granted; only after these are granted may planning permission be applied for.

Submission

  • 4 copies of the dossier + application form delivered to the Mairie
  • Response to application: 3 months

Modification d'un Permis Délivré en Cours de Validité (Modification to PC or PA application)

If during the course of a project a change is wanted for any aspect of it then a Permis modificatif must be submitted. If a window is added or removed, the amount of habitable space changes or the size of the project is increased then notification can be made with this form and by altering the requisite drawings in the dossier.

Any changes are still subject to approval and any work undertaken until the modification is granted will be at risk. If the modification is refused and the changes have already been built there is an obligation to revert to the original application, regardless if this involves demolishing something.

The new form applies to Permis de construire, Permis de construire maison and Permis d'aménager and it is imperative that any changes that have been made during planning or construction are discharged prior to declaring that the project is complete and in accordance with the permit.

Note: In France it is essential to include everything wanted in the initial application and use an amendment exactly as it is intended. Do not apply for most of the requirements in the hope that the rest can be added as an amendment, this does not work in France.

Submission

  • 4 copies of the dossier + application form delivered to the Mairie
  • Response to application: 
    2 months: Permis de construire maison
    3 months: Permis de construire or Permis d'aménager

Transfert d'un Permis Délivré en Cours de Validité (Transfer of permit)

This is a new form that allows the simple transfer of a Permis de construire, Permis de construire maison or Permis d'aménager to be transferred to another party (previously this was done through a notaire).

Submission

  • 4 copies of application form delivered to the Mairie
  • Response to application: 
    2 months: Permis de construire maison
    3 months: Permis de construire or Permis d'aménager

The Planning Procedure (new from October 2007)

Owners liability

It is the responsibility of the land owner to ensure that all applicable building permits are in place for the construction work undertaken. An application must be made by the owner of the land, by someone mandated by them (their representative), or by a person with a title permitting building or by a person able to benefit from the expropriation of the land for a public utility. There is no fee to submit any of the development permits described above, although there is a fee for the application if it is successful.

The fee is generally paid in two parts:

  1. 18 months after the permission is granted
  2. the remainder 12 months later

Note: the tax payable on the property will be directly affected by any development.

Submitting the applications

All the applications are submitted either by hand or by registered letter to the local Mairie. Under the new procedure the Mairie forwards the applications to the local DDE planning office (Direction Départementale de l'Équipement), and the police, highways, fire service and Architectes des Bâtiments de France (ABF). (This is why so many additional dossiers are required).

A receipt (décharge) will be issued with the application number and the date of registration; the response to the application (délai d’instruction) starts from this date. It is administered within the response time for set for the type of application.

Each permit has it's own reception letter that states the response time and goes on to state that if any information from the planning office/Mairie in not received within this period then the application has been approved (Tacit permit).

Tacit permit

There is one obvious problem with a tacit permit: there is no approval in writing, only an approval by default (in that that if there has been no further correspondence approval is assumed, which doesn't allow for the possibility that something is lost in the post). Therefore, before acting on a tacit permit it may be prudent to confirm the approval from planning office by phone and then get a letter from the Mairie stating that approval has been given.

Dossier incomplete

The local planning office examines the planning application and dossier; if more information is required then either an email or letter will be sent with a request for the additional information, this information can be provided by email and PDF drawings are acceptable.

Planning Approval

Once complete, the decision will be made and planning will be approved by the planning department if the application is in accordance with the local plan. The application then goes back to the Mairie where responses will also be returned from the police, highways, fire service and the Architecte des Bâtiments de France (ABF). If all responses are favourable (including SPANC) and the Mairie is in agreement then permission is granted.

SPANC (Service Public d'Assainissement Non-Collective)

Building projects in the countryside may have a fosse toutes eaux or similar; as part of a planning application the Mairie will ask SPANC to ascertain what sewerage system the property has. Until SPANC have approved the existing/proposed system permission will not be granted. SPANC does not operate to a time scale (its legislation is the code of environment not the code of urbanism and is not part of the reform) and it can take weeks to sort out an application. If, for instance, a new tank is to be installed (or work needs to be done to the existing one) then a study (not necessarily the work) should be completed and submitted as part of the planning application so that everything can be signed off at the same time.

Two Month Third Party Notice

Once planning approval is received, a notice has to be displayed on the property for a period of two months informing third parties of the application. Third parties can view the dossier at the Mairie and object to the application. The objection can only be sustained if the application is contrary to planning law (which it should not be because it has already had approval from the planning authority). However, every objection has to be investigated and this can slow a project down even if it is obvious that the objection will be overruled. If after the two-month notice period nobody has objected then work can start.

Duration of Permission

Construction must commence within two years of approval for a Permis de construire, Permis de construire maison orPermis d'aménager. There is no time limit on completion.

Déclaration d'ouverture de chantier (Commence work on site)

To start work, submit the revised form Déclaration d'ouverture de chantier (commence work on site). This is completed by the proprietor for work under a Permis de construirePermis de construire maison and Permis d'aménager and submitted to the Mairie.

If work is to be undertaken in a single stage check one box, and another box if the work is being done in sections. The form must be submitted prior to starting work on site and is fairly self-explanatory.

The Permis de construire, Permis de construire maison or Permis d'aménager has to be displayed on a panonceau, or panel, at the entrance to the site for the duration of the works.

Déclaration attestant l'achèvement et la conformité des travaux (Completion of work in accordance with permit)

30 days after completion of the work a Déclaration attestant l'achèvement et la conformité des travaux (Completion of work in accordance with permit) must be entered. This form is used when the project is complete for all work under a Permis de construirePermis de construire maisonPermis d'aménager and a Déclaration préalable.

This is a signed attestation by the proprietor (countersigned by the architect if applicable) that the project has been constructed in accordance with the approved planning application. It is imperative that any changes that have been made during planning or construction are discharged (via a Permis modificatif) prior to declaring that the project is complete and in accordance with the application.

On completion, all Déclaration préalable's also require a Déclaration attestant l'achèvement et la conformité des travaux(Completion of work in accordance with permit).

The authorities have the right to inspect the works to ascertain conformity with the terms of the respective application and within three months the authorities will send a Certificat de conformité. It is on the receipt of the Certificat de conformité that the application is discharged.

Penalties

It is an offence to undertake construction work without a Permis de construirePermis de construire maison or Permis d'aménager if one is required. This can result in a fine or in certain circumstances an order for the building to be returned to its original state prior to the unauthorised building work.

Having been granted a Permis de construirePermis de construire maison or Permis d'aménager, it should be noted that is also an offence to carry out work that is outside of that which is defined. Example: If the Permis de construire permits the conversions of a barn to a house, the buildings may not then be converted into gîte without first submitting a Modification d'un permis délivré en cours de validité (modification to PC or PA application).

By Andrew Booth Architect RIBA DUAOB Inscrit au Tableau Regional de l’Ordre des Architectes de Basse-Normandie au titre d’Architecte DUAOB (Diplome de l’University d’Architecture Oxford Brookes) No. general 49004 regional 731 11 Rue de la Ville, 50480 Brucheville Tel France 06 83 73 71 29 / Tel UK +44 (0)15394 88265 / e-mail Copyright © Andrew Booth Architect All Rights Reserved