Wealthy landlord dubbed ‘Mr West End’ defying Government ban on aggressive rent collection by taking legal action against string of businesses
Fight: Property mogul Asif Aziz is taking legal action
A wealthy landlord dubbed ‘Mr West End’ is defying the Government’s ban on aggressive rent collection by taking legal action against a string of Central London restaurants, cafes and shops.
The property firm owned by mogul Asif Aziz – who controls an array of central London properties including the Trocadero complex – has filed claims against its tenants even though they say they cannot afford the rent while closed under Covid lockdown rules.
Court documents seen by The Mail on Sunday show Criterion Capital has filed a £1.5million county court claim to recover rent from burger chain Five Guys and a £284,000 claim against cafe chain Caffe Concerto. It has also filed a seven-figure claim to recover rent owed from a third hospitality firm, which asked not to be named.
All three of Criterion’s legal claims were made after the Government published a code of conduct for commercial rent negotiations during the Covid crisis.
The code says firms that cannot pay rent in full should ‘communicate with their landlord and pay what they can’, and landlords ‘should also provide support to businesses if they are able to do so’. The Government has also banned landlords from issuing winding-up petitions and statutory demands to recover outstanding rent through a moratorium in place until the end of March. But firms such as Five Guys and Caffe Concerto – which have been hit hard by the steep decline in trade from tourists and office workers – feel Criterion has not showed it is willing to negotiate an affordable payment plan.
Caffe Concerto director Stephano Borjak said Criterion’s behaviour amounted to ‘harassment’ while the moratorium is in place.
He added: ‘We have paid our rent in full and on time for 12 years. But now we have only been allowed to open for three months since last year, our landlord issues a county court order against us. It is completely unacceptable.’
In total, The Mail on Sunday has spoken to six current and former tenants of Criterion and its sister firm, Golfrate. They include bars group Adventure Bar and pizza chain Franco Manca, run by former Pizza Express chief executive David Page.
Both have yet to agree deals with Criterion, with Page adding ‘there is no love lost’. By contrast, Franco Manca has reached agreement with 80 per cent of its landlords, and Five Guys has agreed rent deals with more than 80 of its 105 UK sites.
Criterion Capital, which owns £3.6billion of property around Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus, is also locked in an ongoing legal battle over £3.2million of rent it claims it is due for sports retailer Lillywhites, owned by retail tycoon Mike Ashley’s Frasers Group.
Lillywhites insists it should receive rent concessions for the months when the store was closed.
A spokesman said: ‘Frasers Group has consistently, and on numerous occasions, offered to pay 50 per cent of rent for periods in which stores have been closed and 100 per cent of rents while stores have been open for trade. We feel this is a more than fair compromise and means retailers and landlords share the pain of lockdowns together.’
He added: ‘Many of our landlords are very understanding and have been working with us in these challenging times. It is unfortunate that a small number of landlords such as Criterion refuse to even engage with us at all to try to find an amicable solution.’
Criterion Capital and Aziz did not respond to repeated requests for comment.