Leasehold Dilapidations – how to prepare and protect yourself
Many GPs are apprehensive about becoming a named tenant on a leasehold surgery. There are of course a number of liabilities that could be imposed on a tenant under a lease, and you may have read our previous blogs on the subject of last man standing and the importance of agreeing a break-clause. Another issue to consider is the obligation to maintain and repair the premises both during and at the end of the lease term. Almost all surgery leases will impose an obligation on the tenant to repair the premises to some degree or another. ‘Dilapidations’ is the terminology used when a landlord seeks to enforce the repairing lease obligations.
When might the dilapidation liability occur?
In practice, most leases allow the landlord to serve a schedule of dilapidations on a tenant at any time during the lease term. This is because the tenant’s obligation to repair the premises is an ongoing obligation. If the premises are starting to fall into disrepair and the tenant is not complying with their lease terms to maintain them, the landlord needs the ability to force the process during the lease term. Whilst this right exists in most leases, unless there are significant ongoing problems relating to the tenant’s lack of maintenance in practice it is not often used by a landlord. It is far more common for a landlord to be concerned about repairing obligations when the lease is coming to an end. At this point, the landlord’s mind will be on future tenants and the rent they might achieve: the better the condition of the premises, the more valuable they are and the easier it will be for the landlord to charge a higher rent. They will therefore look at whatever rights they have available to them to improve the condition of the premises.
How much is it likely to cost?
The extent of your liability as tenant will depend on how your lease is drawn-up. For example, some leases may limit the tenant’s repairing obligation to keeping it in no better a state of condition than it was at the start of the lease term. Other leases may be what we call a ‘full repairing lease’, in which case the obligation is to repair all parts of the premises whether or not you caused that disrepair in the first place. Before you enter into a lease, it is very important to assess at the outset what your likely dilapidation liability may be at the end of the lease. You should seek legal and surveyor’s advice, so you understand the condition of the premises and what the language in the lease will mean in terms of your obligation to repair.
Be aware that dilapidation settlements are inevitably a horse trade between the landlord and the tenant. In our experience, a landlord will often seek to recover more in the first instance than they are entitled to and use this as a negotiating position to work down from. There are also important protections at law for tenants that can in some instances cap the amount they are required to pay. If you do receive a dilapidations demand from your landlord, you should consider taking surveyor’s advice as to whether the amount is appropriate and legal advice to establish whether the sum has been lawfully demanded.
How to manage the risk
Understanding your leasehold obligations will allow you to plan as a business how to avoid large and unwelcome bills from the landlord. It is good advice to accrue an amount year on year towards the costs of these liabilities. You may do this by setting up a sinking fund, into which each Partner contributes an agreed amount towards future dilapidations. You will need to set out how the sinking fund is created and managed in your Partnership Deed, so do make sure you have an up to date Partnership Deed that allows you to do this. A sinking fund also helps mitigate the risk of partners seeking to avoid a large dilapidations bill by retiring just before the end of the lease term.
In some circumstances, some of the dilapidations liability may be reimbursed through your CCG. This may be paid by way of a top-up element to your monthly rent reimbursement , in which case it is prudent to pay such sums straight into a sinking fund so it is available when you might need it. Funding may also be available at the end of a lease term, particularly where you are relocating to alternative premises with the support of the CCG.
Be prepared – adopting some relatively simple financial management during a lease term can pay dividends at the end. Make sure your partnership deed is up to date and documents how dilapidations costs will be shared and financed. Finally, if you do receive a dilapidations demand from your landlord: don’t panic; don’t just agree it at face value; and always seek professional advice.
If you have any questions on dilapidations or any other NHS premises related queries, please contact Daphne Robertson on 01483 511555 email firstname.lastname@example.org