How to convert a commercial property into a residential one

How to convert a commercial property into a residential one Conversions & Extensions

Did you know that buildings such as shops, offices, restaurants, gyms, clinics, nurseries, and other similar uses can be converted to residential use without the need for planning permission? Class MA permitted development of the General Permitted Development Order (the GDPO) allows you to convert premises in Use Class E (commercial, business and services) to C3 (residential), subject to certain conditions and limitations. 

Before starting to change the use of a building from commercial to residential under Class MA, you need to ask the local planning authority if you need to get their approval based on a variety of considerations such as how the development will affect the movement of people and vehicles. 

This guide illustrates some of the complexities, opportunities and critical considerations when transforming a commercial property into a residential structure and includes a step-by-step plan for carrying out a successful conversion project. 

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What are the benefits of turning a commercial property into a home?

There are numerous reasons for considering a commercial-to-residential conversion. The allure of buying commercial property for residential use lies in the array of choices and potential benefits on offer, from time and cost savings to assessment criteria and high-profit possibilities.

Above all, planning and careful attention are paramount when embarking on a commercial-to-residential conversion.

The first question to ask is why this might be the ideal choice for you. Here are a few of the key benefits of going from market to up-market:

  • Time limit: Under Class MA, regulating commercial-to-residential conversion, the Local Planning Authority (LPA) has up to 56 days to refuse/approve a prior approval application. If the council do not grant/refuse the application within the 56 days, the change can occur. This is notably quicker than the process required for a normal planning application which should be determined within either 8 or 13 weeks, but often take considerably longer.
  • Cost savings: The prior approval application fee for a commercial-to-residential conversion is £100 per dwelling. This is likely to be significantly cheaper when compared to the fees associated with traditional planning applications.
  • Restricted assessment criteria for LPA: Compared with a traditional planning application, the scope of criteria is more limited to areas such as transport and parking, contamination, flooding and noise from nearby commercial premises. Matters such as the sustainability of a location and impact on character are not considerations for the council to determine an application.
  • High street opportunities: High vacancy rates on certain high streets make the Class MA permitted development rights an attractive opportunity for potential investors and those expanding their retail development ventures. Commercial properties are often located in prime sustainable locations close to transport links and employment opportunities which appeals to young professionals.
  • Potential profit margins: Purchasing a commercial property is likely to be more affordable than a residential unit.

Do I need planning permission to convert commercial to residential?

Looking to convert, say, a shop into a house, or another type of commercial or business property (covered under Class E) into flats (Class C3), but do not know where to start when it comes to rules and conditions? Let’s change that.

In a nutshell, you might not always need planning permission for a change of use from commercial to residential. Nonetheless, you will still have to submit some sort of a planning application to your LPA, typically your local council.

The type of planning application you need to submit will depend on the specifics of your property and the proposed change of use. It could either be a “change of use” (when your proposal does not involve any physical alterations to the building or its curtilage) or a “prior approval” application, as outlined by permitted development rights under Class MA.

How easy is it to change use from commercial to residential?

Compared to a full planning application, change of use ought to be easier and more straightforward. However, while there is less space for subjectivity and opinion than with a full planning application, local planning policies can be stricter when determining if something is approved unconditionally, subjected to conditions, or rejected. So, what may benefit you in terms of efficiency and simplicity, could in theory also limit your flexibility in terms of what you can create or change.

It is worthwhile discussing the best course of action with professionals experienced in commercial-to-residential permitted development. This is where our team at WindsorPatania can help across the scope of the project, from planning to execution.

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How do I apply for a change of premises use from commercial to residential?

There are key considerations when applying for a change of use from commercial to residential such as the use class of the existing asset and the proposed one. There are different types of commercial and residential uses with the likes of studios and apartment buildings falling into distinct categories to a house with multiple occupation. So, it is crucial to first determine whether planning permission is required or not. While some changes of use are permitted without the need of planning permissions, limitations and conditions need to be calculated.


Some restrictions will prevent a change of use from commercial to residential (Class MA) under the General Permitted Development regulations. You will need to assess if your conversion project involves locations or assets that cannot utilise this approved development right. These include:

  • Commercial properties situated in a conservation area, a National Park, or Word Heritage Site
  • Listed buildings and properties within an area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB)
  • The floor area of the existing building should not exceed 1500 square metres
  • Buildings must have been within a Class E use for more than 2 years


Change of use of commercial to residential is equally subject to specific terms. Providing that none of the restrictions affect your property, you will need the LPA to determine if prior approval is required based on how the development will impact or deal with matters including:

  • Traffic and road safety
  • Contamination impact
  • Flood risks
  • Levels of noise and natural light provision
  • Impact of residential use on nearby industrial businesses

Your project will qualify for a prior permission application if your change of use is unaffected by the restrictions and satisfies all conditions under Class MA. Should your development conflict with any of these standards, you will need to take the full planning approval route instead.

An application to the LPA for prior approval will need to cover specific information about your proposed development, including the net increase in residencies, as well as detailed floorplans.

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5 step checklist to turn a residential property into a commercial in the UK

  1. Create a budget – First determine your budget before you start shopping for commercial structures to convert. Knowing how much you are ready to spend up front will help save time and hassle. You may not be able to predict every unforeseen cost before your commercial-to-residential project begins, but preplanning can save a lot of money on the conversion process. It is typically advised that you set aside more money than regarded necessary to cover any additional costs. The total cost will include the price of the construction, the cost of valuing the site, and the cost of obtaining permission.
  2. Find the ideal property – Your list may include commercial buildings that are in a particular area or have distinctive structural or architectural qualities that might give character to the home over time and raise its resale value. The right location could also offer high rental returns in the near run.
  3. Check the building’s classification – Once you have found a property, you will need to confirm the building’s class type (as described above). This must be done before you can start the conversion, since some restrictions may apply.
  4. Confirm any exceptions – There are a few exceptions to the rule that most commercial structures may be transformed into residential areas. You will want to assess your project in terms of the limitations and conditions set under Class MA.
  5. Seek the necessary permission – As was already indicated, certain conversions may not require planning clearance, but your prospective initiatives must be approved by the local council. You will want approval from the neighbourhood council if the structure is utilised as a bank, showroom, store, or retail warehouse.

Commercial conversion summed up

Converting a commercial property into a residential property has the potential to be a smart move. If the commercial property is not functional or profitable in its current state, then it may be better utilised as a place of residence. However, you must understand the conversion process and exercise due diligence. Following the right process from the start will save you time and money, thereby increasing the potential to reap benefits down the line.

Team up with WindsorPatania for a successful commercial-to-residential conversion

WindsorPatania’s team of experts thrive on a challenge. We also see potential where others see impossibility. Embarking on the transformative journey of converting commercial spaces into residential havens can be hunting, but WindsorPatania is dedicated to simplifying this process for our clients. Together we can redefine the future of your property, from reimagining spaces to determining the suitability for development of your property as well as stepping into a green-life commitment.

Book a free discovery call with us today and start the process of crafting your architectural masterpiece with our team of visionary architects and designers. Your imagination deserves nothing less.

The regulation for commercial-to-residential conversions under Class MA can be found at The Town and Country Planning.

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