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Should I stop paying my commercial rent?

Commercial leases generally prevent a tenant from withholding payments of rent. If a tenant stops paying rent there will be a breach of the tenant’s covenant to pay rent which, strictly speaking, will entitle the landlord to forfeit the lease and/or seek to recover the arrears in the courts. 

However, on 23 March 2020, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government announced that all commercial tenants in England, Wales and Northern Ireland missing rent payments are to benefit from a government ban on forfeiture of their lease. This change, which will prevent landlords from terminating leases and evicting commercial tenants, is included in the Coronavirus Bill. It will come into force very shortly (once the Coronavirus Bill receives Royal Assent, which is expected to be in a matter of days) and will last until 30 June 2020, with an option for the government to extend this deadline.

It is anticipated that many commercial tenants will take advantage of the reprieve and withhold their rent. Importantly note the 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.

It is also important to note however that the protection offered by the government is from the threat of forfeiture should tenants withhold rental payments. The liability to pay the rent however remains an interest on unpaid rents will accrue. Furthermore, remedies other than forfeiture may be pursued by the landlord e.g. service of a statutory demand before insolvency or ordinary litigation proceedings for arrears etc.. Tenants then ideally should look to reschedule or suspend rental payment through discussions with their landlord.       

The advantage of this being you might be able to negotiate a sensible and manageable repayment program in respect of the suspended rent, free of the threat of litigation.