Historic Monuments

There are more than 43,000 protected buildings in France, of which 33% concern domestic architecture (castles, manors, historic monuments, most notably) and 7% are parks and gardens.
Half of protected building in France belong to private owners.

Under the Heritage Code, protected buildings are divided into two categories: classé and inscrits au titre des monuments historiques.

1. Buildings, gardens or parts of buildings may be inscrits, if they "present sufficient artistic or historical interest such as to make their preservation desirable." Inscription as a Monument Historique is granted by decree from the prefect of the region, following the advice of the Regional Commission for Heritage and Sites, CRPS (Commission Régionale du Patrimoine et des Sites) whether or not the owner gives his consent.  Buildings inscrits represent about two third of the protected heritage.

2. Buildings, gardens or parts of buildings "whose conservation is, from the point of view of history or art, of public interest" will be listed (classés). The classification as a listed building is granted by a decree from the Minister of Culture and Communication, after consultation with the CRPS and the National Commission of Historic Monuments (CNMH) subject to the consent of the owner. Failing such agreement, the classement can be delivered automatically by decree of the government adopted after advice of the Conseil d'Etat (the Council of State) and after consulting the CNMH. While rare, this measure may entail the granting of compensation to the private owners.

Buildings transferred (by purchase, gift or bequest) retain their protective status.

How to check the status of a building?

  • By accessing the Mérimée database, on the website of the Ministry of Culture and Communication (www.culture.gouv.fr/culture/inventaire/patrimoine, architecture section).
  • By contacting the Regional Directorate of Cultural Affairs, DRAC (Direction régionale des affaires culturelles), in particular the Regional Conservator for Historic Monuments, CRMH (Conservateur regional des monuments historiques), or the architect specialised in Heritage preservation (Architecte des Bâtiments de France), key interlocutors.

Remarks:
- The concept of inscription and classement also applies to "natural monuments and sites" governed by other legislation (Environmental Code) with distinct consequences.

- There are buildings that can be temporarily included in the national heritage if they have been granted a label (label of the Heritage Foundation, label "remarkable gardens", etc...) or if they benefit from a tax agreement but without being subject to the regulation of historic monuments.

Restoration project for a listed building*

*(classé ou inscrit au titre des monuments historiques)

The owner of a listed building is in charge of overseeing the restoration work. He may, however, under certain conditions be assisted (for free or at a cost) by State services.
Before undertaking any work, it is important to distinguish if the work is for maintenance, repairs, alterations or restoration.
Restoration work for a listed building requires the elaboration of a "Project Program", submitted to the DRAC (Direction Régionale des Affaires Culturelles). It includes a diagnosis, which may, depending on the nature, size and complexity of the work, be accompanied by technical studies.

Choice of master contractor

The owner of a listed building freely chooses his contractor, under the scientific and technological supervision of the State, among the following categories of architects:
A chief architect of listed building for restoration work on the buildings.
An architect, citizen of a member State of the European Union, with a specialized degree. This architect must have at least ten years of professional experience in the field of restoration of ancient buildings whether repair, restoration and modification of inscrits buildings or repair or restoration of listed (classés) buildings.
A project management contract is signed between the client and the contractor.

Work permits

The work carried out on an inscrit building, with the exception of maintenance or repair, usually is subject to obtaining a building permit, issued subject to the approval of the authorities in charge of listed buildings (regional prefect, Drac) .
Work on a classé building, other than maintenance, is subject only to the authorization of the DRAC and subject to the approval of the mayor of the town.
Upon receipt of a properly filled file, the response time to the application is 6 months.

Choice of companies

In principle, all companies are eligible to work on the restoration of listed buildings. In practice, the government requires companies to have a level of qualification and references corresponding to the complexity and importance of the work. There are no companies "approved for listed buildings." The only requirement is to demonstrate a level of skill and references. Qualifications are conferred by "OPQCB-Qualibat". Some works (restoration of mural paintings, gilding, stained glass etc) require the intervention of restorers/craftmen with appropriate degrees.

Funding and Tax Incentives

Grants

The restoration or repair may (it is not automatic) be subject to state subsidies, granted by the Regional Directorates of Cultural Affairs (DRAC). These grants are limited to 40% of what for inscrits buildings,  no maximum is, in theory, set for classés buildings.
Local authorities (counties or regions) may also support work on listed buildings in accordance with conditions which may vary according to local policy/ies.

Patronage

Restoration work, work done to make listed building accessible to a large public, including disable persons and work on buildings certified by the Heritage Foundation (Fondation du Patrimoine) can benefit from support by patrons, subject to the signing of an agreement beforehand with an authorized entity (such as La Demeure Historique). The owner of the building must make a commitment to maintain and open the monument to the public for 10 years after completion of the work (prohibition of sale).

Tax incentives : income tax

1. Property taxes related to elements that are listed (classé or inscrit au titre des monuments historiques) have a 50% deductibility from their owner's income. The deductibility rate is increased to 100% when the monument is open to the public or for the part of the subsidized project that remains at the owner's expense. Expenses are deductible from income generated by the property, with the possible postponement of deficit on total income (without ceiling) or, if applicable, the total income.

2. Some buildings which are not listed buildings (neither classé, nor inscrit) can benefit from a special tax regime by obtaining a label from the Heritage Foundation (Fondation du Patrimoine), for buildings visible from public roads, or monuments with a special agreement, or for buildings open to the public (a minimum of 40 days per year).

3. These tax provisions are restricted to properties owned by individuals or by family held sociétés civiles, not subject to income tax. They require that all owners make a commitment to retain the property for 15 years after its acquisition.

Taxation / Inheritance

Listed buildings may be exempt from inheritance or bequest taxes. This exemption is subject to the signing of an agreement with the State of indefinite duration by which the heirs, legatees or beneficiary/ies agree to keep the property and open it to the public (minimum 60 days).

The regulation for surroundings of listed buildings (classé or inscrit) and buildings backing listed buildings

Definition of surroundings (abords) of Historic monuments (1)

Applying automatically when a building is listed, compliance applies to all surrounding buildings and spaces within 500 meters of that monument, visible from it or "visible along with it "(i.e. from a vantage point, the two buildings can be seen together, one from the other and vice-versa).

  • The scope of modified protection (PPM): Since the SRU law of December 13th 2000, the distance of 500 meters can be changed, including decreased, during the development or revision of the local zoning/urbanization plan (PLU) to take into account areas of interest for the protection and enhancement of the listed building.
  • The adapted scope of protection (PPP): When a new building comes under protection, the architecte des bâtiments de France (ABF) (2) may offer a new scope of protection adapted to the building's environment. The request for protection and the proposed new perimeter will be studied concurrently.

(1)  The French notion of 'abord' is very similar (but not completely) to the English concept of curtilage.
(2) The architect specialised in Heritage preservation, ABF, is a state official, head of the territorial architecture and heritage department (STAP), a territorial unit of the Regional Directorate of Cultural Affairs (DRAC).

What is a building 'backing' a listed building ?

A building backing a listed building is "any building in contact with an immeuble classé au titre des monuments historiques at ground level or underground" and "any non-protected/listed part of a building partially classé as a monument historique" (Article L621-30 of the Heritage Code).
Initially regulated separately, work on the buildings backing a classé building has been aligned with work on buildings in the vicinity of a historical monument.

Verification of work

Any work proposed in the vicinity of a listed building and "likely to change it appearance" (new construction, demolition, clearing, etc ...) requires prior notice from the ABF.

  hôtel particulier d'époque Napoléon III Cognac

Section prepared in collaboration with La Demeure Historique