The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is consulting on proposals to allow people to return to work in offices and shops. Although final recommendations are not yet known…
… any return is likely to be subject to social distancing measures.
This raises new challenges, and employers, building managers, landlords and tenants will need to co-operate to put any measures in place.
Here are some of things that landlords and tenants may need to consider:
Physical Alterations to Workplaces
Measures are likely to require physical changes to workplaces, such as new screens, dividers and floor markings. Some changes may be more substantial, such as the installation of partitioning walls or the redirection of conduits to create separated workstations. Tenants will need to consider what consents they need to make any of these changes, and also whether they can be undone in the future without the need for further consent.
Division of Common Areas
Many buildings include common areas, such as waiting rooms, lobbies, lifts and stairs. Landlords and tenants will need to consider whether conditions can be imposed or agreed for the use of these common areas to preserve social distancing. This may, for example, include reserving certain staircases for certain groups, setting up dividers in other common areas, or banning use of certain areas entirely.
The public has become accustomed to more regular hand washing. It is likely that workplaces will also need to be cleaned more frequently to tackle the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19), including deep cleans at regular intervals and more frequent rubbish and refuse collection. Landlords and tenants will need to agree who should be responsible for any additional hygiene and who should bear the costs.
Coronavirus Advice for Commercial Properties
Hours of Use
The Government has suggested that workers stagger their times of work, to minimise contact between individuals. Landlords and tenants will need to consider whether agreed hours of use need to be extended and other services (such as cleaning) rearranged to accommodate. All parties will need to make sure that any changes to working patterns do not breach any planning conditions or covenants affecting the land.
Mandatory Measures and Recommendations
Many leases require parties to comply with regulations or recommendations made by public authorities or by insurers. In such cases, the parties will need to make sure that they follow those recommendations. In the case of conflict between requirements and other terms of the lease, the parties will need to consider (and if unclear, agree) which will prevail.
Many leases also allow landlords to impose other measures on use of the property, often in line with good estate management. Landlords and tenants should consider whether any other measures, such as the mandatory use of masks within the building, should be agreed for the mutual benefit of all.
Landlords and tenants are encouraged to work together to find ways to keep workers safe on their return. Where lease terms need to be relaxed, landlords and tenants should be realistic about what they can expect and for how long those measures may continue. It is good practice to record any agreements reached or measures imposed, and the reasons for them, so that they remain clear when in force and can be undone or explained in the future.