Small businesses in Woolwich have been threatened with legal action over non-payment of rent during the coronavirus pandemic, leaving some tenants being prescribed sleeping pills due to the stress.
Citibase, which manages serviced offices at Gunnery House in the the Royal Arsenal development, suspended services and threatened court action if tenants couldn’t pay their rent.
According to a letter seen by the Local Democracy Reporting Service, one business was told services had been cut off and county court proceedings would start after the owner was unable to pay rent following lockdown. The letter from Citibase states the firm would pursue outstanding costs, as well as court fees, interest and solicitors costs, if payment was not received within a week.
More than 90 businesses are based in the building. Most are small companies ranging from single-employee law firms to yoga studios.
Citibase would not confirm how many businesses have been threatened with legal action over unpaid rent, but it is understood to be in the dozens. Some companies are understood to have already declared bankruptcy.
One business owner, who asked to remain anonymous, said: “Right now I’m so stressed I’ve been given sleeping pills by the doctors. My blood pressure is so high…As a customer facing business we are losing money every day and to get no support from the landlord is just the final straw. I don’t even know where to start, all I want is just a little help until I can get back on my feet.”
Kemi Madumerem, the managing director of Compass Domiciliary and Supported Living, which is based at Gunnery House, said business owners had been “left out of the loop” by estate agents and criticised the lack of communication to struggling companies at the site.
“We haven’t heard anything on what they can do to help – it was just a demand for rent and late charges,” she said.
She said the shock of the lockdown – which saw her business’s income suddenly dry up – was compounded by a “lack of response apart from the demand for rent”.
“It’s one thing to come through this, but what about after – am I still going to be taken to court and have legal fees on top?” she said.
“I just find it remarkable they haven’t done anything to work with us through this very difficult time.”
While the government has made sure commercial tenants cannot be evicted for three months, it has not imposed any rules to prevent legal action against businesses over non-payment.
‘We will help where we can’
Citibase declined to confirm how many businesses at the site were threatened with legal action. It also would not confirm if it was acting on behalf of Gunnery Property Ltd, which owns the site.
Steve Jude, the chief executive of Citibase, said the firm, which operates across the UK, was a “small business” itself, and was forced to furlough staff during the pandemic.
“Whilst issuing payment reminders is part of normal operating procedure, we can assure all our customers that there will be no evictions during this difficult time,” he said.
“As a small business ourselves, which has been supporting SMEs for over 27 years, we have had to furlough some staff, including those in this particular centre – so there may have been difficulties regarding communication lines.”
Mr Jude said “any customers with concerns are encouraged to contact ceo[at]citibase.co.uk and we will work out a solution and help where we can”.
He added Citibase would also call “every single customer in this centre this morning to see if we can help”.
- Official figures on virus spread
- Official info: Government | Greenwich | Lewisham | Bexley
- Volunteer to help your neighbours: Greenwich | Lewisham | Bexley | NHS
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- NHS advice | Stay at home | Wash your hands more often
Lachlan Leeming is the Local Democracy Reporter for Bexley. The Local Democracy Reporter Service is a BBC-funded initiative to ensure councils are covered properly in local media.
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