Sometimes you just have to laugh

I sometimes feel like Italy is having one giant laugh at my expense, and the only thing I can do is laugh along.

Four weeks ago we discovered, quite by accident, that the planning permission we achieved last July doesn’t actually give us permission to do any work to our house. What we need for that is a ‘Permesso di Costruire’ (Permission to Build).

We probably should have known about this, but we asked our Geometra over and over again if there was anything else we needed to do before starting work and he never once mentioned it.

Roof from inside

At the same time, we also unearthed a letter that the Comune (town hall) sent to our Geometra last summer. It contained a long list of things he needed to provide before we could get this Permesso di Costruire. He hadn’t provided any of them. Which I guess may explain his reluctance to tell us about the Permesso.

Our builders, EffettoTetto, bravely stepped into the breach and have been working really hard to get everything sorted for us. So much so, that we’re actually getting quite close to getting our hands on it now.

The thing is though, before you get the Permesso, you have to pay some tax. Actually, not just some tax – a huge, eye-watering, stomach-churning amount of tax. It’s a combination of a construction tax, calculated on a percentage of what the work should cost, and a fee based on the size of the area to be renovated in cubic metres (think about that for a second…. it means we’re paying to renovate air. Square metres, fine, but cubic metres?!). Plus a small deposit that presumably we’ll get back if we’re well-behaved.

Outside store

It took the Comune three weeks to calculate how much we had to pay, but when the rather upsetting figure eventually arrived, there was still one piece of information missing; the reference number. Without this, we couldn’t pay. “We’re working on it,” they said. “We just need a bit more time to generate the number. We’re very busy at the moment.” Three days and many phone calls later, the long, complex number finally arrived. It was 5.

So now we’ve paid our taxes, told our daughter and our dog that they can’t eat for the next six months and we have to collect the Permesso on Monday. But there’s just one more thing… the Comune still aren’t quite happy with the plans that they approved last July. They’ve requested an amendment, which we’ll take in on Monday. If they like how we’ve done it, we get our Permesso. If they don’t, we don’t.

I lied, there are actually two more things. The other is that we’ve discovered that the permission we have to build a new access road is exactly that, a permission. It’s not an actual Permesso (there’s a difference there, keep up). So, we have to reapply for that now too.

As no Italian has ever said: Due passi in avanti, uno in dietro. You’ve got to laugh…

Soggiorno window

52 thoughts on “Sometimes you just have to laugh

  1. Richard, this is exactly what PM Renzi is fighting and try to get rid off. Simplify all these procedures that are putting Italy in a “swamp”! I guess that what you are experiencing is due mainly to two causes: first the wild unchecked building spree that ruined Italy’s most beatifull spots for too many years, until the bubble burst and for which eventually lots people went to prison! Thus local authorities are now extremely cautious before granting permissions. Second is that who devised these rules, must have been a tipical civil servant prone to…corruption! Yes, look at what is happening these very last few days in Milan, with the permissions for the works of next year EXPO! And this is a public, not a private, enterprise. If you were in the South of Italy, most probably you would have had to do the same as the building companies had to in Milan! Renzi dealt immediately with this.
    This is one of our poor country main problems that the young Renzi is fighting and I, together with the majority of my countrymen, are moderatly optimistic that he will defeat once and for all. It is our only hope.
    At present all I can say is only: SORRY! But still, do not be discouraged. B

    1. Thanks B! Fingers crossed that Renzi can sort it out… it just makes you wonder sometimes how anything ever gets done. I guess the answer is with corruption, as you say. Still, I think we’re making progress now, albeit very slow progress. We’ll keep you updated!

  2. So dorry to hear this, but it is not surprising. Don’t forget you may still have to cross the local mayor’s palm with a little more than silver. I hope not, good luck my friend.

    1. Thanks June… The mayor has apparently already stamped the Permesso, so hopefully we are ok on that, you never know though. It’s just maddening. We’ve been trying so hard to get everything done and yet every time we turn a corner there’s a big brick wall in the way (sadly not one of ours as we haven’t been allowed go build any yet!).

  3. I wish you all the best of luck, I spoke about these sort of issues with the wonderful owners of a gorgeous place in the Val d”orcia where it took them two years to get the permission to build..

    1. Wow, and I was feeling sorry for myself after one year… I’m sure it will all be worth it, but the weeks and months you end up wasting just chasing people and trying to convince them to do their job is incredible!

      1. I know, its like one big really annoying merry go round that you never asked to go on.. just stay positive and don’t worry the permessions will come, just be that really annoying person, calling and stopping in every day to see the progress. might speed up things a bit

  4. Richard, at one time I had thought about buying in Italy. Then I went to school there for six weeks and met many expat Brits who lived there. After talking with them I knew I did not have the patience, the stamina or the temperament for living in Italy. BUT, I go go there every year because I love VISITING. When you get your B&B up and running, and you will, I will be there! I read many blogs from Italy and they too experience the things you are going through! I applaud your tenacity!

    1. Thanks!! I sometimes worry that I don’t have the temperament either, to be honest. My patience has certainly been pushed to the limit recently. The thing is though, if you can find a way past all that then it’s such a great country to be in. It’s exhausting and stressful, but I reckon it’s just about worth it. Thanks so much for your support!

  5. We’ll be stuffing our suitcase with toilet paper, eggs and shaving cream. We’ll have a Mischief Night in June at your Geometra’s house.

