As lockdown continues to ease and businesses look to invite staff back into the office, landlords and tenants of multi-occupancy offices will need to work together to ensure the safe re-occupation of everyone with minimal disruption.
Commercial Property Solicitor, Jenna Allsop reviews some of the immediate practical and legal points that both landlords and tenants need to be considering in order to reduce the workplace risks of Covid-19.
Should I be aware of what my tenant/landlord are doing to make the workplace Covid-safe?
Yes. Health and safety legislation places responsibilities on both landlords and tenants to eliminate or control risks in respect of their employees and visitors to their premises. Many of these will be shared or common interest responsibilities and will require both parties to work together.
As an employer/tenant what am I required to do?
Each employer must complete a full Covid-19 risk assessment and make this available to all staff. These should be shared between building management and tenants in order for them to work together to share and develop plans which ensure the safe return to work for all occupiers and visitors (not just their own staff). Tenants should share their plans for reoccupation (including those of their sub-tenants) with the building management or landlord along with a copy of their risk assessment.
Tenants should also consider how social distancing might impact access for their employees and visitors and be prepared to revise their risk assessments as occupations within a building increase.
As a commercial landlord what am I required to do?
In multi occupancy buildings, commercial landlords generally retain responsibility for the communal parts of a property. Consideration needs to be given by the landlord on how people can gain safe access to and from the property whilst maintaining social distancing measures. Some areas in particular that need careful management are:
- Car parking
- Reception areas
- Lifts & stairs
- Communal facilities such as toilets, kitchens, changing & shower areas
Are there any legal issues with changing the use of communal areas?
Before making changes to communal areas, landlords need to assess the impact on the rights granted to tenants in their leases. Leases will not always allow landlords to remove or re-designate these areas or allow landlords or tenants to appropriate communal parts for their own use.
Given the unprecedented times we are in, being flexible and prepared to temporarily agree to the closure of showers or small meeting rooms (for example), will ensure both parties comply with the necessary health and safety obligations and can re-open safely.
What practical issues are there when preparing a building for reoccupation?
If a building or space has been unoccupied during the pandemic, landlords and tenants should ensure that an appropriate level of planned maintenance has been undertaken. Thought should be given to any additional actions that are required prior to occupiers returning to work such as:
- Deep clean of communal parts/office spaces
- Increased levels of regular cleaning
- Increased security/reception staff presence
- New signage to help visitors implement new policies
- Service of air conditioning systems
- Water systems
Both landlords and tenants should be checking with their insurers for any new requirements they have or intend to issue. Most leases require tenant compliance with the requirements of a landlord’s insurer.
Does a tenant need approval for its alterations and signage?
Being Covid-19 secure will, in most cases, require some tenant alterations. Some of those alterations will require landlord’s approval and commonly, where those alterations are internal and non-structural, that consent should not be unreasonably withheld or delayed. Delay will be a key factor here and to avoid disputes, both parties should ensure there are clear and responsive lines of communication.
Our lives, both work and personal, have been turned upside down in the past few months. As such it is vital that we all work together to get back to business and help the UK economy in any way we can. If you are a commercial landlord or a tenant that needs advice on what is required of them at this time to be Covid-19 secure please get in touch with our Commercial Property Solicitor, Jenna Allsop on 01225 750000 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. We are here to help you and your business move forward safely.