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Languedoc Property:   Listed Buildings - Theory and Practice

Monument Historique = 'Listed'. France has a system of listing historic buildings similar to (and based on) that in England. The Counterpart to English Heritage is the commission régionale du patrimoine historiqique, archéologique et ethnographique (COREPHAE), presided over by the prefet of the region. "monuments historiques" are buildings whose preservation are in the public interest from a historical or artistic point of view. (This corresponds to grade 1 listing in the UK). A less important building, the preservation of which is merely "desirable" can be "inscrit" in the inventaire supplementaire des monuments historiques. (This corresponds to grade 2 listing in the UK). Listed buildings in the Languedoc range from prehistoric megoliths, through the so called Cathar Castles, to relatively recent structures.

In theory the architects of the Bâtiments de France are there to help the owners of important historic buildings to preserve them. They like original materials to be used in restoration work. This means for example using lime instead of cement, local stone rather than brick, wooden beams rather than RSJ's, and so on. This is all very reasonable. Also in theory, substantial grants are available, specialist architects are on hand to provide expert advice, and there are significant tax advantages for expenditure on listed buildings.

The practice is rather different. From the evidence of the Bâtiments de France in Carcassonne, it exists solely to employ functionaires, to delay work, and incur additional costs for the owners. Here is a personal view from the Aude département.

"We should be ideal suited to the Bâtiments de France, since our intention was to use traditional materials and traditional techniques for everything, even employing stonemasons and blacksmiths.
  • When we bought our property it was not listed. It had been falling into ruins for centuries, had been knocked about to accommodate farm machinery, vandalised and used as quarry for stone for new houses. As soon as we bought it, and it was finally safe, we were notified that it was to be listed. At that stage, we still thought this was a good idea, but as they pointed out our opinion did not matter as they had the power to list it anyway.
  • We had a unstable internal wall that they said was in imminent danger of collapse. They said it had to be attended to immediately. We said we'd start the next day. "Oh no. You can't do that without permission". We then waited six months (the statutory maximum) for them to provide permission.
  • Of the many functionnaires who come for a day out to see the property not a single one has ever read the file on it, so we have to spend a day each time explaining things to them. None has ever contributed a scintilla of useful advice or expertise. Sometimes they will simply not turn up to appointments - no explanation or apology - even though we paid for an architect based in Paris to come along for the day to talk to them.
  • We were obliged to put drainage in the courtyard. We fixed a start date, at which they announced that we could not start without an archaeological study in case there was anything of interest under the courtyard. This was to cost about 4000 Euros which we would have to pay. The archaeologist came, used a mechanical digger to make a few holes, then went away to write a report that said nothing that we had not told him. Clearing up by hand after his departure we discovered that he had torn up the original surface of the courtyard, and destroyed the wall of a ancient pit, without noticing either.

These are just a couple of examples - both entirely typical of their approach. Our experience was in the Aude département. Beware their are many much worse stories elsewhere, so think carefully before buying a property that is, or might be, listed. It will cost you tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands Euros extra, and if your experience is like ours you will not have seen a centime in grants after ten years. "


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Listed Buildings in the Languedoc
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