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Expensive rent, lease lengths that prevent flexibility for tenants, onerous repairing obligations and the risk of weighty dilapidations claims, can act as a deterrent to small businesses and entrepreneurs looking to find premises out of which to operate. As a result, there has been a rise in those attempting to change the use of their residential premises. 

Recently, a London solicitor made two planning applications in 2011 to convert his terraced house in Southall into his office. 

The applications were rejected as were the solicitor’s appeals but he continued to operate his business from his home. As a result Ealing Council issued an enforcement notice in 2013.

The solicitor appealed and applied for a certificate of lawfulness to use his home as his office. 

The solicitor later pleaded guilty to the planning enforcement offence in 2017 and the case concluded in May 2019. The solicitor was given a confiscation order under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 and was ordered to pay £500,000 within three months failing which he will receive a five year custodial sentence. 

The Council argued that use of a residential property in this way “detracted from the character” of the area and caused significant issues for the neighbours. 

The Council are allowed to recover any sum equal to the financial benefit earned from the conduct with powers applying to financial sums over £5,000. Whilst this may seem like a harsh outcome for the solicitor, it is clear that the solicitor made a significant financial gain from operating in breach of the enforcement notice and was fined proportionately. 

With modern working practices and arrangements changing (remote working and a move towards serviced offices) along with attitudes towards more flexible working for employees, we are minded to advise our clients to regularly review their leases, consider their working practices and to keep up to date with changes to planning laws along with ensuring they have sufficient insurance cover in place in relation to their premises and employees.

The outcome of this case serves to warn businesses that acting in breach of planning may put their profits at risk.

Boyes Turner lawyers are specialists in this area and are able to provide advice to both landlords and tenants in respect of these issues.

If you would like more information or advice please contact Adrian Griffiths on [email protected].

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