How the new leasing code works for Australian retail/office/industrial tenants

How the new leasing code works for Australian retail/office/industrial tenants
How the new leasing code works for Australian retail/office/industrial tenants

The Commonwealth Government has published a set of good faith leasing principles for commercial tenancies including retail, office and industrial.

It is to operate between owners/operators/other landlords and tenants, in circumstances where the tenant is a small-medium sized business is an eligible business for the purpose of the Commonwealth Government’s JobKeeper programme, i.e. seen a 30 percent fall in its turnover.

The national cabinet agreed that there would be a proportionality to rent reductions based on the tenant’s decline in turnover to ensure that the burden is shared between landlords and tenants.

The Code provides a proportionate and measured burden share between the two parties while still allowing tenants and landlords to agree to tailored, bespoke and appropriate temporary arrangements that take account of their particular circumstances.

National Cabinet again noted that it expects Australian and foreign banks along with other financial institutions operating in Australia, to support landlords and tenants with appropriate flexibility as they work to implement the mandatory code.

The Commonwealth Government is also acting as a model landlord by waiving rents for all its small and medium enterprises and not-for-profit tenants within its owned and leased property across Australia.

The new leasing code is mandatory.

But all premises are different, as are their commercial arrangements; it is therefore not possible to form a collective industry position. All parties recognise the intended application, legal constraints and spirit of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010.

The parties will take into account the fact that the risk of default on commercial leases is ultimately (and already) borne by the landlord.

The landlord must not seek to permanently mitigate this risk in negotiating temporary arrangements envisaged under the code.

All leases must be dealt with on a case-by-case basis, considering factors such as whether the SME tenant has suffered financial hardship due to the COVID-19 pandemic; whether the tenant’s lease has expiredor is soon to expire; and whether the tenant is in administration or receivership.

Leases have different structures, different periods of tenure, and different mechanisms for determining rent.

Leases may already be inarrears. Leases may already have expired and be in “hold-over.”

These factors should also be taken into account in formulating any temporary arrangements in line with the code.

1. Landlords must not terminate leases due to non-payment of rent during the COVID-19 pandemic period (or reasonable subsequent recovery period).

2. Tenants must remain committed to the terms of their lease, subject to any amendments to their rental agreement negotiated under this Code. Material failure to abide by substantive terms of their lease will forfeit any protections provided to the tenant under this Code.

3. Landlords must offer tenants proportionate reductions in rent payable in the form of waivers and deferrals (as outlined under “definitions,” below) of up to 100% of the amount ordinarily payable, on a case-by-case basis, based on the reduction in the tenant’s trade during the COVID-19 pandemic period and a subsequent reasonable recovery period.

4. Rental waivers must constitute no less than 50% of the total reduction in rent payable under principle #3 above over the COVID-19 pandemic period and should constitute a greater proportion of the total reduction in rent payablein cases where failure to do so would compromise the tenant’s capacity to fulfil their ongoing obligations under the lease agreement. Regard must also behad to the Landlord’s financial ability to provide such additional waivers.Tenants may waive the requirement for a 50% minimum waiver by agreement.

5. Payment of rental deferrals by the tenant must be amortised over the balance of the lease term and for a period of no less than 24 months, whichever is the greater, unless otherwise agreed by the parties.

6. Any reduction in statutory charges (e.g. land tax, council rates) or insurance will be passed on to the tenant in the appropriate proportion applicable under the terms of the lease.

7. Landlords must not draw on a tenant’s security for the non-payment of rent (be this a cash bond, bank guarantee or personal guarantee) during the period of the COVID-19 pandemic and/or a reasonable subsequent recovery period.

8. The tenant should be provided with an opportunity to extend its lease for an equivalent period of the rent waiver and/or deferral period outlined in item #2 above. This is intended to provide the tenant additional time to trade, on existing lease terms, during the recovery period after the COVID-19 pandemic concludes.

9. Landlords agree to a freeze on rent increases (except for retail leases based on turnover rent) for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic and a reasonable subsequent recovery period, notwithstanding any arrangements between the landlord and the tenant.

Where landlords and tenants cannot reach agreement on leasing arrangements (as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic), the matter should be referred and subjected (by either party) to applicable state or territory retail/commercial leasing dispute resolution processes for binding mediation, including Small Business Commissioners/Champions/Ombudsmen where applicable.

The national cabinet offered a scenario examples of practical variations reflecting the application of the principle of proportionality may include, but are not limited to:

 Qualifying tenants would be provided with cash flow relief in proportion to the loss of turnover they have experienced from the COVID-19 crisis ie. a 60% loss in turnover would result in a guaranteed 60% cashflow relief.

At a minimum, half is provided as rent free/rent waiver for the proportion of which the qualifying tenant’s revenue has fallen.o Up to half could be through a deferral of rent, with this to be recouped over at least 24 months in a manner that is negotiated by the parties

  So if the tenant’s revenue has fallen by 100%, then at least50% of total cash flow relief is rent free/rent waiver and the remainder is a rent deferral. If the qualifying tenant’s revenue has fallen by 30%, then at least 15% of total cash flow relief is rent free/rent waiver and the remainder is rent deferral.

  Care should be taken to ensure that any repayment of the deferred rent does not compromise the ability of the affected SME tenant to recover from the crisis. 

Tags: 
Leasing COVID-19

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