5. Do I Need Planning Permission in France?

  1. Planning Permission or Works Declaration?
  2. Building Works to Main Property
  3. New/External Building Works
  4. Creating Openings in Buildings

5.1. Planning Permission or Works Declaration?

As a general rule, formal authorisation is required for all new construction works, and works to existing buildings where the works either increase the external surface area, or create new surface levels.

Consent is also required for certain alterations and change of use.

The authorisation may require submission of either a planning application or a works declaration.

A summary of the basic relationship between a permis de construire and a déclaration préalable for new constructions and extensions is set out in the following table.

The table is only a summary and should be read in conjunction with our other pages on alterations to an existing building and to change of use.

As can be seen, there is greater discretion to build an extension to an existing property, than is the case for a separate new building, a right that has been enhanced since 2018 with the Loi Elan, which allows 'annexes' to existing dwellings, subject to seeking administrative consent.

The definition of a 'local plan' excludes a Carte Communale, which are the plans generally used in rural areas.

What this means, therefore, is that in most rural areas any extension greater than 20m² requires a planning permission, unless there is a formal local plan (either Plan d’Occupation des Sols (POS) or Plan Local d’Urbanisme (PLU)) in place.

You would need to make specific enquiries of your local planning authority.

There are particular rules and processes governing building works in a conservation area, to a listed building, or within 500 metres of a listed building, so in all such cases you need to consult with your local mairie or préfecture as few, if any, dispensations are available.

In practice, whether a planning application or a works declaration, there is still a fair bit of documentation that has to be submitted to the planning authority.

The thresholds used in the table are those relating to the habitable surface floor area - 'surface de plancher' - of the property. We could spend a whole section explaining this term but in summary it is defined in French law as:

The total enclosed and covered floor area of the building, having a minimum height of 1.80m, calculated from the interior walls of the building.

Planning Application or Works Declaration?

All Areas
New/Extension total surface < = 5m² No Authorisation Required
Urban Areas
Extension < = 40m² Works Declaration
Extension > 40m² Planning Application
New Building < = 20m² Works Declaration
New Building > 20m² Planning Application
Rural Areas
New Building < = 20m² Works Declaration
New Building > 20m² Planning Application
Extension < = 20m² Works Declaration
Extension > 20m² Planning Application

Where a plot of land is being divided up for one or more new dwellings then a discussion with the planning authority will be necessary as particular rules apply. These rules have been made clearer with changes in planning regulations introduced in March 2012, but the issue still necessitates a discussion with the planners.

If you live within a lotissement there will also be rules (le cahier des charges) that apply. You need to have regard to these rules in making your planning application.

In preparing a local plan, the planning authority should also have regard to these lotissement rules, but they are not obliged to do so. Accordingly, it is possible for someone to receive planning consent for a project that is contrary to the cahier des charges. In these circumstances the syndicat and/or residents would need to bring a legal action for breach of the rules.

There are particular rules for agricultural and commercial/industrial buildings that we do not consider in these notes.

It is a criminal offence to undertake works requiring planning permission without getting prior consent. The penalty is a fine of up to a maximum of €300,000 and two years in prison.

Since 2020 local mayors have also been granted powers to impose fines of up to €500 a day for unauthorised construction work.

In practice, these maximum penalties are rarely applied, and the authorities will almost always ask that you simply regularise the situation with a planning application. However, this assumes that you are going to be successful, so we do not recommend you chance it!

Although you may live in 'sleepy hollow' and think you can get away with it, it is normally neighbours who alert the authorities, and who may also bring a civil action for damages.

In addition, every two or three years tax officials meet with members of the local council to discuss any developments that may have taken place in the area not reported to them!

Next: Internal Building Works

Back: Application for Certificat d'Urbanisme

The Guides to France are published for general information only.
Please visit our Disclaimer for full details.