What does "Sui Generis" mean?

In Scottish law, "Sui Generis" is a Latin term that is used to describe something unique or in a class of its own.

It refers to a situation or category that does not fit into existing legal classifications and requires a separate or special classification. Under planning law, certain land or building uses may not fit into the predefined "Use Class" categories. As a result, these uses are considered "Sui Generis," meaning they have their own specific classification outside of the standard categories.

What are Sui Generis properties?

Properties can usually only be used for the purposes stated within their Use Class for which they have planning permission (or deemed permission). Changing to a different use, even if it seems similar, may require a change of use permission (which sounds simple but is not always easy to obtain).

If you are considering purchasing or leasing premises in Scotland that fall under the category of Sui Generis, it's important to understand how this classification may impact both your ownership and use of the building. Because Sui Generis properties are unique and do not fit into any specific Use Class, they are slightly more complex to navigate in terms of planning and legal regulations.

Sui Generis properties can include everything from historic and listed structures to more unconventional facilities like amusement parks or zoos. Essentially, they are buildings that have a distinct character or function that sets them apart from traditional residential or commercial spaces. This can make them highly desirable, but also means there are additional factors to keep in mind.

Planning permission and changes of use

There are often specific planning regulations in place that may restrict certain uses or alterations. This is to preserve the unique character and function of the building, as well as protect any historic or cultural significance it may hold.

Matters get more complicated when you realise Sui Generis properties include hot food takeaways, pubs (where the primary use is the sale of alcoholic liquor) and theatres, which still require specific planning permission. You should also note that a restaurant or cafe cannot automatically be transformed into a hot food takeaway or public house.

However, some changes are permitted without consent; a hot food takeaway (classed as Sui Generis) can become a shop or financial and professional service outlet - but not vice versa.

So be sure to check the current permitted use of a property before proceeding with a purchase or lease and spending any money on your business venture, as you may not be able to use your chosen property for the use you wish. Similarly, don’t underestimate how much time it could take if a change of use planning permission is required, as this could prolong moving into the building - and delay the opening of your business.

Other considerations

In addition, it's essential to have a thorough understanding of the property's current state and any potential problems that may arise. This can include structural concerns, maintenance costs, and any ongoing legal issues.

Ultimately, purchasing a Sui Generis property can be a rewarding experience, but it's important to approach it with caution and under the guidance of a knowledgeable solicitor who can help navigate the legal complexities and ensure that your investment is protected. 

If you have any concerns about the use of a Sui Generis property you are planning to lease or purchase, seek legal advice.

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