Social Distancing for Landlords and Tenants – as Lockdown Unlocks
With rumours of a phased reduction of lockdown abounding, the likely practicalities of this both for landlords and tenants are, as with so much else, uncertain and imminent.
One of the few things we know is that proximity must be avoided to help reduce the possibility of Covid-19 transmission.
If that leads to workplaces having phased or rota attendance, then changed employment practices may be more in evidence than physical alterations. But in workplaces where employees have been working in close proximity, the need to install further partitioning seems inevitable.
Changes to office and work-place layouts
Exactly what the scale and nature of such partitioning will be is uncertain at present. Tenants should check their leases to see whether the necessary measures can already be carried out within their terms. It may be that no alterations at all are permitted without consent. Sometimes it will have been negotiated that installation of demountable partitioning is allowed – with anything beyond that requiring Landlord consent. Care will be needed to ensure that no breach of a lease is going to occur.
One solution if a breach is likely is a variation to the lease to allow whatever measures are required to be carried out – usually with the proviso that it must be removed at the end of the term or at the option of the landlord. Or it may be more practical to enter into a licence for alterations permitting further specific works to be carried out, provided there are detailed plans and specifications.
Given the very severe financial pressures that many tenants are under, and the reliance that landlords place on their incomes from tenants, it may be that the position can be regularised through an exchange of correspondence describing what is to be done, and where. This still needs to be sufficiently detailed if either party can have any hopes of placing reliance on it at the end of the term or when social distancing becomes less stringent and installations need to be removed and made good.
Changed accesses to offices and work-place buildings
Continuing with the problems caused by proximity, separate access and egress to business premises is a question which throws up many more issues. Many offices will have a single entrance/exit and multi-storey lettings will have their own internal dynamics.
On external access, is there a legal right in the lease to gain access to or exit the premises from any new locations being proposed?
For internal rearrangements is a “one-way system” going to be possible? And, again, what cooperation will that need from a landlord to avoid a breach of lease? Added to that are other considerations such as whether a new exit is Disability Discrimination Act-compliant as well as compliant for the purposes of fire regulations. Public sector organisations will also have to apply the Equality Act and may be wise to carry out an equality impact assessment for any relevant decision they make as regards access changes
The issues that seem to be in prospect as week six of lockdown ends are endless and some of them are extremely complex and will be with us for a long time to come. But the seriousness of the Coronavirus to our economy actually gives landlords and tenants a common purpose in resolving these difficulties – so that employees can start resuming their duties, tenant businesses can become profitable once again and landlords can continue drawing rents. Working constructively and in dialogue with pragmatic lawyers, the agreed solution, and whatever liabilities may arise from it, can be documented – both for clarity and to avoid costly disputes arising.
If you wish to discuss landlord and tenant issues on a specific property, please contact Oliver Bussell at firstname.lastname@example.org .