3 Ways Business Owners Can Negotiate with Landlords During COVID-19

Paying rent is a top concern for businesses nationwide right now. In fact, almost 50% of commercial retail rent were not paid in the months of April and May.

Aug 4, 2020 · 3 min read

Paying rent is a top concern for businesses nationwide right now. In fact, almost 50% of commercial retail rent were not paid in the months of April and May. But some owners have founds ways to make rent work like Patrice Cameau, owner of the D.C.-based studio CAMPspace, who negotiated with her landlord to split rent into manageable chunks.

In a recent Hello Alice newsletter, we asked you to share your experience on navigating rent and leases during COVID, as part of our new weekly blog series featuring advice from the Hello Alice community. Below, we’ve collected some of the handy advice and lessons you shared with us.

First off, take control of the conversation and proactively approach your landlord about restructuring rent payments:

“As the owner of Setay Dance and Fitness, in Phoenix, AZ, I proactively reached out to my landlord before we were mandated to close due to COVID-19 with two options. The immediate reply was it was too early to consider restructuring the monthly payments. I simply reminded them that I had recently received their invoice for the next month. This gave them something to consider. It took them several weeks, but we came to a compromise that would allow me to continue paying the CAM and taxes, and they would defer the actual portion of the rent that went to them as owners while being impacted by the fallout from the pandemic.”

— Annette Yates, owner of Setay Dance and Fitness

One founder not only negotiated with their landlord, but also brainstormed new ways to make rent payments.

“I run a small dance studio and rehearsal space in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and used the split rent strategy described [in the newsletter] for April. For May and June, I actually entered into an agreement with my landlord to pay only a small percentage of my rent as “storage space.” I am incredibly grateful and blessed for having a landlord that is very flexible and understanding. This gave me time to figure things out and apply for aid. I received some financial aid from a local NGO that will help me cover July and August rent. In the meantime, I am in the process of partnering with other dance instructors and creators to pitch in money for rent and have access to the studio space for their own projects and classes.

— Elsa Figueroa, founder of Almacén 63

You may not be able to negotiate your rent payments the first time around – but don’t be afraid to reach out again. This founder reached out to their landlord twice before reaching an agreement about restructuring rent payments.

“When I first had to close my shop due to COVID, I made sure to reach out to my landlord ASAP. I explained my need to stay as ‘liquid’ as I could from a cash perspective, and he understood. He told me to apply for the available loans, and we would wait on the rent until the loans came through. For my new business (just over a year in my brick and mortar), I didn’t qualify for the PPP, but I still needed to get caught up on two months of past-due rent. Once I was able to reopen, I reached back out to him to see if we could get creative with how I paid back the balance. I suggested I pay it back over the course of the next eight months. He agreed, and I felt much better that I could handle those smaller increments stretched out over a period of time. Sometimes we just need to think outside of the box and ASK. Neither were easy conversations, but it has helped immensely to not have that big chunk of change out of my bank account when I need it the most.”

— Tonya Kauffman, owner and creative designer of Toluka Paperie + Gifts

Interested in sharing your story with the community? Stay tuned for next week’s newsletter for a chance to be mentioned in a future blog post!

And in the meantime, check out the Hello Alice Rethink Your Space Needs Guide for more ideas and tips.