Advice needed

This is more about planning than construction but some of you might just know how to guide us through getting this right.

Opposite and beside us are ruins. They are owned by an English man who previously described himself as the developer. His property then extended on further to include a smallish lot, a good sized field and a wood. He has sold off roughly two-thirds of the field to a local family who are now building themselves a new house. Good and fine. The man got the money from the land sale and is now spending the proceeds on converting a small barn into his 'holiday' home. It is smaller than the average sitting room, so we imagine he will eventually extend it.

The builders (British) are proceeding with the work. We know from our mayor that the planning permission has not yet been given. They know too but are going ahead anyway. We have had the mayor here to look at the state of the ruins, since when the man responsible for the maintenance of roads and verges has had a look (he is adjutant mayor) and another council member has had the mayor here again. The mayor wants the ruin down and has told the man. We wish to oppose planning permission on the grounds of wishing to see the ruin removed before we will remove any objection to planning being granted. The mayor and secretary have no experience of an objection of this kind at all but have offered to do it with us when the notices come back from the cantonal office responsible.

They are not even certain whether the deadline for putting in opposition is two or three months, so we want to check that one. Does anybody know?

Anyway, the present builders have long since advised that the ruin be demolished and the recovered stone sold, especially the lintels, cornerstones and so on that are quite valuable. The mayor has said he wants it down. So the man had a builder (another British man) over with a digger to do some work yesterday. The man was taken around to take a look for ten minutes or so and came up with the conclusion that the ruin is safe, since it has been up for hundreds of years it will not fall down. However, the builders doing the present work removed the roof three years ago and capped the walls and said then it was good as a temporary measure. They can see the deterioration. The man yesterday dismissed the stones and blocks that have fallen on the road and pushed back to the verges. Over this wet winter the deterioration has been clear in front of our eyes. We could sustain some damage if the buildings collapse but our fear is probably more because the road goes between two of the buildings. With three local building sites and to some extent with farmers’ tractors anyway, there is a quite substantial amount of heavy machinery using the road. That includes large trailers for earthmovers that have ‘bumped’ it. However the vibrations alone cause falls.

My wife went ballistic, after going to see the mayor yesterday, phoned the builder working there at present and told him that we shall oppose planning and gave reasons why. He said he would have a word yesterday afternoon but clearly called straight away. He was going to call us back yesterday afternoon but never did. He was told the opposition to planning was real and not just a threat unless we had 100% assurance the ruin would be properly dealt with. He has gone ahead with the work and now sees the prospect of being stopped and losing income. He helped out by submitting the planning applications and thought it was the usual whitewash. No need to wait. Yesterday he repeated what had been discussed in a single summary sentence to my wife who said that that was just about it. His mate and he are clearly going to now be worried.

Anyway, the developer who has now stopped talking about himself as a developer, saw that I had been working outside and guessed I had heard the whole discussion. He came to see me, probably on the back of the call he would have had from the builder, and described the man with the digger as an ‘expert’ who had said what I have already outlined. There is no need to demolish in his opinion. So now the mayor has had that back and is thinking about it.

There is a complication. There had to be. We have a strip of land we use partly as a vegetable garden. It actually belongs to the English man. Our rights there are that the cadastrial plans show our perimeter has a triangular shape that blocks two thirds of the accessible entrance to the strip. We also have the right of ‘servitude’ having continued to use the land as the previous owner did. He says that ‘servitude’ means nothing to him and does not count so that if he wants to do whatsoever to the land he does not need our permission. It is a lower terrace with dry stone walling against the main plot with a terrace wall down to the next terrace which is ours. The man is refusing to acknowledge our bit of ‘triangle’ despite all cadastrial plans being the same and telling us ours are wrong and that he will simply have ‘our’ strip dug up if the corner plot is developed. He would then, he threatens, block access when we want to redo the roof and end wall which are becoming critical and must be done sooner or later.

His whole lot next to us is non-constructible effectively as it is. Two branches of the main power line and one to a street light cross it, there are four telephone cables over it too and the water main goes under it. Apart from that, removing the terracing would create a slope that would inundate our house and back garden. So anyway, he said that we could come to an arrangement about the strip as long as we dealt with the geometre and notaire. He is clearly trying to buy us off so that he can ‘forget’ the demolition that his ‘expert’ told him is unnecessary yesterday. He has already tried to get €65k for a strip three metres wide and just over 30m end to end out of somebody converting a barn at the end of those strips. The man there has planning permission to install windows but without the land has no right of access to his own walls to maintain them, render them, keep vegetation under control or install his windows. He is utterly fed up after about 20 years of wrangling over that which has delayed the work for nearly 15 years. The strip of land for which €65k was asked is worth roughly €1200 as agricultural or horticultural land. We see him as an ‘ally’ although he has had enough of fighting and now he simply wishes to finish the work and retire there.

