Some chateau owners seeking to run a chambre d’hôte are being advised that their property must be classed as a hotel, with significant financial implications.
Interest in buying a chateau or manoir in France has never been greater, as enquiries to our property listings pages confirm, having quadrupled in the past year.
Many people have been inspired by the adventures of Dick Strawbridge and Angel Adoree on the Channel 4 television programme 'Escape to the Chateau'.
In order to fund the running costs of such a property many aspiring purchasers propose to offer bed and breakfast accommodation.
In most cases this can be done without a great deal of formality, with the property then classified for legal and tax purposes as a chambre d’hôte.
However, as recent cases that have come to our attention have illustrated, sometimes the local council and prefecture will not accept that definition, insisting instead that the property be considered a hotel.
Although the legal definition of a chambre d’hôte and a hotel are similar (serviced furnished accommodation for short-term visitors), the former takes place on a private residential property, at the home of the business owner, whilst the latter is a commercial premises open to the public.
As a result, the code de tourisme limits the size of a chambre d’hôte to a maximum of 5 bedrooms, accommodating a maximum of 15 persons. Beyond this threshold the property is considered to no longer qualify as a chambre d’hôte.
In two recent cases that have come to our attention, the local council and prefecture have been unwilling to accept the registration of the properties as chambre d’hôte on the grounds that the property exceeded the bedroom limitation.
In one case, the owners were not proposing to provide regular bed and breakfast accommodation, but to merely let out the property for occasional weddings, with the provision of overnight accommodation included in the package.
Even though the owners might not be obliged to run the business as a 'hotel', they were subject to the public access building norms of such a denomination.
The owners have therefore been faced with the choice of either carrying out very substantial works to bring the property to the required standards - health and safety, fire, and mobility access - or of abandoning the project. The cost of the works in both cases were estimated at over €200,000.
In addition to the health and safety requirements, the fiscal status of hotels is different to that of a chambre d’hôte, with hotel owners having an obligation to charge VAT and unable to obtain access to the favourable income tax and social security regimes available to chambre d’hôte owners.
Faced with such a dilemma several possible alternatives present themselves, although in all cases it comes down to a matter of negotiation with the authorities.
One option would be to limit the number of bedrooms declared and used for the business, so that although the property may be capable of accommodating more than 15 guests, not all bedrooms are used.
Although that may be a solution the authorities would find difficult to accept, due to the problem of enforcement, the law does not prevent only part of the property being used, provided it is restricted to a maximum of 15 guests.
Another alternative, once again in consultation with the authorities, would be to let out some of the accommodation as meublés de tourisme (self-contained accommodation), an option which might be more easily accomplished if the gîtes were created in ancillary premises to the main property. It is possible to have on the same property a chambre d’hôte and separate meublé de tourisme accommodation.
Finally, it may also be possible to agree with the authorities to limit the number of events that take place at the property each year, in return for which it would not be classified as a hotel. There is some discretion in planning law for this to be permitted, but only provided it occurs on an occasional 'event' basis.