By Catherine Affleck, Group Operations Director and Head of Property Management at Bradley Hall Chartered Surveyors and Estate Agents. 

The lockdown was imposed on Monday 23rd March, just two days before the spring rent quarter day and the day on which the Government passed the Coronavirus Act 2020. Under this emergency legislation the Government offered blanket protection from eviction for non-payment of rent for both residential and commercial tenants until 30th June 2020. This action was widely praised by tenants and many businesses but left commercial landlords, in particular, in an extremely vulnerable position.

The role of the Bradley Hall Property Management Team is to act, largely, on behalf of landlord investment clients ranging in size from private individuals, to family investment companies and up to large corporate landlords. We tailor our approach to our clients depending upon their needs but our approach with their tenants is always underpinned by the personal approach we pride ourselves upon in our property management team.

We see it as a vastly important part of our role as property managers to get to know our clients’ tenants, their businesses and circumstances in order that we can truly offer our clients the best possible advice based on all of the factors at play.

There was a sense of foreboding by landlords and property managers alike as we waited to see which tenants would take advantage of the Government protection and default on their lease obligations. Over the course of the days following the rent due date our team spoke to hundreds of tenants to determine their position, understand the stresses on their businesses and to negotiate future rental arrangements on behalf of clients. Depending on the individual financial circumstances and instructions of each landlord client we have been able to negotiate a vast range of monthly payment concessions and payment plans for deferred rental payments for the mutual benefit of both parties given these most unusual circumstances. It is important for everyone involved to understand that deferred payments are essentially just pre-authorised arrears and the sums will need to be paid in future. We have found that tenants have been keen to work with us on behalf of their landlords to ensure they don’t get into a position where arrears become unmanageable and to continue the positive relationships which have been built over the years.

We have been heartened to see that the majority of the tenants we work with were keen to pay their rents and understood that, particularly in the case of smaller commercial landlords who did not yet qualify for many of the relief measures provided, there was a heavy reliance on their rental income to allow their landlords to fulfil their own financial obligations. There will always be those larger, financially sound tenants who will exploit the situation and the measures put in place to help businesses survive this global pandemic but there has been an overwhelming sense, from the vast majority of tenants and landlords, that we are all in this together and will come out stronger at the other side by playing fair and working together.

The usual approaches to rent collection were simply not appropriate and our team, as part of a regional SME business, were acutely aware that they were dealing with tenants who were extremely stressed and anxious about the survival of their businesses and livelihoods. For those who were unable to pay, or who were unaware of the support available to them, our team ensured that they were up to date with the help available and were able to direct principally smaller business tenants towards sources of help and advice in order that they could access the circa £350billion of tax reliefs, VAT payment deferments, grants and loans made available to businesses by the government. In doing so it has meant that, whilst it is early days, as the grant funding begins to filter through from local authorities tenants have found themselves in a position where they are able to pay part, if not all, of their rental obligations.

It has been more apparent than ever that proactive management and, even more importantly, our personal approach of getting to know tenants that has allowed the open dialogue between landlords and their tenants during this difficult time.

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