Sunday, January 8, 2012

Spread of illegal homes in France

According to a report in the French newspaper LeFigaro, one of the side effects of the economic crisis is an increase in the number of dwellings being illegally built on agricultural land or land classified as non-constructible. Among the regions most affected are Essonne (Greater Paris region), Rhone-Alpes and Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azur.

Typically small houses are built clandestinely over a series of weekends and can be completed within a month, according to one source quoted.  Local mayors react either by turning a blind eye, as it can take several years to bring a case before the courts; while others are taking tougher measures such as refusing to enable electricity and water connections.

Farmers and growers have a right under the law of 2005 to erect a dwelling on their land, but this is often abused by disguised sales or gifts to family members. The French government body SAFER is required to vet all sales of agricultural land, when notified by the notaire handling the transaction, but can remain unaware of cash transactions or private arrangements within the family.

In a recent case, I had to advise clients to withdraw from the purchase of a 7 hectare olive grove, which included a two-bedroom house built some 15 years ago without planning permission. While the owner isisted that 'the mayor knows all about it and everything is okay', my own enquiries revealed that it was known to the authorities 'as illegal, built without permission and could be ordered to be demolished at any time'. My clients eventually bought elsewhere.

If in any doubt, potential buyers of French property should make careful enquiries and take professional advice before entering into a transaction of this kind.