MANY high street businesses have been thrown a lifeline by a government move to prevent them from being evicted for rent arrears, it has been claimed.

Commercial tenants had originally been protected until June 30 from forfeiture of commercial leases over unpaid rent – but the measure has now been extended until the end of September.

Laura Offer, property dispute solicitor at Steele Raymond Solicitors in Bournemouth, said the move was “likely to be a game-changer for high street businesses gearing up to reopen”.

She said: “Whilst a general spirit of fairness and tolerance seems to have been embraced by most during these unprecedented times, there remains a minority of landlords who have less patience, and once the moratorium on forfeiture expires any tenant in arrears of any rent will be immediately at risk of abruptly losing their premises.

“The government has recognised that imploring landlords to be reasonable, but permitting them to forfeit their tenants’ lease if they don’t want to be, does not give commercial tenants the peace of mind they need to reopen with confidence.”

She said many tenants feared paying another quarter’s rent would be “unachievable” when they were spending money on making their premises Covid secure, at the same time as income was likely to be low.

“The news is likely to frustrate many landlords, and none more so than those of defaulting tenants whose businesses have been unaffected by the pandemic,” she said.

“The protection legislation does not discriminate between tenants who have had to cease trading and those whose income have been unaffected, and its therefore ripe for abuse by tenants who wish to exploit the statutory protection even though they may not need it.

“Unfortunately, there is no quick-fix for landlords in those circumstances. The saving grace which landlords – and tenants, for that matter – should bear in mind is that this legislation does not grant tenants a waiver of their rent liability, and it must all be paid eventually – usually with interest on top.”

Many tenants now owe money for the quarter which ended in June on top of the March quarter.

Ms Offer added; “Crucially, the extension of this protection means that we are unlikely to see much changed in our high streets for the next few months at least, which is good news all round. A thriving high street protects jobs, maintains footfall and encourages healthy competition for the consumers, which is why this legislation has been seen as so key.”

But she said tenants who took advantage of the moratorium were “likely to be playing catch-up for some time”.