How One Retail Landlord Defers Rents for Large and Small Tenants

Retail rent deferral and rent relief plans have targeted smaller tenants first over larger tenants that have access to outside capital and the capital markets. This has been true for many landlords, particularly in large anchored shopping centers.

NewMark Merrill Co. is one example. The retail investor, which owns more than $2 billion in assets in California, Colorado and Illinois, split his tenants into three categories: small tenants fully shuttered, small and regional tenants with limited operations and large tenants with access to the capital markets. “Our general attitude with the small tenants was to help them get through the pandemic,” Sandy Sigal, President and CEO of NewMark Merrill Co., tells “We worked with them so that we could buy them time to apply for programs like the PPP. Often the solution was some form of deferral or late payments until they could get their PPP funding. They needed triage now.

Larger tenants did request rent relief, but preference was given first to smaller tenants. Those tenants were the most impacted and had limited resources to cope with the crisis. “We got calls from larger tenants for help with rent,” says Sigal. “My answer was, I have to worry about the people dying today not three or four months from now. For every bit of assistance I give a larger tenant that has access to other markets is assistance that I cannot give to my smaller tenants. Most big tenants were understanding of that approach.

Tenants with limited hours and even larger tenants that were forced to close, however, were reviewed on a case-by-case basis for rent deferral programs. The goal, ultimately, is to support the tenants through this period while boosting rent collections. “We wanted to make sure that they could stay operating,” says Sigal.

Although most conversations about rent relief occurred at the onset of the pandemic, Sigal says that the conversations are ongoing. In fact, some tenants who were able to make rent payments needed to renegotiate for May. “A lot of tenants have agreed to pay April and wait to see where we are in May,” he says. “We are adjusting with the times. We don’t pretend that what we knew on April 1 is as good as what I knew on May 1.

Sigal has also adapted marketing to attract customers during the pandemic. This includes using more social media platforms and using onsite signage to reach customers. “Our traffic counts are going up, so it tells us that people are leaving their homes to stand in line or pick-up goods,” says Sigal.

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