Duncan Craig on The Hospitality Industry Post COVID-19

Hello, I’m Duncan Craig, Head of Licensing at Citadel Chambers in Birmingham where I have been practising as a barrister since 2013; during that time I have built my practice up to be one of the busiest licensing lawyers in the country.

Duncan Craig

Prior to my call to the bar, I had a 20-year career in the drinks and licensed trade, working for national and regional brewers, pub companies and eventually operated my own group of pubs, bars and restaurants in Nottingham.

I appreciate the challenges, frustrations and rewards of running your own hospitality business and I understand the unique problems that my clients are currently facing. Among those issues are problems with commercial landlords and associated lease disputes

In recent months I’ve noticed a huge increase in the number of instructions I’ve been in receipt of concerning licensed businesses in order to advise them or represent them in relation to their commercial leases. I expect this work to continue to increase in volume as the date for the end of the commercial rent forfeiture moratorium approaches. Clearly the pandemic has changed the whole landscape of the commercial world and leases that operate within that are certainly no exception. At one time I held eight leases on licensed businesses and I certainly recall very vividly some of those landlords were eminently reasonable people to deal with and always happy to engage in some give and take when it was appropriate, but equally one or two of the others certainly did not fit that description – and so I’m unsurprised that not all commercial landlords have been realistic or reasonable throughout the pandemic and certainly that’s been my experience dealing with it on a practical level.

I do believe that after 25th March 2022, for businesses that are in arrears, landlords are not going to find lease forfeiture as straightforward as they would have done two or three years ago. The first reason for that is that courts are going to be much more accommodating to tenants who are in arrears than previously; and quite frankly, if all rents arrears as of 25th March 2022 are strictly enforced by the courts then the economic system we live under may simply collapse. The second reason landlords are going to find forfeiture more challenging after that date is a practical one; the courts are going to be overwhelmed with claims when we get to the other end of this and it simply won’t be straightforward for landlords to get court hearing dates in order to effectuate forfeiture; and I think a third reason is that there aren’t going to be the same number of quality operators looking to take these properties on at the other side of this – and many landlords must now surely appreciate this.

I am conscious about how busy many solicitors who operate in the commercial property market are going to be when the moratorium ends (as it surely will) in March 2022 – so if you represent a licensed business and they are experiencing some difficulties, or are expecting to after 25th March 2022, feel free to contact me and I’m certainly happy to have a no obligation conversation about their situation and to see if I can be of service at what will be an exceptionally busy time in the commercial property sector.

My commercial background and operational experience in hospitality, coupled with my eight years of practise in the licensed sector and my track record of reaching settlements all mean I am suitably equipped to take instructions and resolve disputes with landlords, particularly within the hospitality industry.

I take a practical, but robust approach to dealing with commercial landlords and I have a huge passion for the industry which makes me determined to get the best result for my licensing clients in disputes with their landlord, be that via resolution through sensible dialogue, or litigating the matter at court.