Amy Castleman

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Making the most of your empty commercial space

Property / 17 December 2018

Footfall on our high streets is falling as online shopping takes over, resulting in thousands of empty commercial spaces across the country.  Instead of resisting change, companies should see this as an exciting opportunity to utilise their empty commercial spaces. They may even be able to increase income, reduce costs and maximise investment potential in the process.  Various uses can be made of empty commercial spaces, for example: occupation of property guardians, shelter for the homeless, community hubs, start-up companies, and co-working spaces.

Property Guardianship
The concept of property guardianship is growing rapidly.  The business model comprises an agreement with the freeholder to provide security services by ‘installing’ property guardians on a temporary basis.  Many local authorities have empty spaces awaiting redevelopment, but a lack of funds results in delay.  By ‘installing’ property guardians, liability for business rates falls away and guardians act as a deterrent for any opportunists or squatters.  It’s important to follow the correct procedure when entering into guardianship arrangements, since the legal position is that guardians are licensees not tenants, with a recent High Court appeal confirming the same.

Shelter for the homeless
There is a housing crisis in the UK, and many people are troubled by the vast empty buildings that could be used for the homeless.  Community-driven companies are pushing for conversion of empty commercial spaces to residential houses but there are several barriers, not least the cost involved.  The idea is to provide living spaces that are suited to the needs of those who are homeless, such as living areas with a communal setting.  Vigilant drafting of ‘occupier’ agreements should avoid potential legal problems and ensure that occupiers understand their legal status.

Community hubs and start-ups
Empty spaces could also be used by local communities and small start-up companies.  By working together, an empty space could provide an assortment of services and trade to the local community, increasing footfall whilst supporting local businesses.

Finally, there is an opportunity for companies looking for flexible workplaces, given the growth of technology and those in the media industries requiring little physical space.  Landlords can work with specialist companies to revolutionise empty commercial spaces into highly-profitable co-working spaces.  The influx of companies ‘renting’ part of the space results in a need for carefully-drafted commercial agreements to protect both the landlord and the intermediate company managing the space.

As this article highlights, there are plenty of opportunities for forward-thinking companies to capitalise on empty commercial spaces whilst benefiting the local economy and tackling the housing crisis. However, different uses require different legal and practical considerations, so you would be well-advised to talk to an industry specialist before agreeing terms.  If you are interested in learning more, or need any assistance, please do get in touch.


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This update is for general purposes and guidance only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. You should seek legal advice before relying on its content. This update relates to the prevailing circumstances at the date of its original publication and may not have been updated to reflect subsequent developments. If you have general queries about our updates, please email:

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