The Government’s latest move in the property sphere is its 23 April announcement of “New measures to protect UK high street from aggressive rent collection and closure”. The press release outlined more piecemeal measures to protect occupiers, but what do these really amount to?
The first step is already in place. New restrictions on landlords taking control over tenants’ goods will run until 30 June, but only for rent arrears up to 90 days. But what of the other bans? There is as yet no legislation in place to support any of them, or any further detail about how they will work.
This is not the first example of the new phenomenon of ‘law by press release’.
The “wrongful trading” Government intervention for company directors announced six weeks ago has still not even been seen in print, never mind reached the statute books. No-one underestimates the challenges the Government is facing, but if its aim is to deal with landlords who are ignoring occupiers’ pleas for leniency, there must be doubts about effectiveness as well as legitimacy.
Why has the Government adopted this approach to its latest rent collection measure? Time is likely to be one factor, along with an attempt to make retrospective legislation safer from challenge; but as with so much of the Government’s response to the virus, the strategy seems to be to create an environment in which everyone does what the Government wants, with or without legal backing. In many areas this is working and the spirit of these latest measures is clear. Commercial tenants should pay rent where they can afford to. Landlords should be prepared to be flexible and accept less than the full rent. If a tenants’ inability to pay flows from the impact of COVID-19, then the landlord’s attempts to recover the full rent will be thwarted for the next two months.