A Business in Difficulty Can Terminate its Property Leases and be Fair to Landlords

In April 2009 the retailer JJB successfully proposed a CVA designed to save 250 stores and 12,000 jobs. It has become the model for subsequent CVAs in the retail sector.

The proposal included closing 140 unprofitable stores but made available a fund of £10m for the landlord creditors of these premises, equating to a payment of approximately six months rent and JJB also made a significant compromise in bearing the substantial costs of the business rates of the unprofitable stores.

No leases were ‘torn up’ by the CVA and it was left to individual landlords to decide whether they wished to accept a surrender, consent to an assignment or forfeit the lease. The landlords as a group recognised that there was a substantial risk that JJB would go into administration, with a loss of their payments of rent or business rates for the closed stores and appreciated being consulted in a transparent process and being offered a genuine compromise.

It often happens that the core of a struggling business is viable and it need not go into administration if it can be restructured to focus on the parts that are profitable.

That can be beneficial to the creditors too, because they will then see some return on what they are owed, as the above example illustrates. In many cases the creditors will include landlords who own the property or properties from which the business is trading.

The forced termination of a lease can only be done by a liquidator following a company’s liquidation. If a company goes into administration and is sold the Administrator can also force termination of those leases no longer required.

However, in the JJB illustration negotiation with the landlords to terminate some leases was made possible by proving to them how much they would receive in the event of a liquidation and showing that the alternative offer set up using a Company Voluntary Arrangement (CVA) was better than liquidation.

Forcing a change in the terms of a lease is extremely difficult and the courts will want to test whether or not a landlord has been treated fairly as a creditor in a CVA, regarded as vertical and horizontal tests.

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