6. Local Searches on Buying French Property
6.5. Planning Searches on French Property
The notaire will undertake a local planning search, called urbanisme, to establish the local planning situation and any known easements (servitudes) that may be in existence.
The notaire will obtain a copy of the planning certificate, called a certificat d’urbanisme, from the local council, which will provide information on the planning status of the property.
If building land, the certificate merely states that the land is zoned for construction; it will subsequently be necessary to obtain full planning consent, called a permit de construire.
If the notaire finds there are planning proposals for the area that alter, in a material way, the use or setting of the property, then you will be entitled to withdraw from the sale.
Nevertheless, a health warning is needed about the quality of information you will get from the local planning search.
Whilst you can normally expect the notaire and the local planning authority to do their job well, this is not always the case.
In particular, unless nearby development proposals have a direct impact on the property they may not be drawn to your attention, as the formal 'search' by the notaire does not always go beyond the perimetre of the property.
Accordingly, you need to ask the notaire of the type of search enquiries that will be made, whether merely on the property or also the surrounding area.
Thus, the French government have an ambitious programme of wind farm development and there have been a number of legal cases concerning proposed developments, an issue we considered in Wind Farms in France.
Neither is the notaire likely to be aware of informal easements which may exist, and may not be aware of unauthorised alterations or additions carried out to the property that have not been declared to the planning authority. If these unauthorised works later come to the notice of the planning authority (for instance from a later planning application you may make) then you could be obliged to reinstate the property, and/or be liable for a fine.
You should ensure that the sale contract clarifies the status of any easements on the property, and that the seller confirms that all building works have been carried out in accordance with planning regulations.
Ensure also that a clause in the contract requires that the seller is obliged to disclose to you anything that might affect your decision to buy the property, eg major developments in the locality.
Take it upon yourself to question the seller, make your own enquiries to the mairie to examine the local plan, call in on the neighbours and, if necessary, to the local planning officials in the prefecture about planning applications or the planning/development status of the area.
The attached check-list concerning pre-contract enquiries should assist you in this task.
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