Help! I need some advice
Some years ago, I bought a patch of land in France, with a tumbledown stone barn on it which I hoped to renovate. After a lot of back-breaking work, clearing the brambles & fallen stone, I began to realise I was out of my depth, and I was homesick too, since my first grandchild had just been born - so I came back home to the UK.
Just recently, I received an email from a French friend who told me that the Maire intended to expropriate (compulsory purchase) my patch of land. At first, the Mairie didn’t seem to want to answer my (properly translated) emails, but eventually I arranged a meeting, and flew over.
On the morning of the meeting, I had arranged to meet my friend in a local café, and, while I was waiting, a group of about a dozen burly men came, sat at a long table at the rear, and were served with several bottles of wine & a large pot of beef casserole (at 9.15 in the morning). I assumed they were local workers who had just finished a night-shift, but when my friend arrived, she whispered that they were actually the Maire & his town council - and she was worried that this boozy breakfast didn’t bode well for our meeting.
She was right. During the meeting there was a lot of emphatic shouting (from the Maire), and at one point he leant out of the window to shout at someone else on his mobile phone, while we laughed in disbelief behind his back. What he had to say to us, though, wasn’t at all funny.
He didn’t want to compulsorily purchase my land, he said (though he’d previously told my friend he intended exactly that). Instead he said that there had been a complaint about the safety of my barn, and that I must completely demolish it, and remove the stone, or face a large fine, and a possible prison sentence. This would cost me some 12,000 Euros, he said, and thereafter the land would revert to Agricultural status, and be worth very little. However, out of the kindness of his heart, he might be persuaded to take the stone off my hands to help with building work in the local community.
All of this sounded extremely fishy - I knew, for example, that the stone had a considerable value, having sold some, years before. I also knew that the land is not classified as Agricultural in the local “plan d’urbanisation”, but as Nv (“Natural Villegeois”), since it is attached to a little group of houses just outside of town. (by the way, I did get a builder friend to inspect the barn, and he said it was mostly safe, except for a gable end, which could do with additional support, though you’d have to fight your way through the brambles to be in any danger).
I would appreciate any advice anyone can give, but what I mainly want to know is this: If I do arrange to demolish the barn, will I lose any important rights that the presence of a building (even as a ruin) might confer?
Help! I need some advice
Can you give an idea of where your land is situated - post code? Without directly going to the town hall again you may be able to find info on the web about cadastral / land designation, or try a local estate agent. Also most “Mairies” put a lot of info on-line these days, even if it take a while to find it. It sounds though as if your local Mairie maybe a bit “rurally minded” to put it politely. Other option is to go up a level in the French system and ask the prefecture which governs your area, but French administration is difficult to negotiate.
I think if you demolish the barn completely, you would find it extremely difficult to either renovate it or get a permis for a new dwelling. Has the barn any form of chimney because if it has, it could be said that it had been a dwelling at some time in the past and therefore there could be no objection to renovation. Sounds all a bit fishy to me but each Marie do tend to make their own rules to suit themselves (or friends). Don’t be hasty or let them pressure you, get proper legal advice from an advocat.
This encounter looks a bit weird. First as suggested you should look at the urban planning of your lot (PLU - Plan Local d’Urbanisme). Depending on the area where you property is located, the rules are different but the maire should abide to them too. It’s either on your mairie’s website or in free access at the mairie. Secondly, you should go to a local free lawyer counselling for an advice. And let that be known in town for the maire to cool down.
And for the prison, this is just BS…
Hope that will help.
