Managing Property during the COVID-19 Outbreak

April 16, 2020

The exceptional circumstances we are experiencing at the moment have important implications for ongoing management of commercial business space. At FG Burnett we undertake the management of a diverse portfolio of properties both on behalf of the Landlord, and in other cases on behalf of the occupational Tenant.

It is important that occupiers of all business space bear in mind that their premises require ongoing attention even when closed and with staff working from home.

Whilst Government restrictions preclude routine site meetings, we continue to provide a check inspection at all the multi-let properties in our managed portfolio to ensure that the building is in order, is secure, and that there are no hazards or repair issues that may have arisen during the lock-down period. The operation of the financial side of our management instructions continue unaffected with the team able to access the dedicated IT systems remotely.

By ensuring that all statutory testing is up to date and that a building’s services such as lifts, air-conditioning and ventilation remain operational, this will allow the building to be reoccupied quickly when the current crisis is over.

We are staying in touch with Tenants and monitoring their response to the crisis.  Tenants have been asked to inform us if there is a confirmed case of COVID-19 recorded in their demised premises as the building may require a specialist deep clean.

If a building becomes unoccupied this has important implications for insurers. Vacant properties present a higher risk and in order to maintain cover, the insurers will stipulate certain requirements to mitigate the risk. Insurers must be made aware of the vacant status of the building and will also require a range of preparatory works to be undertaken, including clearing the unit of combustible items, shutting off and securing utility supplies, draining down all wet services, and most importantly arranging for a regular inspection of the vacant premises.

Managing commercial properties for Landlords makes up the majority of our instructions.  Crucially however, their Tenants are also our customers and our team are in contact with these occupiers on a day to day basis, building relationships and meeting their needs. Occupiers in all sectors are facing significant operational challenges due to the COVID-19 outbreak. We are managing applications from Tenants to their Landlord for assistance with rent and service charge payments. These have mostly taken the form of a balanced, detailed application to the Landlord outlining the difficult circumstances they find themselves in, looking for a rent holiday, a rent free period or rent deferment agreement. One arrangement becoming popular in what is a rapidly moving situation, is a rent free period for 3 or 6 months but with that period being added to the lease duration. These arrangements require to be formally documented and both parties need to carefully consider the implications of adjusting lease terms.

Given the seriousness of the current situation, it does seem apparent that on the whole Landlords and Tenants are finding a way of addressing cases of genuine hardship, and we are pleased to play our part in that. Tenants must appreciate that Landlords will often have obligations to lenders, arrangements that will have already come under strain in certain sectors due to sluggish markets and poor rental growth. Landlords are well aware of the assistance occupiers in certain sectors are receiving through the Government’s Job Retention Scheme, rates reliefs, one off grants and VAT deferral. Given these initiatives and the challenges that Landlords themselves are facing, it is only right that appeals to Landlords for further assistance are balanced given all of the circumstances.

For further advice on Property Management contact Christopher Yannaghas on 01224 597510 or email christopher.yannaghas@fgburnett.co.uk

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