This article was first published on 27 August 2020 and has been updated.
If you wish to lease a commercial space or shophouse and use it for something besides an office space, you’ll need to know the regulations for allowable uses for your particular commercial space or shophouse.
Here is a guide for tenants and landlords on allowable uses for commercial properties, and how to apply to change the allowable use to something else.
These are general guidelines under the law, but individual landlords may impose stricter rules on top of what is allowed and approved by the authorities.
Allowable Uses For Planning Purposes
Depending on the property and what you want to use it for, you may need to apply for planning permission. Before you take over a shophouse or rent a storefront, you should be aware of what you can or cannot do with the property. For example, while you can convert a café to a restaurant or bakery, you may not be able convert retail store to a pet shop without prior planning permission because a pet shop is under a different use class. Please check with URA for details on each use class.
Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) allows for 18 use classes for planning purposes:
Class 1: Shop
Class 2: Office
Class 3: Restaurant
Class 4: Amusement Centre
Class 5: Motor Vehicle Showroom
Class 6: Theatre
Class 7: Light Industrial Building
Class 8: General Industrial Building
Class 9: Special Industrial Building
Class 10: Warehouse
Class 11: Convalescent Home
Class 12: Child Care Centre
Class 13: Community Building
Class 14: Sports And Recreation Building
Class 15: Nightclub
Class 16: Pet Shop
Class 17: Community Sports And Fitness Building
Class 18: Commercial School
Check If The Building Is Already Pre-Approved For Your Intended Use
In some cases, the commercial building that you are eyeing is already pre-approved for multiple uses. In these cases, you can lease a unit within the building without seeking additional approval to change the use of the property.
For example, International Plaza is listed as being available for use as shop, office, restaurant, community building, sports and recreation building, commercial school and showroom. This means that you could lease an office space in International Plaza and use it as a tuition centre (which falls under the use of commercial school) or gym without having to apply for any change of use regardless of who the previous tenants were.
Similarly, because it isn’t pre-approved for such uses, you would have to apply for a change of use from URA if you wish to open a nightclub or a pet shop in International Plaza.
Seek Approval From HDB If The Property Is A HDB Shophouse
For HDB shophouses or commercial spaces, you will need to seek HDB’s approval for change of trade. In general, it is easier to seek change of trade to non-retail uses, such as offices, office-related trades, showroom, sale of take-away food, and single-operator family restaurant.
For HDB shophouses with living quarters, the living quarters may only be converted for use as shop, clinic, office, education centres, associations and gyms. They cannot be used for purposes that could potentially disrupt the living conditions for other residents.
For example, nightclubs, restaurants, place of worship or workers’ dormitories are not allowed on the upper floors (living quarters) of HDB shophouses. Further details may be found in URA’s circular.
Seek Approval From URA If The Property Is Non-HDB
For non-HDB shophouses, you can check the allowed use for shophouses using the URA Space map. Use for commercial buildings can be found in the Lodgement Scheme. White component spaces in industrial buildings may also be allowed for commercial use. If you are unable to determine the approved uses, you can submit an enquiry to URA at a cost of $53.50.
In general, the success of change of use application depends on whether your proposed change will cause problems to other premises in the area. The intended new use should be complementary and acceptable to URA’s assessment.
To apply, you can go through the GoBusiness Licensing Portal and the fees are $535 (inclusive of GST). It takes about 10 working days for URA to assess complete submissions that require no further clarification or consultation with other agencies.
You will need to submit 1) a location plan showing where your unit is located in a multi-unit development such as shopping centres, 2) a floor plan showing the proposed layout and usage of the space, 3) owner’s consent, 4) other supporting documents such as clearances from other Government agencies regarding your proposed use.
As a guideline, you should apply for change of use before starting any renovation or tenancy agreement so that you can use the property for your intended purpose.
Other Approvals May Be Needed Before You Start Your Business
After you have managed to successfully apply for change of use, your work has only just begun. Before you start your business, you will also need to check that you have applied for the necessary permits and licences separately from the relevant government agencies through GoBusiness Licensing Portal.
For example, you may need to apply for permits and licences from NEA for food shops, MCYS for childcare centres and MOE for kindergarten operations.
For those seeking to purchase a commercial property or shophouse (and even for existing owners already renting out your commercial property), you can a suite of financing options at attractive rates from OCBC. Unlike residential property loans, you can take a commercial property loan of up to 80% and avoid paying any ABSD at the same time.
With your commercial property loan, you also receive greater flexibility in accessing term loans, overdraft facilities and other trade financing facilities.
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