So it is a mess. We would like to see the ruin down but otherwise he can do what he likes with his conversion if he does. If we oppose the planning application we will have to fight over the strip of land, oppose any plans to get the whole piece of land next to us getting any kind of planning permission and have the man living here three months or more each year according to what he is now saying. Any advice would be much appreciated.

A result all round!

We made pressure by saying we would oppose building permission if there was no commitment on the ruins. The maire came with at least two 'experts', one from the cantonal department for such issues, both said it must all come down. A British builder said that the main building has been up three centuries so no problem. The maire said he is NOT an expert. Then he told us that unless he got a deal on full demolition the commune would oppose permission. So now he has forced it. Next month the contractor will come for a couple of days, raze the lot to the ground, well recover the stone really - especially cornerstones, lintels and so on that are worth hundreds a piece. The contractor is related to the maire, so we know for sure the contract has been signed. That is all done and dusted.

Now the man is having his barn done definitively. The SPANC told him where his fosse goes, not where he wanted. So that is done, plus knowing the inspector helped.

The strip of land we have a servitud on is probably going to be offered to us for a nominal amount. The rest of the lot has a CU but for placing a fosse it gets difficult for anybody building there. There is the distance from any house itself, then the same from the neighbour and again from our actual boundary. It is terraced with a drop of over four metres. The ground pipe required would either need to be on to our land but that could not be running toward a barn that is too close or dug where we have mature fruit trees plus recent additions with large root boles. At the other end it would be over our well and the spring that feeds it. There are no less than five cables over the land. Two telephone line, the main electricity cable and where it divides off in two directions and a branch off to the single street light. Under the ground, across a large part of a corner, there is the water main. The cost of diverting that lot would be prohibitive for anybody building, so not much likelihood there. So, it look like he is not really going to be able to sell that very easily. One builder, the neighbour converting his barn, an estate agent and an architect have all said it is really non-constructable land as it stands. So we think he is bowing to reality and accepting that there is nothing doing. Anyway, he finally (after nearly 20 years) stopped blocking the barn conversion's windows, which are now already being done and is allowing external work on the barn he wanted to stop is going ahead.

His little barn will be a holiday place, the size of a rabbit hutch but OK. He wants to have a pool but when he hears the price of pool plus all the ground work to get through the rock the he might relent, whatever he wants to do he now knows that on the one hand he needs a lot of money, on the other he needs to keep the peace with his neighbours. The fact that our old maire had to step down for 'irregularities' a year and a half ago and the replacement was voted back this spring is not in his favour either. The council is distancing itself from the former maire and all of his sphere of influence, which includes his pal who has a finger in too many things across the river.

So, all in all after what came to a crisis at the end of May has turned round in a few weeks, mainly because of the ruins but also, we suspect, because the man realises he will not be able to sell any more land to keep his piggy bank full.

They're clearly hoping that once it's built they'll get retrospective approval as a fait accompli and because it's a hassle to get it knocked down. They clearly don't know the French administration......

Good thinking Terry. We will have the SPANC inspector have a look when she is 'in the neighbourhood' and I am off to have a word with the maire in a few minutes (after they have had coffee, poor folk). I walk just talking to a councillor a few minutes ago who said that the builders have turned up and are working despite having been told that planning opposition will go in. No doubt he will tell the maire too.

Another thought, Brian. May be worth calling in a huissier to do a constat, both on the state of the ruins and the fact that they've started work without planning permission and seem to be doing some dodgy fosse septique work..

Go for it then Brian.

No fear there Jane. We know Christophe who is responsible for such things here and OH knows the SPANC inspector well, in fact has an appointment with her at a house on her books on Wednesday.

On our council we have a member whose responsibility it is to deal with fosses septiques. Here in Trivy it is our friend Chantal.
If you get no joy from the Maire perhaps you could find out which council member is responsible for the fosses and get them along for a look?
Bonne chance.

Just back from walking dogs and went to his conversion site and see that the position for a fosse is marked out. It looks like they are trying to short cut and use an existing ditch that they are digging into. What looks like a pipe trench goes to it already. If the 'overflow' goes in the direction of the road, and knowing that the ditch also overflows and sends water down into our garden, yet another ground for opposition. Mairie is open on Tuesday mornings, guess where I am going for another chat.

The main point is that you cannot commence any renovations without updating your fosse. So a word to SPANC should be able to stop him.

We are a long way from any mains. He knows about the sanitary and drainage issues but probably needs a quote to scare his socks off. The people building on the land they bought from him adjacent will need blasting and a heavy digger. I am not sure he quite realises yet. Anyway, if the planning is delayed autumn then winter will creep round and give him time to reflect. Although I know he is here until Friday, he has been keeping his head down for several days and I expect he knows that is best given the ill feeling he has created with the crumbling ruin and his resistance to having it pulled down.

