Commercial Office Lease - landlord changed the locks. Help!

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    Commercial Office Lease - landlord changed the locks. Help!

    Hello,

    Alas, small business struggling to make payments.... It’s a well trodden subject at present, I’m sure.

    We have a licence agreement for a small ‘suite’ (office) in a building. We owe the rent for the period 24th Feb to 23rd March onwards. (We were late with previous payments but caught up in January - been a tough year, getting worse!)

    On 24th March the landlord changed the locks which seemed rather aggressive considering we only owed one rental period at that point.

    Since then they’ve added lock change charges and overdue fees, and also billed us for April and May rent. I've had an email exchange back and forth with them and they add a £50 admin fee each time.

    The agreement isn’t particularly clear, it states 20 weeks’ notice if we wish to cancel or 12 weeks if the operator gives 1 week’s notice. It does not refer to lock changing or restricting access. I do have an email from them when the lease started saying if we wished to terminate we would need to give 12 weeks notice, so hopefully that stands.

    I can’t find anything useful (that my non-legal and not so bright brain can identify) to help me. Right now, we're struggling for money and would rather end the lease and work from home/elsewhere.

    * can we cancel the contract and do we have to give 20 weeks notice/payment?
    * does a landlord lock change constitute termination?
    * can we forfeit deposit (2 months lease) in lieu of owed rent?
    * do we have any rights to gain entry and retrieve belongings?
    * do we still have to pay if we can no longer gain access?

    It’s hard to know where we stand, what we should pay and if/ what we are liable for. I know we owe them money, and have tried to come to some sort of agreement, but my emails are being responded to quite aggressively and they won't seem to acknowledge my requests to cancel the contract, and just seem to be adding charges.

    Any advice and wisdom greatly (really really greatly!) appreciated!

    Fee

    #2
    Originally posted by Fee147 View Post
    On 24th March the landlord changed the locks which seemed rather aggressive considering we only owed one rental period at that point.
    My only experience of commercial tenancies is some garages I let out. Whether it is aggressive or not depends on the circumstances -- there is a vast difference between being late with rent and blanking the landlord - versus being in full communication. If a garage tenant omitted a payment and then failed to respond to E-mails/texts/or answer the phone -- I would lock them out and get quite cross. Otherwise I might be kindly.

    Not sure why you expect kindly responses if you have not, at the very least, paid what you owe. You may need to sell your good to do that.

    I would have thought locking you out means you do not have to pay rent.

    The landlord doesn't seem to know what they are doing either -- if they want to lock you out I think that has to be coupled with termination of the tenancy and them potentially selling your goods if you refuse to remove them. Have you offered to remove your goods and to sell them to refund the landlord?

    Comment


      #3
      Yes - (Juggling funds) i’ve emailed several times offering to pay the £698 arrears, plus the 24th March to 23rd April £810 licence fee and also any utilities owed. They have a deposit of two months which they could retain for notice.

      I’ve spent 2 weeks asking to terminate and for a final statement. I’m getting nowhere, they just respond angrily adding more £50 charges and ignoring my request to terminate.

      The sticking point seems to be whether or not a lock change reasonable and if that implies forfeiture or if they can expect the contract to keep going (even now when i keep asking to cancel).

      Meanwhile I can’t gain access to the office.....



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        #4
        Yup -- "offering" to pay outstanding rent over several months, and not actually doing so, is bound to irritate.

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          #5
          Absolutely. I hear what you're saying, and I'm not suggesting we've done the right thing! Sadly, financially things have been tough but that's not the landlord's problem, of course.

          But changing the locks on the 24th March for (a partcpaid) licence fee up to the 23rd March has not exactly helped. Neither has sending emails, adding £50 charges for doing so and completely avoiding my request to terminate hasn't helped either.

          I just really wanted some advice to know if a lock change can be seen as forfeiture or if I have to pay notice from when they (finally) accept notice?

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            #6
            As a Landlord we took advice from a solicitor (paid for advice). Commercial tenant was not paying rent. Tenant in breach because he has not paid rent. Therefore landlord can change locks but lease terminates at that point. But Landlord can not hold tenants belongings as ransom. We legally had to arrange to let the tenant back in to remove his stuff (at which point he took the opportunity to leave deep scratches on a new floor by dragging huge floor standing copiers across the floor). Great experience!

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              #7
              That's awful! Why would a tenant do that?! That is just childish and vindictive, especially from a commercial tenant. I'm sorry you had to deal with that.

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                #8
                As someone with some commercial property this does seem harsh on the face of it - these are strange times and we all have to be more understanding. THe £50 charge per communication is awful and probably not legal? I would have tried to work with you (within reason) and hopefully we could have come to some arrangement to pay off arrears on a strict timescale. The LL is unlikely to find a new occupier at this time anyway. I do not know the legality of the situation and would suggest seeing a specialist solicitor (more money) or perhaps try the SWARB legal forum?
                Unshackled by the chains of idle vanity, A modest manatee, that's me

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