by Arthur Cutler, July 2013

©laurent hamels via fotolia

The subject of retrospective permission in France is certainly entertaining! Strictly speaking, there is no such thing as a “retrospective” planning application – what is required is what is known as a “regularisation”, which is a polite way of saying (in most cases) “you’ve been a poor citizen and must now eat humble pie before we’ll give you a permit”. In some cases the authorities will require a property where work has been carried out without a permit, to be put back into the condition it was in originally. On occasion people have been known to ignore written instructions not to undertake work without a permit, then be surprised when they are subsequently told to undo everything.

The process:

In practice, the process is very similar to a normal planning application, including “before and after” plans and drawings, which can be quite challenging where the owner of a property has carried out significant works without planning approval, and no longer has any record of what the property looked like beforehand. This sometimes leads to some creative interpretation!
A standard planning application needs to be made, with all the usual attachments – plans, drawings, photographs, etc. The dossier needs to show that the work has already been carried out, and that the application is to formally recognise this fact, and request approval.

The same period of consideration applies to any normal application, although some authorities may handle retrospective applications more quickly if pressed. Recently we dealt with a case where extensive renovations and conversions had been carried out 7 years previously, which only came to light when the property was sold. The buyer of the house discovered the absence of a planning permit during the purchase process, and agreed to proceed with the contract only if a permit was granted by a certain date. Through some creative work and rapidly arranged meetings with the authorities (which involved a good degree of begging), the permit was granted within a week, and the sale was concluded. Conversely, another case took 18 months to sort out because the planners were so annoyed that unauthorised work had been carried out.


If you own a property where work has been carried out without a permit, please be aware that serious difficulties can arise should you wish to sell the property in the future. Many people are under the misapprehension that all manner of things can be done to a property without a permit, so here are some of the main issues to be aware of, where a permit is required:

  • Any external change of appearance to a property needs a permit of one kind or another – this includes changing the style or material of doors and windows. It also includes in some cases, changing the colour of shutters, masonry, etc. Always included are the installation of velux windows or dormers, creating new door or window openings, or indeed changing a door to a window or vice versa.
  • Any increase in the habitable floor area of a property. This includes converting a lean-to, attic, stable or barn into living space. There are certain exceptions, but this article is too brief to adequately cover them all, so please feel free to contact me if you have any questions on the subject.
  • The fact that a change to a property cannot be seen by a neighbour does not alter the requirement for a permit.
  • A neighbour may have carried out similar works or modifications to their property, but that does not mean that approval is not required. Neither does it mean that undertaking similar alterations will automatically receive approval.
    Internal modifications that do not create additional living space are exempt from the need for a permit. However, caution is required where attic conversions are concerned because special rules can apply. If in doubt, please do not hesitate to ask for advice!•With thanks to Arthur Cutler, French Plans
    Arthur Cutler is a partner in the LBV Property Management Group.
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