How can I convert part of my commercial building into an apartment?

Property Clinic: Living over a shop is perfect for security, sustainability and cost-sharing

I own a two-storey terraced building in Dublin city. The property use is currently listed as commercial. However, I want to convert the second storey to a flat my kids can use. I have commercial tenants in the ground floor, but I do not want to disturb them.

Is it possible for me to convert the top floor to residential while leaving the bottom as commercial? Or would I have to convert the whole property? If I did this, would I have to ask the commercial tenants to leave while I wait for a decision from the council?

The joint Dublin City Council and Heritage Council’s 2004 publication Built to Last and the Department of Planning and Local Government’s very informative Bringing Back Homes document published in 2018 deal with the “living over the shop” type situation you describe. Commercial use on the ground floor with residential use above is in no way new thinking.

As long ago as 1610, my hometown of Bailieborough in Co Cavan was established by Scottish planter William Bailie, an undertaker. Later in the early 1800’s William Young or Lord Lisgar set Bailieborough town out in the grid format that remains today. Perched on high lying drumlins, neat, good quality two and three storey masonry buildings with natural slate roofs were constructed on a gently sloping main street.


With ease of access in mind the buildings were set back to create a wide thoroughfare complete with market house, allowing ample space for local farmers to sell their organic goods and livestock on the first Monday of each month. To sustain the residents, generous rear gardens were also provided to allow production of home-grown fare. Critically, as with all provincial towns at the time, the butcher, banker, publican, general grocer, and hardware merchant all lived over their shops in this bustling environment.

Living over the shop is the perfect model in terms of security, while it also facilitates the sharing of the running and maintenance costs of the building. Of course, the commute can’t be argued with either, especially in today’s world of high fuel costs. This is sustainable living at its best.

Over the past 50 years governments have been trying to persuade and incentivise people to return to town living to prevent urban decay but with only very limited success. The Covid pandemic has inadvertently helped in terms of urban renewal. Restricted travel and working from home have seen old shops long abandoned reopening as coffee shops and ice cream parlours. Sometimes necessity is the greatest incentive of all.

The model of living over the shop allows commercial use of the ground floor with residential use on the upper floors. This has always been permitted and encouraged. Planning permission may be required for the change from commercial use to residential use. There is however a temporary provision regarding exempted development (SI No 30 of 2018). This was due to expire on February 25th, 2022, but has been extended under the recently published new housing plan for Ireland - Housing for All.

Certain limitations still exist, and you should seek guidance with regard to these. Building regulations may throw up some not insurmountable challenges and because there will be “horizontal separation” of the uses, a fire safety certificate and disabled access certificate will also be required. Relaxations of building regulations can be sought where old buildings cannot fully meet modern day requirements.

It is important to fully research your proposals and establish what applications or exemptions may apply in your individual case. Seek the advice of your local chartered building surveyor.

They will be well versed in the procedures and standards to be met. Your existing commercial tenant should not be affected by the application as it does not apply to their floor in the building. They should be able to remain in situ throughout once building works do not become overbearing.

When it came to town planning and sustainability, they had the right idea 200 years ago. It's not too late to revert to the old ways. Noel Larkin is a chartered building surveyor and a member of the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland,