Eason mired in rent row with Harcourt’s Galway shopping centre

Coronavirus-related dispute latest rent conflict in retail sector rife with such discord

The dispute is the second rent disagreement Eason has had with a Galway landlord in recent months. File photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times

The dispute is the second rent disagreement Eason has had with a Galway landlord in recent months. File photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times

 

Books and stationery retailer, Eason, is embroiled in a rental dispute with Pat Doherty’s Harcourt Developments in relation to its unit in Galway Shopping Centre.

It is the latest in a long run of rent rows seen recently between retailers and their landlords, as the impact of lockdown closures and other Government anti-virus restrictions continues to raise tensions in the retail sector.

Lindat, a division of Harcourt that owns several regional shopping centres, has this week initiated High Court action against Eason, seeking summary judgment over debts allegedly owed in the rent dispute. Lindat is also the landlord of an Eason franchisee store at Parkway Shopping Centre in Limerick, but it is understood that the action filed this week relates to the Eason group-owned Galway Shopping Centre branch.

The dispute is the second rent disagreement Eason has had with a Galway landlord in recent months. In August, it was sued by a company controlled by French investors who bought the retailer’s landmark Shop Street branch in the city in a €7.5 million sale and leaseback arrangement.

Lindat is seeking summary judgment for debts allegedly owed, which means it is asking for a High Court judge to give a ruling without a trial and on the basis of paper submissions only. Seeking summary judgment is a legal tactic often used for debt cases where the plaintiff argues that the respondent has no real defence.

Eason has yet to file a response to the Lindat claim and may yet dispute it.

In May, Eason said it had written to all of its landlords seeking “substantial” rent reduction over the next 12 months to help it ride out the pandemic. The retailer on Wednesday declined to comment specifically on the rent dispute with Lindat, but said all of its actions were to ensure “survival” of the business.

Protect jobs

“As a matter of policy we do not comment on our commercial arrangements with any third party or ongoing legal proceedings. However, every action Eason has taken since the start of the current pandemic, which led to the temporary closure of all our stores and continues to have a significant impact on our business, has been designed to ensure the survival of the business and protect as many jobs as possible,” said the retailer.

The summary judgment list of the High Court is now cluttered with rent disputes between landlords and their retail tenants, many of whom have so far refused to pay their full rents for periods of forced closure.

Earlier this week, a landlord company controlled by Davy stockbrokers took action against accessories retailer Claire’s.

Other pandemic-related retail rent disputes includes rows between the Omni Shopping Centre in Dublin and Boots, and Jervis Shopping Centre in the city centre and various retailers including Schuh, Fields jewellers and New Look.

In September, sectoral lobby group Retail Excellence said up to two-thirds of retailers were at that time still carrying over rent bills from the State’s first anti-virus lockdown between March and May.