Land and how to protect it.

Patsie Fear's picture

Hello I am trying to protect my land from the local land grabbing mayor who is buying up every piece of land around and banking it for the future.  I have written to the DDI for the current land zonage as the Mayor seems to be unable to provide it to me, giving me the same info as in 2005 and the land next door which is now a lottisement is written as pasture land.  The mayor has built a road which ends at the boundary of my property.  He is also looking to buy the piece of land on the other side of my property and needs the piece of mine for access I believe.

We have a horse on the land for 8 months of the year and it is registered as agricultural at the moment.  I would like to seek the advice of a land lawyer does it have to be someone local as quite frankly I would not trust anyone locally at all having been fed a pack of lies when I purchased the property.  I live in the commune of Rohan.  Can anyone please help me as the land is all that I have left to keep me going spiritually.

Marty and Peggy Lee's picture

I don't no the answer, but will be watching to see if someone can be of help to You. I know what you are going through, best of luck. Marty
Marty and Peggy Lee's picture

I am living in new Zealand at present, tho also spend time in France and love France and their way of life. I am following this blog / discussion with great interest. Having dealt with local politics in a wee village in southern France and with rudimentary french, I know it is not for the faint hearthed, Brian and others it seems to me have offered good advise, you seem to have the measure of this shonky Marie. All power to you and your cause, I am rooting for you and others like you, even way down here in the south pacific. Marty
Andrew Hearne's picture

Get in touch with your local chambre d'agriculture as they have a say in any change to the POS for your area and can block agricultural land becoming constructible - in most area they are against changes but as with everything here in France, everything is very political and if they're all in it together it'll be hard to stop. We're in the process trying to change some of our land which is agricultural so we can build/sell off but any change to the POS takes anything up to 5 years unless, of course, the commune already has specific development plans. Try attending council meetings so you know what's going on or ask to see the meeting reports, they're often posted on the mairie's website.

Bonne chance !

David Hodge's picture

Likewise, I too am sorry I don't have an answer but I would endorse the idea of going to a lawyer who is not local.  I had a dispute over a house purchase contract and found that the local avocats were "drinking buddies" as such and these were all in cahoots with the Notaire involved.  I got resolution after having an avocat from 90kms away get involved who pointed out various points of law to the parties.

Unfortunately, I think it is a fact of country life which you have to accept.  The other side of this is that in straightforward house transactions, everything goes very smoothly because they want to make sure they are finished before 12 noon and can go off to lunch!

Guillaume Barlet-Batada's picture

Dear Patsie,

It is difficult to assess the situation in the absence of local planning documents, your title deed and other documents.

Nevertheless, it seems that your concern is that a public procedure of compulsory purchase of your land could take place.

In the first instance, it must be said that such procedure has to be justified: the benefits stemming from this procedure must be balanced with the loss of rights of the owner of private land.

The procedure is carried out in 2 steps:

-          Administrative procedure to acknowledge the public value of the operation (i.e. the local authority should not be able to acquire lands without a determined project).

-          Legal procedure to carry out the transfer of ownership and determine the level of compensation.

It would be tedious to go into the details of the procedure but you can already see that this is a very strict and controlled process which can take years. The Mayor may wish to put pressure on you but cannot do anything without public authorisation.

I hope this helps.

Patsie Fear's picture

Dear Guillaume

You have it in a nutshell I do own the land and the concern is that a public procedure of compulsory purchase of my land could take place.  I am contacting a colleague who will translate my English into French and write to the DDI for me so that I can establish the current zonage of my land.

That said I take heart with the procedure you have explained to me and if he has all the other land that he is purchasing for the commune to build on he will not need mine for some time.  Thank you the time it would take would give me breathing space to fight.  I have decided to make the commitment to the land so I wish it to remain mine to hand onto my children and grandchildren.  

Jean OHalleran's picture

Sorry to hear about your problem, like some of the others I would hesitate to offer advice on this other than to say don't let anyone browbeat you into doing something you don't want to do.  Have run into 'mafia' type situations before when trying to property here, mostly its best to call it a day and move on, can colour your attitude towards the French I suppose, but lets not forget the same thing goes on in the UK.  Its just that for most of us France is a dream of countryside and open spaces and a quiet way of life, but theres as much back-biting and bickering and downright crooked dealings going on here as anywhere else.  In our little village most of them are related in one way or another but half of them don't speak to their relatives because of some disagreement or family feud and its only when you speak the language and get involved that you realise what a little den of iniquity some of these villages can be!!

Best of luck, hope someone can give you some constructive and helpful advice..

Simon Oliver's picture

Contact a notaire (not necessarily a lawyer) from another town (but the same department) and ask his/her advice. Don't expect too much if it is a political stitch-up.

