If you are a commercial tenant and your landlord is for any reason threatening to forfeit your lease, it is crucial that you take legal advice without delay. In a case on point, the High Court came to the aid of a tenant whose shop premises were repossessed due to a mistaken delay in paying a few hundred pounds in rent.
The tenant was unaware that the rent paid in respect of the shop in one quarter was £500 short. As they were legally entitled to do, his landlords forfeited the lease and employed the services of bailiffs to re-enter the property. The tenant paid the missing £500 shortly afterwards but a delay of more than four months ensued before he launched proceedings, seeking relief from forfeiture.
Following a hearing, a judge described as very harsh and unyielding the landlords' albeit lawful decision to forfeit a lease that still had 10 years to run. The amount of arrears was relatively small and it had only been outstanding for a short period. In refusing the tenant's application, however, she noted his delay in seeking relief.
Upholding the tenant's appeal against that outcome and granting the relief sought, the Court noted that, although the landlords had acted strictly in accordance with their legal rights, human factors are relevant to the wide judicial discretion to grant relief from forfeiture. In cases where all rent and expenses due have ultimately been paid or tendered, relief should, save in exceptional circumstances, be granted. In seeking such relief within six months, the tenant had acted with reasonable promptitude.