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

5.4. Creating Openings in Buildings

5.4.1. Minimum Distances

If you wish to create an additional window or door opening in your property then you are obliged to respect certain distances, failing which you will not be permitted to create the opening, or you will only able to do so in a modified way.

The rule applies in order to minimise the difficulties that sometimes arise with overlooking between two neighbouring properties.

As well as windows and door openings, the rule also applies to terraces, balconies, and external staircases.

It only applies to skylights in your roof where there is a view to your neighbour.

It does not apply in flatted developments, and there are limits on its application to roof terraces.

There are national regulations that govern the distance between properties for new openings (Article 678 of the civil code).

However, local planning rules (régles d’urbanisme) may have more specific rules, which, if more restrictive, take precedence over the national regulations.

Thus, local planning rules may specify windows of a maximum size, which must be adhered to, notwithstanding the fact that the minimum distance between the properties may comply with the national regulations.

At a national level the minimum distances that apply vary, depending on whether or not the new opening would give a direct view onto the neighbouring property or whether the view was an oblique one that required you to turn your head to be able to see the neighbouring property.

In the case of a property in direct view the minimum distance is 1.90 metres where the window is on the first floor or above, and 2.60 metres where the window is on the ground floor. In the case of a property in oblique view the minimum distance is 60 centimetres.

These distances are calculated from the external limit of the new opening to the boundary of the other property.

Thus, although the neighbouring house maybe, say, ten or twenty metres away, if the perimeter of the property is within the above limits, the works cannot proceed without consent.

The rule can apply where there is a public space (such as a road or courtyard) between the two properties. The distance to be measured in this case is from the new construction to the perimeter of the neighbouring property, across the full width of the public space.

5.4.2. Right of Light/View

The nearest legal equivalent in France to a 'right to light' is called servitude de vue, although it is also possible that a new construction that causes a loss of sunlight might constitute a legal neighbour nuisance (trouble anormal du voisinage).

There are circumstances when it is possible to benefit from a servitude de vue, in which case the rule above on minimum distance does not apply.

The right to view can be applied in four different circumstances.

First, neighbours can agree between themselves not to apply the rule and allow an opening to be created.

If this occurs it is important that the agreement is signed through a notaire in order that it can be placed on the land registry so that it becomes mandatory on subsequent owners of both properties.

Second, if the opening has been in place for at least 30 years then consent is granted by prescription. The ‘30-year rule’ applies to subsequent owners of the property adversely affected by the opening.

However, if the opening is contested, there is a need to prove that it has been in existence for 30 years.

Thirdly, where an owner divides their property into two plots and sells off one of the plots for building, with a distance of less than 1.90 metres between an opening in their property and the new plot, then the subsequent owner is obliged to accept the arrangement.

Fourthly, the law permits the installation of opaque fixed glazing inserts into a wall (or roof) that are translucent but not transparent, so they give light inside, but not visibility to the outside.

This dispensation is referred to as les jours de souffrance or les jours de tolérance and is widely used in servitude de vue cases.

The installation of the units requires no specific permission but there are rules governing the size, height and quantity that can be installed.

Further advice can best be obtained from your county planning and highways department at the préfecture.

Next: Making a Planning Application

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