Otherwise, contact the local paper and out-line what is going on. Again, they may be political supporters of the miscreant but they will either publish (if they're not) or sit on the story in case things blow up in the future. A copy of the story to the 'Canard Enchainé' is always a good move.

Finally, you should end all your official correspondence with the Mairie or local authorities with a little: "Copies envoyées à : the [local newspaper] the Ministry of Agriculture [or whatever] and the Conseil Régional."  You'd be amazed at how effective this, fairly standard practice where I come from, freaks out corrupt officials.

Good luck!

Tracey Swift's picture

Hi Patsie.  Firstly,  I would like to wish you luck in your battle!  I don't know anything about land ownership in France and what rights you have.  Reading your post I assume that the land that you have the horse on is not your land.  Do you pay rent on this land?  If so, does this give you the same rights that a Farmer would have when renting a field, which I believe (but again I'm no expert it just what I have been told) is that you have the first refusal of the land if it is to be sold.  If you pay rent to the owner of the land then it may be worth looking into.  I might not be correct with this info so I apologies in advance if I am, but I though it worth sharing just in case there is a hope!  Once again good luck.

Jane Canty's picture

Tracy, I might be wrong..probably..but I believe the Mairie has the first refusal in their village if a house or piece of land is up for sale and I think..if they want to buy it, you can't refuse them for a higher offer.

Simon Oliver's picture

You're absolutely right Jane ... but it must be the Mairie who needs the land (for a crèche or other communal use) but not the Maire - especially not for his own personal use as would appear to be the case here.

Tracey Swift's picture

Yes, I think your both right if it is the commune that require the land but after that, I think it is the person that has had use of the land as long a they have paid their rent on time and that everything is in order.   Again, don't quote me though!  


Guillaume Barlet-Batada's picture

I’m afraid you may be going a bit off track as Patsie seems to be the owner of the land with no intention to sell. The right of option of purchase you mention is a pre-emption right.

The pre-emption right of the Mairie (or any local authority for that matter) can only be enforced if it was formally registered and justified by a project of public interest. As Andrew mentioned, this should be shown in the local planning regulations (règlement d’urbanisme, POS or PLU depending on the commune). The procedure modifying these regulations is accessible at any time.

Jane Canty's picture

Yes, that's what I meant Simon..forgot to add that bit lol, not the Maire's own personal use.I'm a Conseillere Municipal in our little village but OMG village politics are hard to understand lol.

Rosie Walker's picture

Have you considered going to SAFER?

I don't know if they can help, but they may at least know who else you should turn to!

Brian Milne's picture

andrew and simon have it between them. copy every damned thing to everybody, including your prefecture. if it is a political stitch up then the latter may be very useful because they are stuck with the daunting task of keeping it all clean, even if they are not themselves.

are you registered to vote? if so then declare an interest in candidature in forthcoming elections and then campaign (unlike the rest) putting your case against mayoral corruption (without accusing your mayor - but as a general cause) for your election. you will gain nothing except being left alone by his nibs and his ambitions. by just asking about standing you may just fire a strong enough warning shot. also, along the same lines, find out who is not a mayor buddy on the council who has strong support (even if a dirty him or herself) and go for a good talk to that person for advice and drop in a 'you have my vote' in parting. remember the cardinal rule: only ever fight clean in a clean arena.

Andrew Hearne's picture

Lisa - any land over 2500m² has to go through the safer who offer it to all agriculteur in the area (make them aware it's for sale) who has a right to buy it over the purchaser if he/she isn't an agriculteur. It's a standard procedure just the same as the mairie also have the right to buy over the purchaser if they want to. May have been odd things going on, maybe no one explained it to you as they all assumed you knew...

Having said that I'm more than aware of how rural france works and just what goes on behind the scenes and the politics envolved in everyday life - brother in law is both an agriculteur and politically active in the farming environment, some of the stories are incredible...!

Sharon Went's picture

Hi Andrew - you mentioned that you are going through the procedure of re-defining some of your land from agricultural use to constructible use; we have been given a flat refusal by the maire's secretary that we can even attempt to do this, whereas all the 'locals' are selling off pieces of their gardens for 150,000 euros with cu status!!!  You seem to be well advised, is there any point in us trying to press on with our Mairie???  Sorry to hear of your situation Patsie, but I agree with most of the comments to stick to your guns, we're all rooting for you!! 

Andrew Hearne's picture

Depends on which zone of the POS you are in. our commune is currently redefining the POS and so as part of that we stand a chance to get it changed, but only a chance, it could well be blocked. those who have CUs would have been in constructible zones on the POS. See which zone you're in and if it's not agricultural fill in all the relevant froms for a CU. If not you'll have to wait for the next revision of the POS.

