It was quite the weekend for the most bludgeoned of tormented souls. Having heard that they will have to wait another nine months to add leverage to their claims for more than £6 billion of rent arrears, the top of landlords' heads collectively left the rest of their skulls as they threatened to take the Government to court over the extension of the eviction for non-payment of rent moratorium.
This led to us in the NTI newsroom to consider precisely what they would base their claim on.
Breach of contract?
Being idiotic in charge of a country?
Nothing really seems to fit, and it could be they were using hyperbole to make their case, as well as to express that this time they were really, really cross. Whilst that almost equally clobbered group (in the other corner) retailers and the hospitality sector will start paying business rates on their premises, property companies can’t force them to pay their rent. Tenant companies can, however, pay dividends and bonuses to their backers and this has led to some landlords saying their shareholders were being penalised whilst other investors were able to benefit from the long climb out of lockdown. It's a stretch, of course, but is an argument you can have some sympathy with.
Nick Leslau, the owner of Alton Towers doesn't do himself any favours, allowing his name to be adjoined by the suffix 'property entrepreneur', but he said: “The Government has decided who is a preferential creditor." (Also the Government.) "Why don’t they say tenants who don’t pay rent must put a cap on bonuses and dividends? Landlords are being treated as a lower form of life.” Landlords being treated as lower forms of life? Really? No-one has yet accused them of owning JD Sports and, as far as we can see, they aren't presenting breakfast TV either.
However, the debate will run and run, almost certainly beyond March 2022. It is doubtless true that cads such as those at Boots, Superdrug, JD Sports and H&M have taken advantage of the situation and have not been paying their rent which is legally due and it can be argued that this is at the expense of the local authorities, pension funds and savings funds that own a large portion of the high street.
Landlords need the public on their side, as the weight of opinion appears to be against them. They are more wicked queen than Dopey, and the soundbites come easy when Jo Public blocks landlords into the same group as those who won't answer their calls about a leaky roof or malfunctioning washing machine. We in the NTI newsroom are not sure that the 'your pension fund will be affected by this move' argument is going to catch hold, bearing in mind that the average person on the street has less than £100 in savings.
As we said, this story is set to run and run.