When do you need a property license?

If you are interested in buying or leasing a property to run your business, you will need to ensure that there are no restrictions on the title which might affect how you wish to occupy and use the property.  In addition to the title position you may also need to consider what other consents or licences are required for your proposed use of the property.

Property consents and licences vary depending on the proposed use and whether you are acquiring commercial premises or residential premises. Barbara Winnett, a commercial property specialist at Warners Solicitors in Tonbridge, advises on the consents or licences you may need.

Use of the premises

Even if the title to the property permits your proposed use, this is a separate requirement to planning consent. You will need to investigate the planning position to see what the current permitted use is.  If the consent does not relate to your intended use you may need to make an application for change of use.  You may want to make completion of your purchase or new lease conditional on obtaining such consent, otherwise, you may be left with a property that you cannot use if you are unsuccessful with your planning application.

The government planning portal website is useful to identify what consents you might require and what changes of use are permitted without having to make an application:

Proposed alterations and building works

If you intend to carry out works to the property, depending on the extent of such works, you may need to apply for planning consent and or buildings regulations approval.  Again, it is advisable that you establish this before you complete your purchase or lease, as it may restrict your plans.

In addition, you may also need a ‘licence to carry out works’ from your landlord under the terms of your lease.  Landlords will usually require you to provide them with copies of the drawings showing the property before and after the alterations.  You would ordinarily be responsible for their legal costs in approving a licence, and a surveyor’s inspection of the property to ensure that the alterations have been carried out in compliance with the terms of the licence.

The freehold title may be subject to covenants not to build without the consent of an adjoining owner.  You should check the position before you go ahead.

If you are carrying out major works you may also need to apply for a scaffolding licence or oversailing licence, if you are using a crane. These will be required from the adjoining landowner in order to, in effect, use their air space.

Sub-letting and sharing occupation

If you are occupying under the terms of a lease, you may need to obtain your landlord’s consent if you wish to sublet part or share occupation of part of the property with another business.

Private water supply, sewerage and drainage

If you cannot connect to mains water, drainage or sewerage you will need to investigate alternative solutions (this is more likely to affect properties in rural locations).

You would first need to look at the title to your property to see if any rights have been either reserved or granted to benefit your property in order to connect to private supply pipes or drains on adjoining land. If not, then you may need the consent of the adjoining landowner.  This would usually be in the form of a deed of easement and the adjoining landowner may insist on a payment for giving consent.

You may also need to consider the regulations relating to private water drinking supplies. The Drinking Water Inspectorate website provides some useful guidance on further licences, consents and tests that you may need to consider.

Depending on where your water source is coming from you may also need to consider an abstraction licence. You will need to make contact with the Environment Agency who will assess your proposed usage.

If you need to install a septic tank you will also need to check if it requires registration with the Environment Agency.

In any of the above situations you will need to consider the environmental impacts and the risk of any pollution. You do not want to risk any contamination of your property, or any adjoining land, as this could ultimately affect the value of your property and expose you to claims from adjoining landowners for any clean-up costs.


If you intend to sell alcohol from your property you will require a ‘premises licence’. A premises licence is not difficult or expensive to acquire but you could face a fine of up to £20,000 and six months imprisonment for not having one.  You will need to apply to your local authority to obtain a premises licence.

Sitting-out licence

If you wish to place tables and chairs outside your property, such as a restaurant or bar on privately owned land you would need to obtain a sitting-out licence from the private landowner. Again, this may involve the payment of a premium or a licence fee.

There are many other types of licences and consents which you may need when acquiring a new property and it is important to obtain the correct legal advice depending on your specific circumstances before you make any commitments.

Contact Barbara Winnett, a specialist in commercial property law at Warners Solicitors for more information on 01732 770660 or email [email protected]

The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice. The law may have changed since this article was published. Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice upon their own particular circumstances.

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