We received this question from a reader regarding building regulations in France, and we’d like to share it with you in case you find yourself faced with a similar situation.
Q: “My husband and I are renovating a property in Deux-Sèvres and we will offer tourism accomodation with a gîte, so would like to know if there are any specific regulations regarding people with disabilities, eg bed and toilet heights, door widths, etc. I hope you can help with this matter.”
A: It’s a short question that opens up a big can of the proverbial worms. The first point of order is to determine what type of property is being created, and what type of accommodation is being offered.
In most cases anybody wanting to cater for disability who is renovating or converting an existing building is under no legal obligation to conform to laws regarding specific measures to be undertaken.
(Up to 5 rooms with a maximum of 15 people)
For any new construction: If the rental rooms are part of the main house and share the space with the homeowners there is no need to comply with any special requirements. If the new build forms independent accommodation from the home owners, this must comply with accessibility requirements for, at least, one room and any communal spaces.
For renovations of existing rooms that are part of the house already, no special requirements apply. If converting a “non-habitable” space, by changing its designation (eg attic, workshop, barn) if it is part of the space that can house the home owner, the rules do not apply. However, the authorities “ strongly encourage” those responsible for the renovation to consider making provisions for people with special needs. We will come back to “strongly encourage” later.
If you have communal space, such as a meeting or conference room in the house for all guests to use you may be in the position where it can be classed as an établissement recevant du public ERP, and you may be required to comply with the rules re accessibility for it, and at least one room designated as guest accommodation.
Pre-existing chambre d’hôtes have no need to do anything.
Gîtes and holiday homes
If being built from new, and the permis de construire declares that it is destined for sale or rental, then the building must conform to the regulations specific to accessibility and have disability access.
For conversion projects involving a change of designation (attic, workshop or barn) to habitation, then the change does not have to conform to accessibility regulations. But, as before, the authorities “ strongly encourage” people to consider making provision for people with special needs.
The creation of a holiday rental space in an existing house does not have to conform to regulations specific to accessibility and have disability access.
Any gîtes, holiday rentals already in existence do not have to conform to accessibility requirements.
Note 1: If in creating a gîte or holiday let a “communal space”, meeting room as an example, is created that could be seen to be and ERP, the authorities may designate the whole establishment as such and accessibility regulations can be applied.
Note 2: There are different rules regarding accessibility requirements for habitable buildings of over three floors.
Gîtes of multi-occupancy are those that can accommodate more than 15 people. These are all classified as ERP and have to conform to accessibility regulations. This applies to new constructions, all those being created by conversion, and those already existing. A declaration needs to have been made to the local authorities that any existing gîte occupation housing 15+ people now conforms to the legislation.
The regulations in effect are Regles d’Accessibilité, 11th fevrier 2005, there have been many circulars and, what the government like to call précisions that clarify the general rules. Anybody considering this route for development of accommodation would be well advised to contact the local DDTE ( Direction Departmental de Territoires et Environnement), via the local mairie, to establish what their interpretation of current requirements are. This is where the “strongly encourage” may come into effect. There are funds available to help making it possible for people who are seriously considering making these modifications and provisions catering to people with sensory and/or mobility issues. It is a possibility well worth exploring as there is a market out there as attested to by Tourisme Handicaps.
There is a great deal of information available online dealing with layouts and dimensions for specialist provisions. Most of it is common sense, the size of doors for wheelchair access, worktops, socket and light-switch heights, to name a few. If this is a chosen route for your project for holiday accommodation, it’s always a good idea to make the best use of the advise out there at the outset to ensure the right steps are taken to reach a successful outcome for all.
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, and works full time as a designer, planner and project manager on renovations and new builds.
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