Ask the Experts : Planning Permission, Septic Tanks and Flipping Houses

Ask the Experts : Planning Permission, Septic Tanks and Flipping Houses

Ready to (re)build your dream home from the ground up? From planning permission to septic tanks, Stephen Davies gets down to brass tacks

Q. We’ve been told we need to apply for a Certificat d’Urbanisme in order to get planning permission on our barn conversion in Limousin. How do we apply for one and what does it entail?

A. A Certificat d’Urbanisme is roughly equivalent to an Outline Planning Permission. There are two types: the “certificat d’information” and the “certificat opérationnel”. The former is used to inform the person asking for it of what the land in question is designated as, either on the Plan Local d’Urbanisme (PLU) or within the framework of the Règlement National d’Urbanisme (RNU) if no PLU is available in the plot locality. It also gives information as to who is responsible for local services such as water, electric and waste water management issues – either a fosse autonome or mains drainage – as well as access issues. The certificat opérationnel is used to see if a specific operation can be carried out on the land.

For a barn conversion, it is important to be crystal clear about what you want to do with it, i.e. a change from agricultural use to habitation. I know people who applied for the “renovation of a barn” but the application was ultimately turned down because the document did not specify that they intended to turn it into a house to live in. Instead they had applied to make the barn a better barn! So be as specific as you possibly can.

Q. We want to purchase an old country house with a view to gutting it and carrying out extensive renovations. The issue is that it has a septic tank and we understand that there are strict rules about upgrading to a sewage system. What should we do?

A. At the point of sale some regulatory diagnostic surveys will have to be done. Included in these is the compliance, condition and function of the septic tank. These systems of fosse autonome fall under the jurisdiction of SPANC. This is the authority charged with ensuring all used water is treated by means of systems adapted to each individual circumstance with regard to the level of occupancy and the physical condition and soil type into which it is to be installed.

So if you have a system which complies with current regulations and has sufficient capacity for your needs you have nothing to worry about.

If you are changing the system for reasons of increased occupancy, or have a system that does not comply with the latest regulations you are best advised to contact the local SPANC authority for your region. They are contactable via your local mairie (town hall/council). They will advise, guide and help you get a system that best suits your requirements; be it a standard installation or micro-station. They also carry out inspections and offer advice on how to maintain and service the installation once fitted.

Q. I’m really interested in flipping houses in France. What type of property – and what region or département – should I be focusing on?

A. Browse estate agents’ websites and focus on popular regions and the most popular types of property in these regions. Also make sure you know your customer. Will you be targeting French buyers or selling to UK buyers and expats? Think carefully about the amount of work you are prepared to undertake and manage. Do you have the language and technical skills necessary to be able to operate in an environment that is essentially both known and unknown in equal measure? And look carefully at “plus value” (essentially capital gains). The French planning, legal and tax systems can be tricky at first. So you need to make absolutely sure you fully understand what you’re getting into.

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Stephen Davies is a long-time FrenchEntrée contributor on building and renovation matters in France. He runs "Renovate in France", a resource of architectural and support services and information for those starting, or already “en-route“ on a renovation, and works full time as a designer, planner and project manager on renovations and new builds.

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