The low-down on building permits
It’s important for both buyers and sellers to ensure that all the right building permits are in place
It is not uncommon for the seller and/or the previous owners of a property to have completed some unauthorised building works – such as modification of the façade, conversion of a basement into a living area or increases to the surface area. It is important therefore to make sure all the necessary building permits are in place before buying (or selling). The consequences of illegal constructions (i.e. work done without any building permit) can be briefly summarised as follows:
- The authorities have three years after the completion of any illegal works in which to identify them. After this period, it’s impossible to challenge their existence, so be sure to establish the completion date of any unauthorised work. If the authorities are made aware of any illegal constructions within three years, the person who carried out the works will be sentenced by a judge. The sanction is usually a penalty to be paid to the French State; however, in rare and serious cases, the judge can request the demolition of the illegal constructions.
- A third party (such as the neighbours) has five years after the completion of the illegal works to inform the authorities. However, they must be able to prove the grievance.
- If a building is demolished by a natural catastrophe, the owner has the right to rebuild the construction in accordance with the original building permit, regardless of what the town planning rules may be at the time of the request.
- If an owner plans to carry out work requiring a building permit on a property with irregular constructions, the administration requires that the current situation is regularised beforehand. If it’s not possible, the administration will refuse the building permits, unless the owner is eligible for the provisions of Article L 111-12 of the Town Planning Code stating: “When a construction has been completed for over 10 years, the refusal of a building permit can’t be based on the irregularity of the initial construction under the town planning law.” There are some exceptions to that law, however, and in this situation cases are treated on their own merit.
Although a notary will investigate the building permits once involved in a transaction, an owner can require their intervention before a buyer is even found. In fact, before selling a property, it’s wise to identify any construction related problems, such as illegal works by the previous owner, and find out the completion dates. That way, the owner can be sure beforehand that everything is already in order.