By Alan McLaren

IF I could offer just one piece of advice to anyone involved in discussions about how they’re affected by consequences of coronavirus, it would be this: Be straight with the person on the other side.

The need for people to talk has never been greater. Only by working together can we get through the once almost-unimaginable problems with which we’re now faced.

Putting your head in the sand is pointless. The Covid-19 outbreak has brought each of us different challenges. Facing up to these with a real-world view and looking at the big picture will go a long way towards seeing us through to the other side.

This applies as much to those in the world of commercial property, in which I work, as it does anywhere else. Tenants – and, in turn, landlords – will each undoubtedly face cashflow issues which will affect how they’re able to do business.

My colleagues and I operate in an environment where new coronavirus legislation means everything has changed, yet nothing has changed. Where tenants used to have 14 days to settle any arrears of rent or service charges before a landlord can terminate a lease, they now have 14 weeks.

We need to take a broader view, however, than simply what the law says – and every consideration has conversation at its core.

The lightbulb moment on this came for me while talking to colleagues in our employment team. As people’s worlds turned upside down, there were employers who were worried about talking to employees about what was happening and employees who were terrified of raising queries about how they will be affected. Things improved as soon as they started talking.

The same is true in commercial property. From what I am seeing, we have tenants who are waiting to hear from landlords and landlords who are waiting to hear from tenants. All the while time is passing and few people are considering what they need to achieve as payment dates approach.

Neither landlords or tenants want to end up in a legal dispute because that date is reached and payment’s not possible. Nobody wins in that situation.

Both sides need honest conversations. If a tenant fears they are going to run into problems paying rent, they need to say sooner rather than later. They’re likely to get a more sympathetic ear if they do this rather than stop payments.

My experience is that most landlords are willing to talk. People appreciate being on the front foot. A major consideration for them, however, is if they can’t have 12 months’ rent in the next year, could they live with eight months’ or six months’? If you’ve someone on a 10-year lease, would you rather have nine-and-a-half years’ rent than lose an otherwise good tenant?

Yet while I would advise landlords not to go in too hard, tenants need to not lay things on with a trowel. That will just sour relationships and store up problems down the line. It all comes back to honesty.

It’s in everyone’s interests to do what we can to ensure the economy emerges from coronavirus as strongly as possible. It’s all about people on opposite sides of the seesaw trying to find a balance – that’s the same whether you’re negotiating property or anything else in life at this time. But nothing can be fixed if people don’t talk.

Alan McLaren is a Partner in the Commercial Property team at Lindsays