David Rosemont's picture

I had a very bad exeperience about 20 years ago, and that was in the village I had already had another house in for 20 years. I was offered another large property, a former convent, but first telephoned our communist mayor to make sure the commune didn't want it. He said they didn't so I negotiated the price, agreed a deal with the diocese being the vendor and signed the compromis. I then did drawings of the property as the plan was to turn it into gites. The final transfer was due and I had invited about ten friends to come and camp for the summer in the extensive property (10000 sq ft built) when suddenly I got a letter in the post saying that the commune had deceided to excercise their right to purchase (droit de pre-emotion). I thought I knew all about that as I had checked with the mayor first! But no- he had changed his mind! The notary said it's hard luck but it's the French law. I was furious as by then I had serious expenses, having formed a company to buy it etc. Without telling anyone locally I employed an avocat from Paris to report. It transpired that I had been told a pack of lies and that there was no right to buy, as it had not been properly registered. I went back to the mayor and politely told him that he had been found out! I demanded the right to address the council and got it! I made my address and said I would withdraw if they paid me my costs. They said it was not possible, had never been done before etc. I said that their attitude was a disgrace and dishonest; had they no gratitude for the country people of England that had helped to liberate France etc? I really ladelled it on- in best Churchill manner! I was asked to leave the room while they debated the matter in camera. Result- they paid me £6000! What a result. They bought it for a countryside museum which they couldn't get funded and after ten years the new mayor came back to me and offered it at the original price. I went with my wife to look at it again with our trusty dog. The dog refused to enter the building, shaking and trembling. We took it as a no  (the building had been used by the Gestapo in the war) and instead bought another place. Good thing we did. The original mayor ran away with another woman, the notaire had an early heart attack and died and his asssistant committed suicide. The place was eventually bought in 2002 by another Englishman who ran out of money and then by another who about nine years later has still not finished the development. It's a cautionary tale. In another case a friend of mine (a leading London solicitor) bought a place in the south of France and ended up having to move his swimming pool as it straddled a footpath that nobody had ever used. In our next village a couple of years ago a notaire did a runner after being implicated in some scam involving British purcahsers and missing deposits. On a separate occasion an English agent immobilier also did a runner on a similar basis. Just be careful! I was lucky, and I love France but one hears many horror stories. The advice is certainly to take advice off piste. There are alot of very cosy relationships in the countryside, more so than in England methinks. One could certainly write a book about it but I think if I did I would be sent to Coventry and it would not be like Peter Mayle.

David Rosemont's picture

The development is still there, and still empty and unfinished. There has been no activity for several months. Weeds are growing. It's now 22 years since I nearly bought it for the first time. It's really as though the building has developed a jinx of some sort. I regard it as extremely fortunate for me that I managed to escape and get my compensation. There are however exciting events here all the time, many just under the surface. However if one did write a book about it I think that pretty soon one's life here would be made untenable. A research sociologist came here in the 80s to study the community. He lived here for about a year and eventually almost got hounded out after being "warned off"! I got him back here to give an interested group of ours a talk. We met clandestinely in my house by secret invitation only! It was extremely illuminating especially about the way and inter village tensions. Our village was in fact famous in the our priest Abbe Perrot was assasinated by the communists. We still have a group of blackshirts who come back every year to rememeber the event. I have wriiten a sort of potted history of the village but it was made clear to me by the Maire and others that "there is no interest in our history". Much of that does indeed go back to the war. Some of my research also yielded family members found guilty of quite nasty crimes in the 19th century (and transported or guillotined) and one supposes that such information would not be exactly welcomed by living members of the same family!

Brian Milne's picture

Do it, but write it as a humorous book, a kind of Puckoon en France. Let them be laughed at and serve them right!

David Rosemont's picture

Maybe a project for the autumn! My village is a beautiful subject but up there is also the Brit expat in France, a rich seam indeed. I was lampooned many years ago in an article in the Spectator, without naming me, in a piece on Sicily as a typical type of Brit abroad down to the brown brogue shoes and voluminous "Anzio" shorts on the beach, but one has to be able to accept a bit of punishment as well as handing it out!

Brian Milne's picture

I did 16 years as a councillor in the last niche of cambridgeshire before it became suffolk, thus unwanted by the bigger district and county so expected to look after itself. I took on the chair after the Colonel died after decades of chairing and his son (also a colonel!) tried once, so had all of what is on offer here in France within so-called 'closed' communities. sure they are tighter than limpets but also open for breath now and again which is when things happen. our local council are relatively good and the maire not bad, but even when one of 'his' people tried to tempt me to stand to share my experience I saw his adam's apple do several rapid movements. I would do it if the commune needed fighters for a particular cause, including stamping down bad practice and/or corruption, but luck is on my side here. anyway, as already said; only ever fight clean in a clean arena.

