fbpx

Reply To: We are negotiating with 10 landlords for rent due on our retail premises, what deals are other businesses striking with regard to a reduction in rent at this time?

This may also be helpful and very much reflects my common sense reasonable man approach
from The team at McVeagh Fleming

Leases in the Time of Covid-19
We have been fielding an unprecedented (but understandable) number of queries from both tenant
and landlord clients wanting to understand the legal position in respect of either termination of
commercial leases, and obligations in respect of rental/outgoings payments.
Ideally you should be taking legal advice as to your obligations under a commercial lease, but we
thought it may be useful to outline the general position to provide some comfort (or not):
Step 1: Check your lease
There is no one-size-fits-all answer and much would depend on the drafting of the commercial lease,
so do check the terms.
If the lease is on the ADLS standard form commercial lease (post 2012) then in light of the current
Level 4 lockdown you may be able to use the ‘No Access in Emergency’ clause which:
(a) provides that a fair proportion of rent/outgoings will cease to be payable from the time of the
emergency, until it(the emergency) ends; and
(b) allows for termination of the lease (by either party) with 10 workings days prior written notice.
It’s important to note that you can only use this right of termination if:
(i) You don’t have access to the premises for the No-Access time period stated in the
First Schedule to the lease (typically 9 months, but you’d be wise to check if this has
been altered to a longer (or shorter period) or amended in any further terms to your
lease); or
(ii) if you can establish with reasonable certainty that the emergency will last longer than
the No-Access period stated in the First Schedule. In our view, while a tempting
proposition, none of us can tell with any reasonable certainty how long Covid-19 or
the current Alert Level 4 will go on for, and using this particular angle to terminate
could be risky and arguably may expose the terminating party to liability for wrongful
repudiation/termination.
In respect of rent reduction/abatement under the ADLS agreement, as a departure point, our view is
that during the Covid-19 Alert Level 4 lockdown, for the majority of ‘non-essential services’ businesses,
a ‘fair proportion’ of rent/outgoings is $0. The caveat to that view is that in cases where the premises
are able to be used to some degree ie premises where the business is an essential service, or a
warehousing facility etc, then rent will either continue to be paid at the agreed rate, or the tenant
should be negotiating for a temporary rent reduction based on the extent to which the premises are
able to be used.
If your lease is on an older form of the ADLS lease, or a more bespoke arrangement, then you’d be
wise to review and take legal advice on whether the lease contains any similar No-Access or Force
Majeure clauses which may permit termination or abatement/reduction of rent during this pandemic.
It may be (often in the case of retail leases where the premises are in a shopping centre/mall) that the
lease may be silent on termination/rent reduction in emergency type situations, in which case you
should get on the phone right now to your Landlord to try to negotiate some form of reprieve.
2
2360871-1.BJL
There are other possible avenues that may be utilised ie Doctrine of Frustration etc, but they tend to
have high thresholds and are oftentimes difficult (read expensive) arguments to run.
Step 2: Talk to your Landlord/Property Manager
Landlords/Property Managers will be in the same state of flux as tenants and whilst keen to ensure
that rental keeps coming in, should similarly be keen to ensure that they still have a tenant occupying
the premises when all of this is over.
As outlined under the Step 1 heading, if your lease doesn’t address rent reduction/termination in
emergency situations, either get in touch with your landlord or have a lawyer do so, to discuss a
compromise situation, after all, some money being paid as rent, is better than none!
Step 3: Keep calm, take a breath, take care of your loved ones and stay safe. This too, will pass.
The team at McVeagh Fleming are all operating remotely and will do all we can to assist you with any
legal queries (property related or otherwise) during these crazy times.
Our thoughts are with all of you, and we wish you good health. Kia Kaha!