Timeline of S'pore mall landlords vs tenants this Covid-19 pandemic

Tenants are using this pandemic to level the playing field.

Belmont Lay | May 26, 2020, 04:54 AM

Feb. 7

Dorscon Orange announced.

By Feb. 11, several countries had warned its citizens about coming to Singapore.

Feb. 13

A day before Valentine's Day, restaurant operators in Singapore were already prepared for revenue to drop 80 per cent.

At that time, Singapore only had 50 confirmed Covid-19 cases.

The Restaurant Association of Singapore (RAS) wrote to 24 major shopping mall landlords requesting for a temporary cut in rent that day.

They were hoping for a 50 per cent rebate for three months.

It was revealed at that time that rent and wages typically make up for more than half of a restaurant’s operating cost here.

Profitability of restaurateurs has been low at about 1.7 per cent even before the virus outbreak, one other eye-popping fact emerged then.

Despite the request for help, none of the landlords committed to a rental rebate.

Only Jewel Changi Airport reached out to its tenants with a 50 per cent rent rebate for February and March.

Andrew Tjioe, founder of the Tung Lok chain of restaurants, sounded the alarm that businesses were going to fold if rentals were not slashed.

Feb. 18

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat announced in his Budget speech on Feb. 18 that landlords of private commercial properties would be granted a 15 per cent property tax rebate.

Feb 21

In a meeting with the Restaurant Association of Singapore (RAS), which was also attended by representatives of Enterprise Singapore and the Singapore Retailers Association, CapitaLand had promised rental rebates of 50 per cent for its F&B tenants.

But this was subsequently not even fulfilled by March 2.

Feb. 24

Several major landlords started to announce measures to help tenants -- but were seen as piecemeal efforts.

CapitaLand, a SGX-listed property giant, said it would release one month’s worth of security deposits to offset rental payments for the month of March, as well as other forms of support, such as flexible rental payments and a one-time rental rebate of up to half a month for eligible tenants.

March 2

The Restaurant Association of Singapore (RAS) said it is “deeply disappointed” with landlords for not following through with their earlier announcements of rental rebates for tenants.

Many food and beverage (F&B) businesses “have yet to receive any offers or confirmation” of these rebates, while some tenants received less than what was promised, RAS said in a statement to the media.

Only four landlords -- Jewel Changi, Changi Airport Group, JTC and NParks -- sent written notices on rental rebates to their tenants, while “all other landlords and mall owners have been slow to react”, said the association.

Several F&B operators in CapitaLand’s urban malls have said that they have only been offered rebates of 10 per cent, while those at Clarke Quay have been offered 15 per cent, RAS said.

For those operating in CapitaLand’s suburban malls, “no rental rebates have been granted”, it added

CapitaLand responded that it was still in the process then of reviewing its portfolio of 3,500 leases and aimed to complete this by the end of March.

CapitaLand also said it granted rental rebates of 20 per cent to 30 per cent over two months to eligible tenants in its downtown malls.

Some of the other mall operators said they will pass on the 15 per cent property tax rebate to all qualifying businesses across its retail portfolio.

March 5

The call for rental rebates among mall tenants intensified.

Rent accounts for more than half the operating cost, one retailer in a mall revealed.

At this stage, very little details were provided for retailers regarding what measures mall operators were going to take to help out.

Assuming that landlords passed on the full 15 per cent property tax rebate to tenants, this amount would only be equivalent to about five days of rental rebates.

At that stage, mall operators were utilising other measures, such as offering free parking for shoppers and reduced atrium rental rates, to draw crowds back.

March 31

Landlords and tenants must share both the pain and the benefits, in good times and bad, said Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing on March 31.

This message was geared more to the landlords than to the tenants.

By end-March, it was clear that the government was stepping in to right some wrongs and force some hands in the current landlord-tenant model.

April 7

New legislation was introduced after a section of the Covid-19 (Temporary Measures) Bill was passed.

Property owners have to pass on the property tax rebates to their tenants in the form of monetary payment or reduction in rentals in a timely manner and without conditions.

Failure to properly pass on the rebate or to keep a proper record is also an offence and face fines of up to S$5,000.

Owners of non-residential properties are granted the property tax rebate of 30 per cent, 60 per cent or 100 per cent depending on the nature of the property.

In total, the 2020 property tax rebate would cover about 135,000 property tax accounts, including 33,000 property tax accounts for about 360 retail malls.

This is a major step-up from the initial 15 to 30 per cent property tax rebate announced in Budget 2020 in February, and will cover hotels, serviced apartments, tourist attractions, shops and restaurants.

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said the new law does not make these property owners worse-off.

Some property owners, such as Mapletree Commercial Trust, have even gone further, by giving their tenants more than the property tax rebate that they receive.

The government gave a rental waiver of up to three months for government-owned properties, which helps about 36,000 tenants.

The government has in less than two months released three Budget statements - Unity, Resilience and Solidarity.

April 28

Malls extended their rental rebates for tenants following the extension of the circuit breaker period to June 1 and the tightening on essential services.

Some mall operators were more generous than others.

City Developments Limited (CDL), for example, gave retail tenants 100 per cent rental rebates in April and May, 50 per cent in June and 30 per cent in July.

SPH Reit, which manages malls such as Paragon and Clementi Mall, granted rental rebates for February and March, and publicised that its manager's board of directors would take a 10 per cent cut of their directors' fees from April.

All four mall operators have said that the full amount of the government's enhanced property tax rebate will be passed on to its tenants.

This includes 100 per cent of the property tax rebate for qualifying retail property tenants.

May 21

Retail and F&B tenants pushed for the adoption of landlord-tenant legislation in Singapore, as it unveiled its list of recommendations.