Planning regulations may be decided by a commune, province or region. It may be difficult to obtain planning permission if the property is in a historic town or village or an area of great natural beauty.
Restoration must usually be carried out with local materials and in the traditional style. In some regions, such as Emilia Romagna, the Marche, Tuscany and Umbria, planning regulations are rigorously enforced to maintain the beauty of the countryside, and restorations must maintain the character of a building; wholesale alterations are likely to be refused planning permission. You may need to obtain permission from the Ministry of Culture ( Belli Arti) to restore a building of historical importance.
In most areas, there are restrictions on renovation; for example, you may not be able to change the windows, doors, colour of exterior walls, entrances, staircases or build garden walls. Italian law requires a ceiling height of 2.75 metres for living space (except for property located in villages, which are exempt) and you may need to raise the roof or lower the floor when converting a building. When applying for planning permission, bear in mind possible future extensions and the likelihood of their being granted.
It’s important to find out exactly what you can and can’t do before buying a property for restoration.
The only way to be sure of obtaining planning permission is to apply for and obtain it before buying a property. If this isn’t possible or practical, you should include a conditional clause in the preliminary contract ( compromesso di vendita) stating that the purchase is contingent on obtaining planning permission. Sometimes a property already has planning permission, although you should check the period of validity (which should be at least two years) and whether it can be changed or extended if necessary.
If you buy property classed as ‘rural’ ( rurale) in the Land Registry, such as a barn, outbuilding or stables, and wish to convert it into a dwelling, e.g. convert a barn into an apartment or a stable into a kitchen, you cannot do so until the property’s usage is changed from rural to urban ( urbana). The change should be requested of the local authority ( comune) and accompanied by detailed plans of all proposed changes. If the comune grants permission, the change is registered with the Land Registry and only then may building work start.
A building contract must also be dependent on the necessary licences being issued. Never start any building work before you have official permission.
Planning permission usually takes at least three weeks for a simple job and a minimum of two months (often as much as six) for anything complex.
It’s also wise to obtain permission from your local town hall before demolishing buildings on your land, irrespective of how dilapidated they are. You may be able to sell the building materials or get a builder to demolish them free of charge in exchange for the materials.
Most people hire a geometra to draw up plans and make a planning application. Obtaining planning permission usually costs at least €500 for the simplest job and can cost €2,000 or more when renovating a house.
Italians often resort to bribery (which is a way of life in some parts of Italy) when dealing with planning officials, rather than go through the tortuous planning procedures. If this fails, many Italians simply build illegally (called abusivo) and wait to be fined. The government frequently has amnesties ( condono) for people who have built or altered their homes illegally, which allows them to pay a fee rather than pay a much larger fine or even face demolition. However, a foreigner would be extremely unwise to follow their example and may not be treated so leniently.
In recent years many properties that have been built illegally or have been extended or renovated without permission have been demolished by order of the local authorities!
After restoration, a certificate is required to confirm that building work has been carried out according to the planning application. You will also need a professional valuation of your home for insurance purposes.
This article is an extract from Buying a Home in Italy from Survival Books.