Hong Kong retailers urge restrictions on landlord action amid slump

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HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong’s biggest retailer association has urged the local government to protect tenants from legal action or eviction for at least nine months even if they are unable to pay rent due to the impact of protests and virus restrictions.

Retailers in the financial hub have been battered by months of anti-government unrest that escalated in June last year, and the outbreak of coronavirus has sent many to the brink of collapse.

Protesters returned to the streets on Sunday over Beijing’s proposal to directly impose national security laws on the Chinese territory, with thousands spilling into the Causeway Bay shopping district, forcing shops to close.

“The retail industry is facing a critical moment of life and death,” Annie Yau Tse, chairwoman of the Hong Kong Retail Management Association (HKRMA), said in an open letter to Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam late on Tuesday.

“If operating conditions do not improve, an estimated 15,000 retail stores will close down by the end of the year.”

HKRMA urged Hong Kong’s government to take note of measures adopted by other countries, including Britain, Australia and Singapore, to revise laws due to the coronavirus and impose temporary restrictions on landlords to help tenants recover.

Hong Kong’s retailers have been pushing to temporarily lower rent. Leases typically require tenants to pay a minimum, fixed base rent or a percentage of store sales, known as turnover rent – whichever is higher.

Some developers have slashed base rents but retailers have said the cost is still too much to bear.

“The association believes if the problem of high rent cannot be resolved in a timely manner, even if the government provides subsidies from anti-epidemic funds and related programs, large-scale closure and redundancies will be inevitable,” HKRMA said.

Reporting by Donny Kwok; Editing by Anne Marie Roantree and Christopher Cushing

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