Russia’s largest book chain “Chitai-gorod-Bukvoyed” has been unable to obtain from tenants the benefits stipulated by the authorities in connection with the consequences of the pandemic. The retailer loses the claims to the owners of the premises for a reduction in the fee. If the issue cannot be resolved, then some of the stores will have to be closed, the number of which the chain has been actively increasing in recent years. The owners of the premises often refuse to make concessions on the terms of the lease, as they themselves are under credit, and the courts interpret the provisions on benefits differently, experts say.
The book network “Chitai-gorod-Bukvoed” has filed claims against 25 landlords in different cities since the beginning of the year, its representative told Kommersant. The company went to court because the partners did not provide rental benefits in connection with the pandemic and the temporary closure of stores last year, they explained there. We are talking about the right to defer the payment of rent from March to September 2020 for all tenants, introduced by the decree of the government of the Russian Federation No. 439, and the right to reduce it for companies from the list of affected industries, which include book retail. But in cases of premises in Moscow, Novosibirsk and Chelyabinsk, the court supported the landlords, they say on the network.
Kommersant was convinced that Globus-Press XXI, a subsidiary of the company, lost in the first and second instances the court regarding the premises in the Moscow shopping center Veshnyaki. The court rejected the requirement to conclude an additional agreement on benefits with the shopping center, indicating that “the lessor cannot be forced to conclude any additional agreements against his will.” The consideration of the cassation appeal is scheduled for July 8.
The same legal entity in the first instance lost the court with the Atrium shopping center in Voskresensk. Moreover, the court collected 1.1 million rubles from the network in favor of the lessor. in a counterclaim, including because the store used the premises for storing products. In this case, the network’s appeal will be considered on August 16.
A representative of the network assesses the situation as “the unwillingness of the judicial system to consider such claims competently.” According to him, the legislation “for the first time in this form interferes in private-legal relations and the courts do not understand the application of the norm.” It was not possible to contact the defendants in the aforementioned cases.
Against the backdrop of losses in court, the chain has already closed four stores, and another 20 facilities are under threat. In total, there are 667 outlets in the network now, and it grew even during the pandemic, albeit at a slower pace than before: for example, 68 stores were opened in 2018, 60 in 2019, and 30 in 2020.
Experts draw attention to the interests of the other side of these disputes. Landlords are not always able to provide a discount, since they themselves have obligations to banks and other creditors, notes Marina Malakhatko, director of the retail department at CBRE in Russia: “There are hardly two dozen shopping centers in Moscow that have no debt obligations. If discounts are provided, then with a very complicated process of coordination between investors ”. Decisions on benefits were made, including on the basis of whether the tenant has any prospects to restore turnover after the pandemic, said Ms. Malakhatko.
Usually, in disputes about changing the terms of the lease, the courts often side with the landlords, admits Oleg Sheikin, a lawyer for Forward Legal. But, the lawyer clarifies, in the case of the consequences of the pandemic, the law provides for benefits for tenants, which the courts still apply.
Refusals are due to the fact that the benefits “were approved in a hurry” and the ambiguity of the wording gave rise to discrepancies, notes the leading legal adviser of KSK Group Irina Mikheeva: “As a result, the tenants have no guarantee of receiving benefits.” In addition, says Andrei Bolshakov, managing partner of the law firm Bolshakov & Partners, the courts refuse the tenant in cases where he could not prove that he is a representative of the affected industry. Another reason for refusal arises if the tenant could use the premises for other purposes other than carrying out activities affected by the pandemic – as is the case with the storage of products.