Column Raymond de Mooij
Column Raymond de Mooij

Real estate and the virus

The scholars disagree: does the current crisis cause solidarity and compassion, or not? Are most people good (as claimed by a popular writer), or do they ultimately think about themselves? One thing is certain: in recent weeks, the wandering virus has triggered a lot of commotion in the property world of The Hague.

The forced closure of catering establishments due to the coronavirus immediately sparked excited discussions between the landlords and tenants of these enterprises. One such tenant, Rickie Bibbert, contacted me. He operates a sandwich shop in the centre of The Hague and a bowling alley in Westland.

“I received a call today from the landlord of my business space in The Hague,” Rickie told me. “He was so sorry that I had to close that he gave me a three-month rent-free period.” Supported by this kindness, my client then asked his other landlord for clemency too.

“That jerk immediately got angry,” said Bibbert. “I had to pay on time, was the message. That’s how you get to know people.”

Coincidentally, I know that the landlord in question is completely dependent on the rent that Rickie pays him monthly; he is his sole tenant. Consequently, the matter was actually more nuanced than my client thought – but Bibbert was only moderately interested in that.

The multinationals Zara, H&M, C&A and Action responded to this issue by announcing that they would stop paying rent. Their landlords were appalled: why should they have to bear the consequences of the business risk for such large multinational corporations? In these turbulent times, the powerful tenants immediately chose for themselves; the interests of their contractual partners were apparently secondary to their own.

On the street, I ran into the wealthy real estate investor John Koolmees, who rents out business premises to catering operators and shopkeepers. I asked him how things were going.

“Yesterday I decided to give all my tenants a six month rental discount,” said my client. I complimented him. The man laughed. “Look, it’s simple,” he explained. “It is better to be nice to my tenants than to vacate them for rent debts. