Partner Mike Lewis at Sherrards explores the effect of Retail CVAs on landlords.
With consumers reducing their spending on non-essential items, retailers are experiencing a tough trading environment on the high street. Many retailers are entering into Company Voluntary Arrangements (CVAs) to give them some respite. Since 2017, CVA’s have been used by large retailers such as Carpetright, Homebase, and Mothercare to close down a total of 954 stores.
CVAs were introduced to allow a company to continue trading and make an agreement with its creditors to pay back any debts owed over a set period of time. In order for a CVA to be approved, creditors representing 75% of the debt must agree to the proposed terms. Creditors can include employees, trade creditors and also landlord.
However, a vast majority of Landlords have limited options when faced with a CVA, and the recent Debenhams case Discover (Northampton) Limited and others v Debenhams Retail Limited and others  evidences this. The High Court in this case held that “landlords should receive at least the market value of the property he is providing. He should not subsidise other creditors but nor should they be compelled to overcompensate him.”
On 9th May 2019, the Debenhams CVA was approved by 95% of its creditors. The effect of this CVA for landlord’s was store closures, a reduction in the rent, and a release of liability for Debenhams under any dilapidations claims. The CVA also prevented the landlords from exercising any forfeiture rights triggered by the CVA.
A group of landlords opposed to the CVA on five grounds. One of these grounds was that landlords are ‘unfairly prejudiced’ when the rent payable under a lease a lease is reduced. They argued that if Debenhams are in occupation of the property, they should be paying the full amount of rent under the lease, and the reduction of rent would be an expense to the landlord.
The Court rejected this argument on the basis that a few creditors may be “one-off” contracts which reflect the market price. Contrastingly, landlords may have fixed rents in a lease at a historic high figure, or the rent in the lease may increase automatically to exceed the true market rent. It was therefore held that it is not prejudicial to landlords to reduce rents under a CVA. These rents may properly reflect the market price even though the amounts may deviate from the rent in the lease.