The economic damage caused to the high street by the current lockdown is causing tenants to put a new proposal to their landlords: let us pay by rent according to our turnover or take back the keys to the property.
A lot of retail shop property in the USA is let on that basis. When times are good and there is inflation in the system it works in the landlords’ favour. But during deflation the landlord opts for a fixed rent with a review every three or five years.
Betting shop operators and casinos could offer rent payments based on what? Turnover? Not likely. Gross win, gross win after tax? How would the landlord know if the operator had declared the right amount?
Rent is not the only fixed cost for the betting shop. The costs of live sports, payable to SIS, are very often higher than the rent paid to landlords.
There are clear attractions for the operator to have expenses rise and fall with income. It is, after all, the basis of corporation taxation. Such a move would help mitigate against closures. Paying a fixed rent when you have fewer customers is a nightmare for any businesses.
Sports Direct, according to The Sunday Times, is on to it already. Theo Paphitis formerly of Dragons Den and owner of Ryman and Robert Dyas said, “Turnover rents are the only way forward now. Landlords are going to have to get real on this or they will have more empty shops.”
Larg companies, too, are reviewing their commercial office space. The Chief Executive of Barclays Bank, Jes Staley, told reporters on 27 April that packing offices with 7,000 people is a thing of the past.
He said it was “remarkable” that 70,000 Barclays staff were now working remotely, showing that it was possible to keep a complex organisation like a bank going even when not all located in one place. Barclays could use its bank branch network as mini-offices, Staley said, suggesting call centre workers and even investment bankers could be based out of branches.
Landlords are in an unenviable position. They can accept a lower return or an empty shop. Demand on the High Street has evaporated to the extent that the operators now just don’t care whether they open or not.
Perhaps a way forward would be for landlords to be flexible, take a drop for two years before reverting to the terms of the previously agreed lease. Rent could be collected as a percentage of the betting or gaming tax paid to the tax authorities. If the returns to landlords are fudged then prison awaits for fudging the tax return.
One recalls Polonius in Hamlet: “Neither a borrower nor a lender be; For loan oft loses both itself and friend.” Today one could say neither a landlord or fixed renter be – the latter could send you bankrupt.
Written by Warwick Bartlett