Posted on 1st December 2022

Commercial Property Building Works: What Must be Declared?

Property Building Works

The world of home improvements might be filled with open-plan rooms, multifunctional islands and built-in storage but it’s not the only type of property that benefits from renovations. As businesses grow, they are faced with two choices when their current facility or building isn’t big enough; move to a bigger one or expand.

Given that many businesses simply rent their premises, it’s an easy fix but companies that own their buildings benefit from the freedom of not having a landlord and the ability to make structural changes to suit their unique needs. But what are the requirements and restrictions when it comes to planning permission and declarations?


Can you renovate a commercial rental property?

Before we focus on the changes businesses can make to buildings they own, it’s important to highlight that it is possible to renovate a commercial rental property. However, this requires interaction with and cooperation from your landlord, who will need convincing that the adaptations you are proposing are in their interests as well as yours. Tenants must not do any work that may negatively impact the structural integrity of the building, and consent from the landlord must be in writing.


Commercial planning permission

In the UK, planning permission is required for the “carrying out of any development on land” according to the Town and Country Planning Act (1990). The key term here is ‘development’ as it refers to any building, engineering, mining or other operations that make a material change to how buildings or land is used. These changes can be in, on, over or under the land of a commercial property or site.

But there are exceptions to this ruling, and therefore not every building works proposed need planning permission in a commercial setting. In the case of new commercial industrial buildings, if the intended structure is under 5 metres in height, or less than 200 square metres, then permitted development rights (PDRs) can be used.

Permitted development rights for commercial properties differ from domestic dwellings and companies must check what is permitted for their specific situation. While offering more leeway than planning permission, PDRs require prior approval to be in place, which typically considers factors like pollution, contamination and infrastructure requirements.

However, in some parts of the country permitted development rights are more restrictive, for example, if you are in a conservation area, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty or a World Heritage Site. It may seem unlikely but with over 10,000 conservation areas in England alone, some overlap of business premises and protected areas is possible and something to consider.


Insurance commitments for construction contracts

For companies renting their commercial premises, the responsibility of building insurance falls to the landlord, even if they pass the cost onto the tenant. Of course, companies must arrange their own insurance policies for their other operations to safeguard against any business risks, but specific building insurance will be their landlord’s responsibility.

This means many business owners don’t have to worry about informing their insurance company about any building works but they do have to convince their landlord to give the green light, which might be the more difficult obstacle to overcome.


Dealing with asbestos

Asbestos is an issue that still plagues many building developments, despite its banning from use in 1993. Of course, many buildings were constructed long before then, particularly commercial buildings which may have repurposed factories and warehouses from years gone by.

Once found, asbestos must be listed in the Asbestos Register, and the location documented. If it’s decided that living with asbestos is the best approach and it’s left inside the building, then it must be declared in any planning permission requests. This allows the authorities to properly evaluate the property and its health risks.


Right to Light issue

A ‘Right to Light’ is something entitled to any landowner that has enjoyed uninterrupted light through an opening for over 20 years. Through that natural light, just over half the room of a domestic or commercial property should be lit. It can be the case that planning permission is granted but contested at a later date on the grounds of right to light.

This is an additional consideration companies must make when changing the structure or configuration of their commercial property. Obstructing too much natural light for neighbouring properties may result in contests by those close by, which can halt a construction project in its tracks.


What building alterations can business owners make without permission?

Commercial rental agreements can come with arrangements that permit zero changes, or some changes with landlord consent or conditional, where the landlord predetermines the rules on what changes they consent to.

Companies must acquire planning permission, even if they own the premises, if they are:

  • putting up a new building
  • extending or altering an existing one
  • providing services and/or fittings such as washing and sanitary facilities, replacement windows or drainage.


If the work is going to change the existing use of the building it is more likely to not need planning permission but as a rule, companies should check with their local authority. Additionally, some buildings are exempt from needing permission, such as agricultural, temporary and ancillary buildings, but if any building work is to be completed it must still comply with regulations.


Does the ‘4-Year Rule’ apply to commercial property?

In the UK, properties that have been altered without planning permission have four years to retroactively gain that permission with a ‘Certificate of Lawfulness’, otherwise known as a ‘4-Year Rule.’ This may have occurred by converting a house into flats and the homeowner didn’t know they needed permission. For businesses, planning oversight may occur from transforming part of a home for commercial purposes.

The four-year period starts on the date when the building work was ‘substantially completed’ and it applies to all properties. However, there is also a 10-year version of the same rule, which extends the timeline that a property can be brought in line with local council regulations.