This timeline sets out the key legal and market developments expected in the commercial real estate sector during 2021.

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The Government has confirmed that it will be renewing the measures it introduced to protect tenants in the commercial property sector unable to pay their rent due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Currently, commercial tenants benefit from a prohibition on landlords forfeiting commercial leases for non-payment of rent. This measure was due to end on 31 December 2020, however the Government has announced that the restriction on forfeiture will be extended until 31 March 2021.

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The Government has confirmed that it will be extending the temporary ban on commercial landlords issuing statutory demands and winding up petitions against commercial tenants who have not paid their rent during the COVID-19 pandemic. A statutory demand can be issued where a corporate debtor owes £750 to a creditor. If the debt is not paid within 21 days of the issue of the statutory demand, the landlord creditor can then issue a winding up petition against their tenant. Although in most cases a landlord does not ultimately want their tenant to be wound up (as that could lead to them having to take back the premises), the procedure is sometimes used to put pressure on tenants to pay their rent. Currently, any statutory demand served from 1 March 2020 and any winding up petition presented from 27 April that claims that the company is unable to pay its debts must first be reviewed by the court to determine why. The law will not permit petitions to be presented or winding up orders made, where the company’s inability to pay is the result of the COVID-19 pandemic. These measures were due to end on 30 September 2020, however the Government has announced that they will be extended until the end of the year (i.e. 31 December 2020).

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Overview
The Government is introducing sweeping changes to the planning system in England, with a view to cutting down on bureaucracy and letting the market decide what we use our buildings for, as well as facilitating much needed housing development. The changes are both medium term and immediate. In this Alert, we focus on the immediate changes the Government has introduced to the Use Classes Order and Permitted Development Rights which are aimed at re-vitalising the high street and making it easier to build new homes.

Background
As most people are aware, if you want to build something or change its use, you usually need to obtain  planning permission from a local authority. This can be a long and expensive process. Over the years, the Government has tried to add some flexibility to this process by allowing certain types of development to take place or certain changes of use without the need for planning permission. It has done this by creating various Permitted Development Rights (which grant permission for development automatically) and also creating Use Classes within which changes of use can be made which are deemed not to amount to development (which would require planning permission). The rules on Permitted Development Rights are set out in the General Permitted Development Order and the rules on permitted changes of use are set out in the Use Classes Order.

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The Government has confirmed that it will be renewing the measures it introduced protecting tenants in the commercial property sector unable to pay their rent due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Currently, commercial tenants benefit from a prohibition on landlords forfeiting commercial leases for non-payment of rent and restrictions on landlords using commercial rent arrears recovery (CRAR) unless 189 days of unpaid rent is owed. These measures were due to end on 30 September 2020, however the Government has announced that both the restrictions on forfeiture and CRAR will be extended until the end of the year.

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Much has been written about the sweeping changes the Government is introducing to extend permitted development rights and limit the need to obtain planning permission for changes of use.

But on 2 September 2020 Mr Justice Holgate ordered that an application for leave for judicial review challenging these new laws would be heard on 8 October 2020.

The application has been brought by a group called “Rights : Community Acts” whose stated aim is to tackle the climate emergency.

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The UK Government today published its Building Safety Bill, three years after the Grenfell tragedy in which 72 people lost their lives in a fire in a tower block in Kensington, London, the worst residential fire in the UK since World War II.

The Bill seeks to implement the recommendations of the Hackitt Report of May 2018, in which Dame Judith Hackitt recommended the establishment of an entirely new regulatory framework for ensuring the safety of higher-risk buildings through their procurement, design, development and maintenance phases.

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Why do real estate lawyers ask for deeds to be signed in “wet ink”?

The facility agreement is finally agreed. The execution versions of the ancillary documents have been deftly zipped and are ready for email circulation to the wider team. A real estate lawyer interjects that the charge needs to be executed in “wet ink” and the original document sent by post. The invariable incredulity arises as to what makes real estate different from other areas of law, requiring hard copy documents and original signatures.

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The UK government has confirmed today that it will be renewing the package of measures it introduced for tenants in the commercial property sector unable to pay their rent due to the COVID-19 pandemic, including extending the moratorium on forfeiture and the restrictions on issuing statutory demands and winding up petitions from 30 June until 30 September 2020. Secondary legislation will also be enacted to prevent landlords from using commercial rent arrears recovery unless they are owed 189 days of unpaid rent (the previous threshold was 90 days). The time period for this measure will similarly be extended to the end of September. The measures are expected, but mean that landlords’ remedies against tenants for unpaid rent will continue to be significantly restricted for the next 3 months.

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The spread of COVID-19 has forced the mass closure of workspace and the implementation of work-from-home policies in the majority of industries.

As the UK contemplates easing lockdown measures, businesses are having to consider what the world of work will look like in the “new normal”. But what does that “new normal” look like and will it ultimately mean the end of office space as we know it?

For some businesses, the “new normal” initially may mean “virus-proofing” their offices through short-term fixes, new working patterns and long-term design upgrades that put hygiene at the heart of workplace planning.  Businesses with denser patterns of occupation (for example, tech companies), may even find that they require more space in order to achieve social distancing and to encourage the return to the office.

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