Commercial property - landlord and tenants and the challenges of getting back to work during the Covid-19 pandemic

From handmade signs to professional notices and protective screens, everyone is trying to get back to the business of work so that the damage to the UK economy isn’t as devastating as feared. In this blog we look at the obligations of commercial landlords and tenants in getting commercial premises ready to welcome back employees, customers and clients.

Landlord and tenant solicitors

If you need legal advice about a commercial lease and your obligations as a landlord or tenant then the landlord and tenant team at OTS Solicitors can help you. Call us on 0203 959 9123 or complete our online enquiry form for a video conference, Skype or telephone appointment. 

Commercial tenancies and Covid-19 preparations

As high streets re-open across London even a casual observer will note that there isn’t any real consistency in how shop owners and professional services (such as lawyers, accountants and financial advisors) are getting ready to welcome customers and clients back to their premises.

If you speak to business owners and landlords many say that they are frustrated by shifting goal posts on social distancing with some tenants saying that they have borrowed to pay for social distancing signs at two metres only for the rules on social distancing to change just as the expensive signage was delivered.

The pandemic has undoubtedly also put pressure on commercial landlords, both in terms of getting rent and in understanding the extent of their obligations to make their commercial property ‘’Covid-19 ready for reopening’’ to employees of tenants and the customers and clients of their tenants. 

Landlord and tenant solicitors say that a commercialtenant needs to ensure the safety of the commercial premises for their employees and customers whilst their commercial landlord needs to ensure the safety of the common parts of the building for their tenants.

In some scenarios there is very little for a commercial landlord to do. For example, where an individual shop or office has direct access to the pavement. In other situations the position is more complicated, such as in small shopping centres or office buildings let out to a variety of different professional service providers.

In every situation a landlord and tenant should carry out a risk assessment in accordance with the health and safety guidance provided by the government. For some commercial landlords who are letting out property without communal areas this will involve little effort. However other landlords will need to carry out (and just as importantly record) their health and safety assessment.

Those commercial landlords who are having to carry out additional work to communal areas (such as reception areas or lifts and stairwells) are likely to want and need to pass on their additional costs to their commercial tenants via the service charge. It is best that both landlord and tenants check their commercial leases to see if there is provision in the lease for the service charge to be increased beyond inflation rises or before a set review date.

Examples of Covid-19 additional costs for commercial landlords include:

  • Social distancing signage

  • Additional security staff to ensure social distancing is complied with

  • Alterations to building entrances and exit policies and signage to ensure one way passage through the building where possible

  • Screens on entry to the communal parts of the building or at reception desks

  • Additional cleaning services of communal areas and toilet facilities

  • Provision of hand sanitisation

  • Temperature screening

  • Additional tracking of visitors or clients to assist with contact tracing or to ensure that numbers of people in the tenant’s property do not exceed a safe social distancing number.

A tenant is responsible for ensuring their commercial tenanted property meets health and safety requirements. However, they will not only need to carry out their own health and safety assessment but also they will potentially obtain the consent of their commercial landlord to any changes to the property. Whether a tenant needs the consent of their landlord to any Covid-19 related changes to the premises will depend on the terms of the commercial lease.

Landlord and tenant solicitors say that it is best that a tenant carefully checks the terms of their lease before carrying out any Covid-19 alterations as changes made may require the permission of the landlord. Failure to obtain consent could place a tenant in breach of covenant and potentially facing a forfeiture notice. Whilst it is tempting for a tenant to just go ahead with the erection of screens and partitions so that they can comply with Covid-19 health and safety requirements for their employees and customers, it can ultimately work to a tenant’s disadvantage. Hopefully, most commercial landlords will recognise that it is in their best interests as well as those of their tenant that their tenant’s commercial premises are ‘’Covid-19 ready’’ and that any landlord approval to alterations to the commercial property are given and inspections take place as quickly as possible as that way the tenant can restart their business and pay their rent.

Online Landlord and tenant solicitors

If you are concerned about your landlord or tenant health and safety obligations or repair and alteration clauses in a commercial lease or have questions about landlord and tenant law then the landlord and tenant team at OTS Solicitors can help answer your questions. Call us on 0203 959 9123 or complete our online enquiry form. Appointments are available through video conferencing, Skype or telephone appointment. 

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