As the current situation has unfolded, there have been a number of initiatives that have been introduced to help businesses survive so they are still in business when the time comes for lockdown to be eased.

But there is one group that concerns us the most and they are those who rent commercial premises sometimes on long leases with a break clause in the distant future.

The situation for some commercial landlords has not been good in recent times with more and more units on the high street being left unoccupied and now tenants seeking rent free periods in the battle for survival. Numerous commercial premises up and down the country are not being occupied as a result.

Our concern is that is that up to 20% of our clients that rent their premises might be insolvent before the end of the crisis purely due to not being able to afford their rent. Some are already in difficulties having not paid their quarterly rent on 25th March.

We thought that we’d pick the brains of Jay Sahota at Jarmans solicitors about the position for both parties.

A4G: Do businesses have a right to not pay their rent if they are unable to use their premises?

Jay: Leases normally only make provision for the suspension of rent if the premises are damaged, destroyed or are unusable due to an insured risk. In other words, it is extremely unlikely that the impact of COVID-19 gives the tenant an automatic right to stop paying the rent unless the lease specifically refers to pandemics.

A4G: What about claiming through their insurance?

Jay: Insurance cover may potentially be available but generally standard commercial property insurance is usually triggered by physical loss or damage, rather than business interruption caused by pandemics. Insurance policies need to be checked carefully to see if any losses or costs can be recovered.

A4G: We’ve heard of some business claiming that they can end their lease as a result of something called Force Majeure. How does that work?

Jay: No doubt many tenants will want to end their commercial leases and simply walk away arguing the current pandemic amounts to a force majeure event and that the parties are prevented from performing their obligations under the lease. Whether they can, depends on what exactly the lease says and generally force majeure clauses in commercial leases are rare. Commercial landlords and tenants therefore need to seek professional and specific advice on force majeure, frustration and contractual performance as every lease needs to be closely scrutinised.

A4G: What sort of protection do tenants have if they can’t pay their rent?

Jay: Section 82 of the Coronavirus Act 2020, which came into force on 25th March 2020, introduces some protective short-term measures for tenants. As a result, no business in the immediate term will be forced out of their premises because they are unable to pay the rent. Landlords cannot exercise any right of forfeiture on tenants that cannot pay their rent and this protection is due to lasts from 26th March 2020 until 30th June 2020 and could be extended.

Whilst the protection is no doubt welcome for many tenants it does not wipe out their liability to pay the rent after the protective period ends. If the tenant is not trading from the premises and thereby not receiving any income it is difficult to see how it is expected to pick up the arrears later on. The protection may be nothing other than a case of delaying the inevitable. 

Further, there is nothing to stop landlords taking steps now to recover the rent from tenants and any personal guarantors. It has been widely reported in the media that many tenants have been on the receiving end of statutory demands seeking to wind up their businesses, or bankrupt individuals. Perhaps added protection was what Alok Sharma the business secretary was referring to in his press conference on Monday.

At present it is not clear if these suspension provisions apply to those in occupation of business premises under a licence, commercial contract or other arrangement.

A4G: What about proceedings started before The Coronavirus Act was introduced?

Jay: In respect of possession proceedings commenced before 26th March 2020, any Orders for possession already made cannot be enforced until after 30th June 2020. Further, in respect of any ongoing possession proceedings the Courts are not able to fix possession dates until after 30th June 2020.

A4G: What if the landlord agrees not to enforce, and are there any other miscellaneous points to be aware of?

The concept of ‘waiver’ is severely curtailed during the relevant period. Only an express waiver in writing would be the only conduct by a Landlord regarded as waiving the right to forfeit the lease.

There is no restriction on forfeiting commercial leases for breaches other than the non-payment of rent, or on other remedies which may be available to a landlord.

Failure to pay rent during the protected is to be disregarded for the purposes of determining whether there has been a persistent delay in paying rent. This is respect of establishing if ground (b) of Section 30 of the Landlord and Tenant 1954 Act has been established should a landlord seek to oppose the grant of a new tenancy following an application to the Court.

A4G: What responsibilities do landlords have in the current situation?

Jay: Landlords generally have responsibility to the extent that they exercise control over parts of the premises and their ability to implement measures. If for example a landlord has granted a lease of the whole building it is unlikely to have an ongoing responsibility for maintenance and the provision of services, including cleaning. If though the landlord has granted a lease of just a floor in a building to a tenant then it is likely to have ongoing responsibilities with regard to the provision of services with regard to the common parts, lifts etc.

Some related costs to the current pandemic (for example deep cleaning the common parts and implementing more intense cleaning regimes) may be recoverable as part of good estate management but again this depends upon the wording in the lease and potential barriers, or limits to recovery.

A4G: For our clients who are thinking of signing a new lease, is there anything they should be thinking about?

Jay: In respect of new leases to be drafted it obviously makes sense for both commercial landlords and tenants to agree and incorporate specific provisions that relate to pandemics generally. Specific clauses covering rent suspension due to pandemics, provision of hygiene services, service charge provisions to cover cleaning costs and additional clauses giving rise to termination could be included. 


This is a difficult situation for both parties. Whilst some landlords are sitting tight and protecting their rents unreasonably, other landlords are individuals or families relying on that rent for their income.

Many commercial properties are owned by pension schemes with (how shall put this diplomatically?) over-zealous agents feeling they are looking after their clients by dealing unsympathetically with the very people whose hard work is producing that rent.

Of course, the current crisis may be changing working patterns for good. Until a vaccine is found, workers may choose to work from home to reduce their risk of exposure even after lockdown ends. And then new ways of working and use of technology may result in many businesses deciding that they can downsize their office space.

Whilst landlords may have the stronger hand legally, it may well become a buyers’ market for commercial property over the next couple of years and tenants may take the opportunity to utilise break clauses in leases and renegotiate their position.

As a result, landlords and tenants may both be well advised to discuss and review their obligations to one another and consider acceptable concessions. In respect of any agreements reached these of course need to be carefully documented and advice sought.

You can contact our guest contributor Jay Sahota by emailing

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