Patsie Fear's picture

The simple case is that when we purchase the house and land in 2005 we were informed there was nothing on the 10 year plan with regard to building on the land next to ours.  This was told to us by the Notaire, the Notaire acts for the Mayor in all things and 18 months later they purchased the land next to our land, and I was informed on the quiet that a lottisement was going to be built.  In order for electricity to be laid on they needed to place a new pylon on the boundary of my land, ERDF sent one of their standard contracts around (the one that acts as if you would trust them with no delineation of where we could not plough the land or build within the area of the pylon etc., etc.,).  This Convention of Servitude also declared that we could do no electrical work on our property without notifying them and so on - so the usual one that is sent out to lottisement owners and not maisons individuelle.  So I objected, went to an advocat who also objected and I made alterations to the Convention of Servitude and enclosed a plan - I used to work as a legal secretary (well most of my life) and I know how to stitch up documents and seal them so this is what I did with the plan intact.  The mayor sent around the lovely young lady from the contractors who work for ERDF and she asked to speak to my husband who owned the land and house, I sent her away with 1/2 dozen eggs, a pack of tomatoes and a reply that informed her that I was dealing with the matter.  She admitted to me that someone in the village had objected to having a pylon on his land and he is French.

The upshot was that when they accepted my altered Convention of Servitude they then sent around the man to mark the boundaries, and we asked him why there was a road leading up to the pylon was it so that ERDF could service or check the pylon.  This question was asked through a friend who speaks excellent French.  The boundary man said "oh no madame I think this is so the Mayor can have an access road to your land and over it" to which I replied "Over the Mayor's dead body" the man giggled and said in English very funny.

I am just pre-empting because I know that prior preparation prevents some bastard from taking things away from you.  I recently asked the local Notaire for the price of a piece of land locally for winter grazing for our horse.  She said that it had been sold to the Notaire and why did I need more land did I not have enough?  I responded "no doesn't the Mayor?"  Apparently he has bought every conceivable piece for sale and I have been informed that he has his eye on the field next to ours and my French neighbour says he is after this as well.

Obviously people need places to live, there is more than enough land around where I live for him to purchase and whilst I do not have the right to a view I do have the right, to keep an animal on my land which I pay an agricultural tax on I believe, and this is a large horse that needs an awful lot of land.  It is also rather nice and leads down to two captivated lakes which are not fed by the local stream.  Any ideas please.

Brian Milne's picture

look for the newspaper and journalist wishing to get a story and bust the maire's backside by public exposure, he is land speculating which the french do not love because it is dirty dirty that gets caught, but they love the defrocking... next supporting act is also as many local environmental protection as you can muster, especially ones with an interest in water. you clearly have spring fed lakes, therewith frogs, newts, toads and various insect species who depend on them for breeding... the green people are probably well versed in machiavellian approaches and will know who to draw in to add to maire's grief

Patsie Fear's picture

The thing is Brian that our lakes are I believe just rain water and water table, there are frogs but no newts, and there may very well be other interesting insects.  I do not think it is an SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest).  It is not the land with the lakes on that he will want as he cannot build on it as it is within 30 metres of a the stream which runs at the bottom of my garden.

It is the land above (on the sloping hill) that he will want to go across and possibly put houses on. He has not made obvious his intention to do so other than the road to the pylon.  Is he really land speculating - we would not know as we do not know what the zonage is for my land or for the other land around my village.  Does he have a right to purchase the land for the commune the Notaire made it obvious to me that he does, the shame is that we have a burgeoning population and only one school with double streaming in the classes its rather like that famous village of Bradley Stoke.  

I just  need a good land attorney so that I can get ready to rebuff any advances.  I suppose I could say that if he put a road across my land that the lakes would suffer from the traffic and if he built houses, after compulsory purchase if the prefecture approves zone changes, this would in fact divide my land and isolate the lakes from me and my family.  I will try to muster green support but I cannot do it locally as he seems to hold sway and I could not accuse him of land grabbing even though I feel like it.  Thank you for your reply.

The maire has not given me any grief verbally or in writing, or even notified me of any intention I am just suspicious as the French never build roads for no reason.

Brian Milne's picture

ok, but as sympathetic as I was to green issues I learned that activated environmentalists are a bane. if not themselves, they have informed and experienced people who really do stir up hornets. all aquatic species in w europe are at fairly high risk, not sssi in most cases but to use as a little stick. it is always worth a try. as for charming but devious maires, books could be written under the heading 'back stabbers'.

Jane Canty's picture

Patsie, I would be very carefull about going against the Maire as Brian is "sort of" suggesting, especially in a small village where as you said he holds sway. You could make matters worse. Can you not just go and see him and ask what his intentions really are ?

Brian Milne's picture

missing my point there jane; definitely do not do anything aggressively but gain sympathy against his 'possible' mal intents. in effect you do though make my missing point which is also to do nothing that is either antagonistic or cannot be explained as 'advised to' by people in places of influence