You’ll find what the maire can and cannot do here: http://www.collectivites-locales.gouv.fr/pouvoirs-police-maire-matiere-dhabitat
the barn is in Deux-Sèvres (79) (local prefecture is Niort). You’re right - the local Mairie is very “rurally minded”, and I got hold of the local ‘plan d’urbanisation’ by looking on the Niort website. Strangely, although it was dated November 2015, it did not show buildings I knew had been built at least 2 years before - so I’m not sure how much use it is. Thanks for your suggestion though - I think the prefecture might be our best bet
Thanks for the link - it’s useful, and I hadn’t found it in my recent research. Also thanks for the advice - I’ve got hold of the PLU, and the accompanying policy document by going via the local prefecture (Niort). The lawyer is my next step, after the Maire confirms his position in writing (he promised to do so at our meeting)
As you suggest, I’m concerned that I will lose rights by demolishing the barn. However, thanks to my research (and to Christian, below) I’m a lot clearer about what the Maire can and can’t do - I think a lawyer is my next step
It may cost a bit to get legal advice but worthwhile, you could possibly lose a great deal if you are not able to rebuild the barn in the future because you complied with the request to knock it down.
I do wonder whether the written request to knock it down actually fails to materialise.
Do you know the reasons why it was suggested to be knocked down, either the official reason, or do you have a suspicion that an influential person would like it gone?
I know from local happenings that if a building is razed (or erased) it loses its footprint…and, no matter what the history, it can become impossible to build thereon. Whereas even a “ruin” cannot be denied… and can be transformed at some time in the future. Why not find out what basic work can be done to make-safe the dodgy wall… and at what cost/timescale etc. A bare piece of land is never going to be worth as much as one with an existing building (just thinking of your future options).
The official reason to request demolition is that it’s unsafe - however, there’s a new housing development only about a field away… I think someone has an eye to the future value of the land!
You are confirming my suspicions about the value of keeping the building. My Todo list reads: 1. Get Lawyer 2. Look into making the building safe
Geoff… might be an idea to fill in a Déclaration Préalable outlining the safety work you are considering. This Form is for work that does not necessarily need permission (don’t laugh) and allows the Mairie to be up to date with what is going on. For simply making the building safe, this Form will probably do. But be sure to get a Receipt from the Mairie, giving the date you hand the document in to them. They have a certain length of time in which they must either give you the go-ahead or darn good reasons why not. This would, at least, show them that the situation is not being taken lying down. (I will be meeting several Mayors tonight and will ask them about this sort of thing, without giving your details of course. They are used to my hypothetical enquiries
I will follow your case with great interest…
Opinion from my “pals” is that your Mayor cannot grab your property. If a property is up for sale, then the Mayor can insist on buying it for the Commune (at a price set by the land office, not the seller). If the building or site is a danger, the owner can be required to make it safe. If the owner refuses to make things safe, the Mayor can authorise an enterprise to do the necessary (probably demolition) and the owner will be charged with the costs incurred. (This is a rough translation, conversations were flowing thick and fast.) Advice was much as I posted previously: get a quote and put in a Déclaration at the Mairie, asap…
chin up !
@Guillaume_Barlet-Bat may be able to offer assistance Geoff
Thanks - that’s very useful, especially the ‘Declaration Préalable’ information. Where else could you get an opinion from a whole convocation of Mayors?
I’ll keep posting progress, just in case it’s useful for others.
Thanks for the suggestion - I’ve looked him up, and he seems to be just the man
I just wonder who in his family might have their eye on your piece of land?
What are you suggesting?
I know of a similar situation, not in the Deux Sevres but just over the border in the Vienne. In that case the mayor made threatening noises about a tumbledown eyesore in the village centre. Timetables for renovation work were sent alongside devis from a local builder to carry out the work. The British owner was not happy. In his mind it was his building to do with as he chose. The mayor insisted and eventually the owner carried out the necessary cosmetic repairs. This was quite a talking point in the small community but the general consensus was that it was not an attempt to extract money by menaces just the mayor carrying out his responsibilities; the building did have safety issues and was a real eyesore in a village that was trying to encourage new residents to buy and build in the commune. You are very quick to point out the rural nature of your mayor but please don’t link his roots and dress code with an inability to carry out his duties.