Sympathy for the devil: how cynical behaviour from businesses is unfair both on landlords and on society

Each week living with the Covid-19 pandemic brings a fresh wave of high street casualties as the economic reality takes hold.

Yet, for every genuine business failure for which the impact of Covid has proven too much to bear, there is another using current events as a smokescreen to run from liabilities and invoke an opportunistic restructuring.

That it is commonplace and entirely legal doesn’t mean that it is any more palatable, for this type of activity is never victimless. Suppliers, the Treasury and landlords all stand to lose out, with the latter in the list generally eliciting the least sympathy.

The property industry has often been its own worst enemy when it comes to public perception and few outside it truly understand the role it plays in shaping our towns and cities (for good and bad). As such it should come as no surprise that the prevailing sentiment is that the landlord can afford to take the hit. This is both largely untrue – as said ‘landlords’ are often the pension pots of regular savers – and unhelpful – as it hardly encourages the risk-taking, vision and investment required to make interesting places.

It was refreshing to see @samanthamclary call this out in her EG leader this week, following recent news that landlords of a property syndicate have hit back against preparations by Edinburgh Woollen Mill for administration after months of refusing to pay rent. In a strongly worded-letter the syndicate rejected the retailer’s restructuring plans and suggested its billionaire owners ‘repatriate some capital’ or else return the keys to the properties.

Whether a compromise can be reached remains to be seen but, for the time being, it has at least shone a light on this sharp practice and may encourage others in the industry to be more robust in the face of future threats.​


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