If you operate your store from brick-and-mortar premises, it is important to make sure the building is regularly maintained. Cutting corners on maintenance may seem like a way to save money but it can mean increased repair costs in the long run. Failure to look after your premises can also cause major issues such as electrical fires or flooding, resulting in damage to the buildings, contents and stock, and increasing the likelihood of employees, customers or other visitors suffering an injury and making a claim against you.
So if you are a business owner who rents a commercial property, do you know your responsibilities when it comes to property maintenance, and how do you make sure your premises are safe, secure and welcoming for staff and customers?
Handy hints for commercial tenants
If you rent your business premises your responsibilities will largely be defined by the terms of your lease, but you do have certain legal responsibilities which are standard.
- Health and safety
As a general rule, as a tenant you are responsible for things such as ensuring the safety of any electrical equipment, maintaining gas appliances and pipework and managing asbestos.
Carrying out a health and safety risk assessment in your rented premises and taking action to remove any hazards is a legal requirement.
- Fixtures and fittings
As a tenant you are responsible for any fixtures and fittings you have installed, while your landlord will be responsible for any that are owned by them.
- Gas and electricity
Depending on the terms of your lease gas safety may be your responsibility or it may fall to your landlord, so it’s important to check the wording carefully. If it is your responsibility, you should maintain any equipment according to manufacturers’ instructions, whether it is owned by you or by your landlord. The same applies to electrical installations and appliances.
- General maintenance
You should check your lease carefully to ascertain your responsibilities as a tenant and ensure you fulfil any obligations it sets out. Pay particular attention to any requirements regarding the condition in which you return the premises at the end of the tenancy – a ‘full and repairing lease’ could require you to return the property in a better state of repair than when you took it on.
- Landlords’ responsibilities
The property owner has a duty to make sure their business property is safe for anyone who uses it, including their tenants. They are responsible for complying with Fire Safety Regulations and for providing a workplace with a reasonable temperature, adequate lighting, space and ventilation, safe equipment, drinking water, and toilets and washing facilities. They are also responsible for ensuring the property’s electrical system is safe and inspected in line with legal requirements, and may be responsible for gas safety depending on the terms of the lease. Utilities in common areas will be the responsibility of the landlord, as will general maintenance of those areas.
- What to do in the event of a dispute?
Any responsibility that is not mentioned in the lease will often be assumed to be yours as the tenant unless there are legal requirements on the landlord., so it is important to read the terms of your lease thoroughly to ensure that they are clear and you are happy to abide by them.
A lease is a legally binding contract, so if a landlord does not fulfil a responsibility that is set out in it, you should be protected in the event of a dispute.
If you get into a dispute with your landlord, it is important that you continue to pay rent on your premises whilst the situation is being resolved. If you do not pay your rent you risk being evicted, even if you have grounds for complaint, and this could prove devastating for your business.
What kind of cover should you have for your commercial premises?
You will need to ensure that your business is protected against perils such as fire, theft and natural disaster. Your lease should make it clear who is responsible for arranging and paying for cover. Below are the most common types of cover you will want to consider:
- Buildings cover
Buildings cover is usually the responsibility of the property owner and covers a building’s structure and things such as underground service repairs and removal of debris following a covered event.
- Liability cover
High footfall in commercial premises can increase the chances of accidents occurring. Typical events might be a roof tile or signage from the facia falling and injuring a member of the public or a customer tripping on poorly maintained steps at the property entrance. Your lease should make it clear who is responsible for carrying out this type of maintenance. If it is the responsibility of the landlord, you will want to be sure they have suitable Property owners’ liability in place, or if it is your responsibility, you will need to make sure you have an adequate level of Public liability in place.
- Stock and contents cover
Contents cover protects the fixtures and fittings in a business premises. Your landlord should ensure any contents in communal areas are protected, as well as fixtures such as shelving, display cabinets or other items if the unit is rented to you in furnished condition.
If you invest in your own fixtures and fittings when you take a lease on a commercial property, you should take out your own cover for contents as well as any stock you hold on the premises.
- Legal expenses cover
In the event of a dispute you may need to seek the advice of a trained legal professional. Legal expenses cover can cover the costs of bringing legal action or defending yourself against it. Whilst some disputes are settled quickly and easily, others can be long drawn out and costly, with devastating consequences.
As an independent retailer or service provider you need to make sure you protect your livelihood. Always check the terms of your lease carefully and ensure that you are clear about your own responsibilities. If you have any questions about your lease, ask a legal professional to take a look, and if you have any questions about your cover, speak to your cover provider. The Retail Mutual specialises in providing cover for the independent retailers and service providers on our high streets. Visit www.theretailmutual.com to find out how we can help protect your business, or call 0333 3446 078 for a free, no-obligation quote today. We look forward to hearing from you.
Contributor: The Retail Mutual
Holly brings a wealth of experience in both print and digital publishing. As Modern Retail’s Content Editor, Holly is passionate about helping independent retailers to thrive in today’s ever-changing market.