In an effort to slow the spread of coronavirus, more than half of states in the U.S. have enacted policies to close nonessential businesses. The consequences of having to pay rent--typically one of retailers' biggest expenses--for spaces that are not open for business is too big a blow to sustain for the many retailers already in dire straits.
While many cities and states have responded by putting a moratorium on both residential and commercial evictions, these forced closures have led to a lot of negotiating between retail tenants and landlords. It's not ideal, but if you find yourself in this increasingly common scenario, here are some things to keep in mind as you approach rent negotiations.
1. Treat landlords like long-term partners.
Asking to break the terms of your rental agreement is no small favor but landlords would rather have a struggling tenant with a good record than a vacancy. Play the long game. Ask for a temporary deferment or reduction in rent and spread it out over the remainder of the lease.
Landlords understand the challenges retailers are currently facing. They may have multiple tenants in the same boat and know it's unlikely they will find new tenants during this difficult time. Be clear that the agreement you're negotiating is temporary and for the good of the relationship in the long term.
2. Communicate your plan.
As a retail business owner, it's important that you show your landlord you have a plan and what that path looks like moving forward. Communicate the efforts you've taken, and continue to take, to avoid being delinquent on rent. They key here is that you really must take the all the steps necessary to exhaust your options to secure financial support. Be sure to also convey your intent to come up with a repayment plan when the dust has settled.
3. Pay if you can.
If you can pay your rent, you should. But for many retailers, paying rent simply isn't feasible right now, and that's why eviction moratoriums exist. If you can't pay the entire rent but can afford some payment, come up with a temporary agreement with your landlord (and get it in writing). At a time like this, they'll appreciate the effort to hold up at least part of your financial obligation.
4. If you can't, look for government support and loans.
The U.S. government recently passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to help support businesses, families, and individuals during the coronavirus crisis. The bill allocates $350 billion to help small businesses maintain employees and give them capital to keep things running.
The emergency loans provision of the CARES Act, also known as the Paycheck Protection Program, lets small businesses borrow as much as $10 million with an interest rate no higher than 4 percent. These loans, backed by the Small Business Administration (SBA), can be forgiven if your company meets certain conditions.
The CARES Act also expands the existing Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDLs) program. These loans aren't new; however, this is the first time a virus or pandemic event has been defined as a disaster. EIDLs smaller than $200,000 can be approved without a personal guarantee. This loan program also offers up to a $10,000 emergency cash advance that may not need to be paid back.
Try to keep in mind that you're all playing for the same team. Landlords don't want to lose tenants, as doing so will put their properties at risk for storefront vacancies that may very well stay that way long after this pandemic has ended. Approach these tough conversations with a problem-solving mentality and the goal of coming up with solutions that benefit both parties as much as possible.