Do You Need Planning Permission for an Office Shed? (Usually No, but...)

A guide to help you figure out whether or not you need planning permission for your garden office (and how to get one).

August 25, 2021
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A backyard studio shed is a great way to improve your work-from-home experience by ensuring both privacy and an enjoyable surrounding for your new home office.

So, after deciding to build your own shed one of your first tasks should be answering an important question: Do you need planning permission?

The short answer is - no.

Since this mostly depends on the size and positioning of your garden office, backyard sheds usually meet the criteria for not needing planning permission.

However, the rules and building regulations are different in each city or county, which is why you need to do your research first.  

With that in mind, we offer you a guide that will help you learn whether you can build your backyard office without planning permission and how to get one.

What does obtaining planning permission mean?

Obtaining planning permission means getting approval from your local planning authority in order to do construction or expansion work on your property.

A planning permission will ensure that the structure meets all the criteria in relation with:

  • Zoning requirements
  • Environmental (waste, water systems, and runoff)
  • Building codes
  • Electrical codes
  • Mechanical codes

As we've already mentioned above, backyard sheds rarely require planning permission.

However, you are probably wondering what happens if you are building a garden shed and it turns out that you need it after all?

Well, it means you should fill out a planning application form with all the necessary information about the new building's position, size, and other properties. Then, you can apply for planning permission and wait for the approval to start building.


What are the consequences of not obtaining planning permission?

If you do need planning permission and fail to get one, you could face some of the following consequences:

  • Fines
  • Homeowner's Association penalties
  • Complaints from neighbors
  • Structural failure
  • A request to move or tear down your shed

These sanctions can be different depending on the city or county you are in.

For example, Buffalo, NY offers you to either pay a fine of $1500 or 15 days in jail as a penalty, while Portland, ME has set a fine between $500 and $2500 a day.

What can you build without a planning permission?

Your local Planning Department will most likely provide certain criteria that an office garden needs to meet in order to be built without planning permission.

This usually depends on its purpose, size, and position or any general rules that can apply to a garden shed.


1 - Depending on the purpose

Garden buildings could be used as chicken huts, sheds to keep your lawnmower and gardening equipment, or even greenhouses.

These purposes are usually seen as incidental (we'll explain more about it below), while garden offices usually need to meet some additional criteria.

2 - Depending on the size

The size of your garden office will most likely be one of the make-or-break criteria on whether or not you need planning permission.

What you need to consider are its height and floor area.  

The specific rules and building regulations are different for each city or county.

However, the numbers usually range from 100  to 160 square feet for the floor area and around 8.2 feet for the height of structures that do not need planning permission.

3 - Depending on the position

The position of your garden office within your property could also determine whether you could build it without planning permission.

The recommendations from your local planning authority will tell you how far from your house, the street, and the neighboring properties should garden offices be.  

This can also determine whether you need planning permission.

Keep in mind, though, that some of these rules and building regulations are still relevant even when you need to apply for planning permission.


Will your garden office be incidental to the use of your house?

To answer this question, you first have to know what "incidental" means exactly.

So, declaring something as incidental means that it is a minor accompaniment to something else, which translated in construction terms, means that buildings like sheds are considered incidental to a residential house.

As far as building regulations are concerned, most incidental buildings may not require planning permission.  

However, this further depends on the use of said building. While a garden office or a garden studio may be seen as incidental, a garden building that is used for conducting business five days a week may not.


Why you should make sure that this is one of your first tasks

Given that the consequences are far more complicated than doing your research to begin with, we strongly advise you to find out whether you need to apply for planning permission before going too far into the process of buying and building.  

If you are still unsure whether your garden office will require planning permission after reading the guidelines from your local Planning Department, it is best to contact them directly or request a written response.


Why you shouldn’t worry in case you need planning permission

After you go through the rules and regulations set by your local Planning Department you might find out that you will need planning permission after all.

If this is the case, don't worry - the application process for your garden building planning permission is a lot simpler than it seems.

In fact, you can follow these guidelines for a successful application.


1 - Make sure to follow your local Planning Department’s guidelines

Your local Planning Department probably has a set of rules and regulations which all planning applications need to follow in order to be approved.

As there were guidelines on what type of garden buildings need planning permission, there are also general building regulations that should be applied for every garden building.

If you follow these rules when you design your garden office and distribute your garden room, the application you submit will most likely be accepted.

2 - Don't give your neighbors a valid reason to complain

It's not unknown for neighbors to have concerns about these types of interventions.

However, you must have in mind that the building regulations regarding the size, position, materials, and purpose of your garden office are there to ensure that building your garden building will not affect your neighbors negatively.

Of course, you can also talk to your neighbors beforehand and explain the situation yourself.

It's best to have them informed and on board than to have unnecessary conflicts.

3 - Getting involved with paperwork is much better now than later

Last, don't let the possibility of involvement with the City Council or dealing with paperwork scare you.

Planning departments usually offer clear step-by-step guidance for applicants and provide you with all the paperwork that you need to apply.

After all, it's better to do this now and do everything by the book than to deal with the problems that might occur later.


To sum it all up:

If your garden office meets certain building regulations criteria, then you might not need planning permission.

Although this is usually the case, do your research and independent check with your city's regulations.

If it turns out that you need planning permission after all, don't worry because you are likely to get it with no issues.

Lastly, remember that this is always the responsibility of the homeowner and never the builder, so if a builder or a supplier claims you will not need planning permission, never take it for granted.