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I lease commercial premises. Can my landlord forfeit my lease?

As part of the Coronavirus Bill there is some good news for tenants in so far as it included the following:

  • All commercial tenants in England, Wales and Northern Ireland missing rent payments are to benefit from a government ban on forfeiture of their lease.
  • Landlords then will be prevented from terminating leases and “evicting” commercial tenants.
  • The above provisions rules will apply not only to principal rent, but to “any sum a tenant is required to pay”, leaving the burden of supplying services and insuring the premises on landlords. The bill will last until 30 June 2020, with an option for the government to extend this deadline.

Whist this is helpful to any Tenant planning not to pay rent or other payments due under their lease insofar as they will not suffer forfeiture and be evicted, it should be noted that the contractual obligation to continue paying rent and all other costs due under the lease remains and Landlords will still be able to take action to recover any payments due under the lease that are in arrears.

Related FAQs

Can I apply a Force Majeure clause?

If a contract contains a force majeure clause this may become operative due to the coronavirus pandemic and related emergency legislation. Such clauses exist to ensure that if some unforeseen event prevents a party from being able to perform their obligations under a contract, either on time or at all, they will be excused from their obligations and not be held liable for non-performance.

The clause must actually be written into the contract to have effect – a force majeure clause cannot be implied into a contract. Whether it can be relied on by a party will depend on the wording of the clause itself as it may only be applicable in certain limited circumstances.

You should seek legal advice at an early stage if you think that force majeure is relevant, because a number of potentially complex issues must be addressed, many of which will turn upon the exact wording of the force majeure clause in the contract in question:

  • Has a force majeure event actually arisen?
  • What notification process do you have to follow to rely on the provision?
  • What mitigation steps do you have to take?
  • What is the effect of the force majeure event – is the contract suspended, or can it be terminated (which might not be what you want)?
I work in construction. Can I still travel to work?

The CLC has also prepared a template letter that firms may adopt and issue to their workforce regarding travel to work. This can be accessed at download document.

The CLC’s current advice to those carrying out works on site is to carry out your own risk assessment on each site and determine whether or not it is safe to continue to work in accordance with the Public Health England instructions and the CLC Site Operating Procedures.  If it is not possible to work in accordance with the above they should not work.

What form does the relaxation take?

The European Commission has reintroduced its “comfort letter” system for cooperation in relation to shortage of supply. This allows cooperating businesses to check what the Commission’s view of their proposals are before implementing them.

In the UK context the SMA has introduced an exemption for suppliers of healthcare services to the NHS. This allows:

  • Sharing information about capacity
  • Coordination of staff deployment
  • Joint purchasing of goods, services and facilities
  • Sharing or lending of facilities
  • Division of activities, including agreeing whether to expand or reduce the volume or type of services provided by suppliers

In relation to whether the CMA will investigate cooperation, it has indicated:

  • The CMA will use its discretion as to the prioritisation of its enforcement action to permit some agreements/collaboration which would otherwise potentially give rise to enforcement action (including potentially attracting fines of up to 10% of group worldwide turnover)
  • The CMA will use its existing power to exempt certain agreements under the Competition Act 1998 where these are in the public interest
Forcing annual leave

Employers have a statutory right to require employees to take annual leave at their direction, subject to providing staff with notice equal to at least double the length of the leave that you are directing them to take (e.g. 10 days’ notice for five days leave). However, this measure is not likely to achieve any urgent cost savings or alleviate immediate cash-flow pressure as holidays would need to be paid.

Clearly, annual leave can be taken on furlough so you could have staff on furlough and annual leave.

Are permitted development rights now in existence for the creation of emergency medical facilities?

Yes. The Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (Coronavirus) (England) (Amendment) Order 2020 came into force on 9 April 2020 giving permitted development rights for emergency development. The permitted development right is available to local authorities and health service bodies (as defined) on land owned, leased, occupied or maintained by it for the purposes of:

  • Preventing an emergency
  • Reducing, controlling or mitigating the effects of an emergency
  • Taking other action in connection with an emergency

It could cover, for example, the temporary change of use of buildings into a Nightingale Hospital or the establishment of a testing centre.

The permitted development right is not permitted in certain instances and is subject to a number of conditions including the notification of the local planning authority and the cessation of the use before 31 December 2020.

Further detail of the permitted development right is available at the link below.

http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2020/412/made