Brian, I am wondering if you have mains drainage? We are on a fosse and if you need to start work you have to have your fosse brought up to date before starting the work. If you are on a fosse, a word to Spanc might be in order.
Just a thought.

Jane. Well, the OH has several notaires she can have a chat with. Whilst selling houses she has done a lot of extras to help the buyers and sellers and nearly all local notaires are now recommending her as an agent to people wanting to sell, plus she has been doing a lot of their footwork with them so streamlining their bit. She now gets to have a coffee and chat with them. So, a lot more than a free 15 minutes will be on the agenda this week.

We know what you mean John. However, two council members have brought the mayor to see the ruins and his view is they must come down. The owner can promise they will eventually and then take 10 years, so it is not impossible that for his planning to go ahead he must make a commitment to pull them down or nothing doing. If not, within a set timeframe by the maire, they may well get an enforcement (we have discussed that with him), give him so many weeks, if he does not comply have it pulled down and charge him. The man converting his barn behind us has just defied him, brought in his two large sons to help demolish a false wall (today) and is putting in his windows. If our developer 'friend' tries shouting about that then there will be yet another planning opposition. He told me that he would like to time it to go in the same time as us if necessary.

However, putting the heat on is one thing, but getting anything to happen is another.

Hi Brian....given your self-evident frustrations with your part-time neighbour (who seems to have got himself into a bit of a mess)..... some experiences as both 'poacher' and 'gamekeeper' with regulatory permissions may help... I'm afraid it gets a bit Macchievellian (spelling?) and I couldn't possibly recommend this....BUT...... seems your Maire needs to take a hold of this situation....just wonder if he (or she) is the type likely to continue standing back if they detected a whiff of their office / powers being regarded as "pointless and irrelevant" by the potential transgressor?

Better the State takes this to law rather than yourself! No functionary / official of State / Government likes to think someone is taking the p**s by breaking the rules.

Before setting that hare running, consider whether the proposals would be likely to have obtained formal consent IF the rules had been followed properly....

Good luck with this....and I'm sure I'm not alone in wondering how it works out.

Brian, I would go and see your notaire, there is fifteen minutes of free advice advice available in France.
We did this when our neighbour tried to stop us from mending the fence between our fields.
The notaire had the deeds and said that there was no mention of who owned the fence and the lady we bought from said that it had always been a fence in common.
Thus gave us a great deal of reassurance and when the farmer who uses our land wants to put his cows in it soon, we shall have a great deal of pleasure telling her that she is wrong.

Terry, Kate and Véro, that is a good kick start. Our maire knows the work has started but has not intervened, now he will be persuaded to act, meanwhile I shall tell the builders what is going to happen to give them a fighting chance of skedaddling before any fun begins.

Thanks an enormous amount all of you. Any more ideas, tips (threats, well perhaps not...) are very welcome. Apart from that as the 'adventures' progress I shall update on them.

Hi Brian, Véro and Kate have just said what I was going to say, so it remains for me to say bonne chance and I'd already be looking into Vic's idea too, if not "dabbling" a bit myself :-O

Hi Brian,

What a pain this guy is.

You have 2 months after the permis approval to make your opposition - info is here:

For the servitude, speak to your notaire - it is written in your deeds and cannot be removed without your permission. It can be worded to limit the access so worth finding out exactly what the servitude says.

Good luck.....

Just had chat with Eric - if they are proceeding with work before getting their planning permission they are illegal & the maire has the power to make them stop all work immediately (if need be with back-up from the Gendarmes, who will be there to certify an offence is being committed) they will be committing another offence if they ignore the maire. You need a meeting with Mayor & mr whippet & plans, permis, record of servitude etc all on the table. The expert has to be recognised here in France as an expert for his opinion to have any sway at all.

Whatever the outcome of his planning application may be, if he has started the work before getting the go-ahead, he is in the wrong and committing an offence. Also are his English builders qualified, registered, insured and declared here in France? Because that's another whole can of whupass coming his way if they aren't en règle.

Hi Brian. I recall a case not so long ago where two neighbours did not agree about where the boundary was between their properties. I seem to remember that it went all the way to the cour de cassation. The upshot was that the loser had to demolish a wall between the two properties because it encroached by one centimetre (!!!) on his neighbour's land. You might want to try and find the details. I'm not suggesting you want to spend thousands of euros on court cases but the information that French law is really strict might make your neighbour think again. And he cannot ignore a servitude. I have the right to water from a spring on my neighbour's property because he used to live in our house and his father gave him the right to use the water and this right passed to us when we bought the house. If he won't listen I'd suggest contacting Que Choisir or getting a local notaire to write him a stern letter.