I can’t rent my commercial premises. Can I change its use to residential?

Property Clinic: Your questions answered

I am looking for information regarding the change of use from commercial to residential. I have a commercial premises on the main street of a town and I have not been able to rent it out. So I would like to convert it to residential use and I've had informal discussions with the local authority. They suggested that it is not possible to change the use due to disability access and fire certification. Does this sound right?

Local authorities don’t like empty commercial properties in town centres so they will be open to all genuine development proposals. However, they seek to adhere to the stated objectives of their local development plans. Such plans are reviewed and agreed by the council after significant analysis and public consultation. The plans contain specific actions and objectives under the “retail” heading which typically seek to sustain and improve the local retail profile and competitiveness of each town.

While I empathise with your predicament regarding your difficulty in renting the premises, I understand the council’s general reluctance to allow for a change of use of the premises due to its high street location. However, should you wish to pursue this change of use from commercial to residential, then planning permission will be required. Particular additional requirements must also be satisfied under the building control regulations, which will include disability access and fire safety certification.

It is unclear from your query if the premises has any overhead accommodation. Local authorities are particularly interested in supporting such use of the upper floors of buildings and residential use may be permitted, subject to normal planning conditions and requirements. The general view is that encouraging people to live in town centres allows for a better use of such space.


In this regard, the Living City Initiative (LCI) is a tax incentive scheme to assist and encourage people to live in the historic inner city areas of Dublin city and Special Regeneration Areas (SRA’s) in Cork, Limerick, Galway, Waterford and Kilkenny.

In the interim, subject to the existing physical condition of the premises, you may wish to allow a temporary use as a pop-up shop. For example, Dún Laoghaire County Council in south Dublin previously operated a dedicated pop-up shop initiative. The key aims of the initiative were summarised as: reduce the visual impact of empty property in the town centre, increase street footfall, create promotion for the area and “offer reduced cost space for community organisations, social enterprise and local business entrepreneurs to try out new ideas and/or reach new audiences”.

I note that you had informal discussions with the local authority and suggest that you may wish to revert to them when your plans are advanced to seek their general advice.

This is facilitated by way of a pre-planning meeting with the planning section and can be attended by your planning agent, surveyor, architect etc in advance of submitting the actual planning application for a potential change of use at the premises.

Andrew O'Gorman is a chartered building surveyor and member of the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland, scsi.ie