September 5th 2018

Change of use: from commercial to residential

It was the students and artists in New York in the 1950s who, with little purchasing power and the need for large spaces, began to give a dual use to the premises and offices in the well-known Tribeca, Soho and Upper West Side neighbourhoods, former industrial zones, as both housing and workplaces.

In Spain, what began as an isolated occurrence in some Madrid or Barcelona districts has become a widespread practice and is booming due to the real estate crisis we are experiencing. Buying premises and using them for housing can be very advantageous, although it will not always be possible and, in addition, it will be necessary to request the change of use.

Why do I have to request a change of use?

Commercial properties are not residential properties legally. Using commercial properties as housing is illegal and you could experience the following problems: 

You may not be able to register yourself at the commercial property. You may not be able to request a certificate of habitability. You may not be able to sign a contract or register for water, electricity and gas services. You may not be able to rent or sell this property as housing. If the commercial property does not have water, electricity and gas services and you want to register them, you will need the Certificate of First Occupancy or First Opening. Commercial properties have a lower valuation than housing.

What are the administrative procedures? 

In theory, when we change the use, we are building a new home. It is necessary to request a major works building permit from the council that will authorise the owner of the property to formally change the use on the basis of the municipal bylaws and the urban planning regulations in force. An approved project is needed for this procedure. 

Once the work is finished we will have to deal with further documentation with other authorities, the certificate of habitability and the energy certificate, and notify the change in the registered land value.

(e.g. Procedures at Barcelona City Council)

What factors make it impossible to change use?

We cannot always change the use since, as it is a new building, the new home must comply with all current regulations: the CTE (Technical Building Code), the town planning regulations of the council (PGM-76 in Barcelona) and the habitability requirements (Decree 141/2012 of 30 October in Catalonia). The most common impediments are: 

A restriction on the amount of housing in the area according to the urban development plan. The impossibility of complying with the CTE. Although we must comply with all its sections, in the case of housing it is advisable to study the sections on Accessibility (steps, minimum spaces, etc.) and Health standards (drains, flues, vents, etc.). The property does not comply with the minimum habitability requirements (minimum surfaces, distances, heights). The neighbours do not allow the change of use. In Barcelona and its metropolitan area it is essential to have the agreement of the neighbours in order to obtain a major works permit.

To know for certain whether it will be possible to change the use it is advisable to contact an architect and commission a feasibility study.