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Cash-starved business tenants strike rent deals

Most commercial landlords are working with revenue-starved tenants to find ways to help them stay afloat.

Businesses such as retailers and restaurants, whose income has been cut off by lockdown measures imposed over the Covid-19 crisis, have secured rent discounts and deferrals with landlords.

However, Penny MacIntyre, a partner at Rego Sotheby's International Realty, said some landlords had refused to give ground and some tenants have decided to shut up shop for good.

Ms MacIntyre, a leading commercial realtor, said landlord-tenant negotiations were being done on a case-by-case basis.

She added: “We have seen some landlords consider a rent reduction for a period of time. And we've seen some tenants in the retail sector, which was hard hit before the pandemic, seeking more help.

“Some have made the decision to close their business and hand in their notice. Some have said they can only pay ‘x' months of rent and their lease has been shortened.”

Landlords have offered reduced rent for two or three months in many cases, with discounts often in the range of 10 per cent to 20 per cent, but service charges such as electricity remained unchanged.

Ms MacIntyre said: “We've also seen landlords defer rent payment for a month, to be allocated evenly across the rest of the year.”

She added landlords with deeper pockets had more scope for flexibility with struggling tenants.

However, Ms MacIntyre said: “People with smaller properties who are very reliant on the rental income, are less likely to give much latitude.

“And if you're a landlord with one tenant in a large building and you need that rental income to cover the service charges on the vacant parts of the building, then you can still run into trouble.”

Paul Slaughter, the general manager of Washington Properties, owner of the Washington Mall in Hamilton, said discussions involving more than 100 tenants continued on a case-by-case basis.

He added: “We're working with them to come up with a solution.”

Mr Slaughter said most Washington Mall tenants were retailers and many of them were already struggling before the Covid-19 crisis.

Government figures show that retail sales fell year-over-year for 21 months out of 23 up to January.

Mr Slaughter said loss of rental revenue presented his company with cashflow problems.

He explained: “The Belco bill is quite substantial, even when the buildings are empty. Fire alarms, pumps and security systems remain operational.”

Mr Slaughter said some of Washington Properties' 13 staff had been laid off, but did not reveal how many. Security staff are still working, but not maintenance staff.

He added that he hoped the Government would consider some type of tax relief for commercial landlords who had taken a hit to help their tenants.

Mr Slaughter said Washington Properties had paid its land tax for January to June and the tax demand for the period from July 1 was due soon.

He added that some relief would be helpful, as would a cut in the employer's share of payroll tax.

Mr Slaughter said he had great sympathy for his tenants' plight.

He added: “A lot of tenants have already purchased inventory for the summer season — now they may not be able to sell it until next year.”

Mr Slaughter said that deferral of import duties would assist retailers faced with that problem.

He accepted that the shelter-in-place rules were justified.

Mr Slaughter said: “When they eventually allow customers back into the shops with social-distancing, we will have new adjustments to make.

“How do you limit the number of people in a retail unit? How do you limit the number of people waiting outside the door of a unit? There will certainly be logistical challenges.”

Many challenges: Paul Slaughter, of Washington Properties

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Published April 24, 2020 at 9:00 am (Updated April 24, 2020 at 1:27 pm)

Cash-starved business tenants strike rent deals

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