  6. Che rompipalle! Yes, have a nice laugh while they laugh all the way to the bank. It took that long to come up with the number 5?! I feel for you all…blaaah!

    1. Thanks, blaaah indeed! I’m waiting for the permesso, if we ever actually get it, to just be a piece of paper that says ‘ok’ on it… I don’t understand anyone that does this renovating lark for fun!

  7. It’s not my intention to depress you further, but our renovation took 4 looooooooooooong years…… it’s all much of a haze at this point, mercifully, but I believe we hold the rather unique position of having our geometra fired for being for being TOO CONSCIENTIOUS!!! Actually, it wasn’t us who did the ‘dirty deed’, but complaints from all the builders, plumbers, electrician etc. about him being overly zealous forced our management company to give him a ‘pink slip’!!!! He might be just the man you need for your job!!!!!!!!!!!!

    1. Four years!? Nooooooooooooo! I’m really hoping it doesn’t take us that long. Your geometra sounds like the polar opposite of ours. Maybe he’s just what we need, who knows… for now, I’d just settle for someone who occasionally answers his phone and does what he says he’ll do. We can but dream…

  8. We are waiting for permission to renovate our balcony. The geometra took ages just to compile the paperwork to apply for the permissions…we are still waiting. I was hoping that the work would be finished by now…fat chance.

    1. Yep, that sounds familiar. We were initially hoping to start last September. That didn’t entirely happen. It’s amazing the amount of time that can just disappear once a geometra gets involved isn’t it! Good luck with the balcony. We’ll race you!!

  9. If anyone asks me why I don’t want to own anything in Italy, I’ll be sure to direct them to your blog and this particular piece. At least it all has story value for the rest of us to enjoy…..

    1. I like to think I’m performing some sort of public service… 😉 I think we just chose our geometra really badly. We thought we had chosen well, but I guess you just never know. This whole process just seems to absorb time and money!

  10. Wow, I admire your strength and determination to keep going with this; paperwork and dealing with any sort of bureaucracy is my idea of hell, so this would reduce me to tears 😦 Just think, if your reference number was 6, that could have taken even longer to produce! I wish you the best of luck 🙂

  11. Poor you 😦 The Italians sound as bad as the French – maybe we should run a competition and elect the more incompetent of the two to take care of the next Olympic Games construction site. I remember asking for permission to paint one wall of my house. On the form I wrote “beige” in the “colour” box. After three months, the reply appeared in my letter box: “colour refused. Please reapply with the attached color reference”. We checked out the color reference – a string of letters and numbers. The color they required was…. beige.

    1. Haha, that sounds about right. They do like to test your patience don’t they! I’m kind of glad to hear France is just as bad though… Maybe they could work on the Olympics together? Best get started now though!

      1. We could film this. It will be a fascinating ode to administrative mishaps and real European solidarity. We will start the film with the European Anthem then continue in true black and white Charlie Chaplin style, on a soundtrack taken from Laurel and Hardy and Benny Hill. We’re on to a winner, I say. We’ll be able to pay for all your house and get a few crates of wine too!

      2. I like it! I reckon it will be a real BAFTA moment when the hapless, feuding administrors finally realise they need to work together for the greater good, and then suddenly it all starts coming together.

  12. I refuse to let Mrs Sensible read your blog, I want to build a house on the plot of land we have in Sicily and Mrs S groans every time I bring the subject up, she will scotch the idea if she ever reads the pain and suffering you have gone through.

    Chin up 😉


  13. I am sorry…but the number they had to generate? The number “5?” ha, ha, ha, ha…that made me laugh a lot! Anyway…hang in there….gosh…SUCH a downer when you get hit with a big tax bill you were not expecting! 😦

    1. Thanks Diana… at the end of a pretty stressful day it gave us quite a good laugh when he read that number out to us! We’ve got the Permesso now and we’re hoping to start soon. Just got to save up for the next tax bill now 😉

  14. Oh dear God this just reminds me of any time I ever tried to do anything in Italy – Just getting a Permesso Di Soggiorno was a nightmare that felt like it would never end! And the taxes just keep on coming of course

    1. Yep… I know people moan about Italian bureaucracy but I didn’t realise it would be quite this hard! And I’ve heard the Permesso di Soggiorno is a particularly tough one, so well done for surviving that!!

      1. Oh no, it’s absolutely 100% true. I’d never have thought so either, but sadly it’s a complete nightmare. Also, in case you haven’t already experienced the trauma of it, avoid having any packages sent to you – mine did a round the world trip before ending up back where it started 😳
        Haha thanks, I nearly lost my mind with it all!

      2. Haha… we avoid using the post whenever possible! I do quite like that the people in the comune or wherever are generally as confused by all the rules as anyone else. They sometimes even look a bit embarrassed by it all!

      3. Wise choice lol Oh it’s is hilarious, from person to person you can be given completely different answers and advise. You have to laugh or you’d cry which is also the attitude that I took towards public transport…so many things, so many issues lol

  15. Yup, or you’re gonna cry. I guess it’s just the way they do things in Italy . Relax, have a glass of water – you can’t afford to drink wine 😉 – and let things poke along. Don’t get stressed over it. 🙂

    1. Haha…. but wine is cheaper than water! I’m doing exactly as you say now. Things have started moving along so it’s now far easier to relax and let it happen. As you say, it’s just the Italian way!

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