It has been just over a year now since the end of lockdown, though it may sometimes feel much longer. Returning to work in the office is still somewhat of a hot topic, as a result, with companies and organisations working towards bringing their employees back in.
There is an obligation to return to the office where an employer requires you to do so, and your normal workplace is the office, but there is a duty of care owed by the employer to ensure that everything is safe as far as possible The Health and Safety at Work Act of 1974 mandates that some businesses must ensure that their workers are provided with a risk-free environment to work in. This indicates that companies would need to take measures to reduce the danger of Covid-19 transmission in the workplace. The UK government has set out guidance for employers, workforce managers, and people who are managing a workplace or organisation. We attach a link which you may find helpful to the guidance provided by the government Reducing the spread of respiratory infections, including COVID-19, in the workplace – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
There are many employees who remain working on a remote basis, but for many employees they have returned to the office for at least one day a week. Many are, however, questioning any need to ‘return back to the office’ where they have proven during the pandemic that they were able to carry out their terms of employment on a remote basis. Equally, some businesses for whom having an office space was essential in the past, are now reconsidering their positions.
With flexible working and hybrid working becoming the norm, many are asking “Is it really necessary to have a big commercial space?” With flexible working options, many have found that their need for large office space and a desk for every person working is in actuality, not a necessary cost. Once filled premises are now beginning to look empty with the myriad of working options available. It is understandable if you, as a commercial tenant, are considering your options. Our commercial property team at Tiger Law are happy to assist you in reviewing your commercial lease to assess the options available to you and we can advise on:
- Whether there is a break clause within your lease. This is where the lease offers either both parties or one party to end the lease early in certain circumstances. If there is a break clause and this is exercised correctly, this will allow you to end your lease early, leaving you free to look for an alternative place to let if required or place you in a better bargaining position with your landlord if a smaller area to let is required;
- Whether you have an option to sub-let the whole or part of your premises and what this will entail. Normally the landlords consent will be required for this. You will need to be willing to take on the role of a landlord and managing your tenant;
- Assigning your lease, this is where you pass your lease on to another who will take your position as tenant. You will need to find a potential new tenant yourself. It is important to note that the assignment of a lease to a new tenant does not automatically exempt you from all liabilities related to that tenancy going forwards. Once the lease assignment is complete you may still be liable should the new tenant miss any payments or otherwise break the terms of their lease. Exactly what you will be liable for depends on when your lease began. If your lease began before January 1996 you will remain liable for all payments by any subsequent tenants – even if the lease is assigned several more times after you. This is called “privity of contract”. Where the lease began after January 1996, you will be required to sign an Authorised Guarantee Agreement. This means you guarantee payments for the next tenant, but not any further tenants.
- Agreeing to surrender your lease early, this is usually the least favourable option to pursue as you will still be contractually obliged to pay all of the rent due under the remaining term of the lease. You may be able to negotiate terms which are more favourable to you provided the landlord is willing to agree. This will allow you to be released from your obligations under the lease if the surrender is carried out correctly.
Ending your lease early can be a complicated process, whichever option you decide to choose. Contacting a solicitor at an early stage is advisable so that you can obtain the appropriate legal advice in a timely manner of the key considerations and potential pitfalls of the decision you take.
Ghazala Mahmood our commercial property Associate at Tiger Law has over 15 years experience in advising commercial property clients. Ghazala offers remote meetings via telephone or video conferencing. Contact her to help you with your commercial property needs on 01622 804 077 or on email@example.com