Eviction ban extension brings relief for retailers, but landlords are unhappy
Struggling UK retailers will be able to breathe slightly easier with news the government has extended a ban on landlords evicting commercial tenants or recovering rent debts for at least three months. However, it’s a move that’s also angered many property owners across the country.
The ban, which was meant to end on 31 March, is now extended to 30 June.
Business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said: “I know business owners will welcome this latest package of support and the breathing space it will give them to prepare for a safe reopening and, ultimately, to build back better”.
An estimated £4.5 billion of commercial rent debts have accumulated since the moratorium was introduced, after many high street retailers took advantage of the policy to withhold rent.
Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, said: “Retailers have lost over £22 billion of sales during the three lockdowns, and the ban on aggressive rent enforcement is a vital protection against being pushed into administration by landlords”.
However, that wasn’t the view of many of Britain’s biggest property owners.
The British Property Federation, whose members include Hammerson and British Land, told The Times newspaper: “The scandal of those well-capitalised businesses who can pay rent, but have chosen not to, cannot be allowed to continue. Their behaviour has raided our nation’s pensions and savings invested in commercial property, and has been a heavy blow for already stretched local authority landlords and public finances”.
Mark Allan, chief executive of Land Securities, the co-owner of Bluewater shopping centre in Kent which has created an £80 million fund to support struggling tenants during the crisis, also told The Times: “The moratorium was an important temporary measure, but it now drives a wedge between landlord and occupier at a time when they should be working together”.
Meanwhile, the government said its current position is to support commercial landlords and tenants to agree their own arrangements for paying or writing off rent debts by 30 June.
It has launched a call for evidence on commercial rents to help monitor the progress of negotiations between landlords and tenants.
This will set out possible steps the government could take after 30 June, which could include a phased withdrawal of current protections to legislative options, aimed at businesses hardest hit by the pandemic.
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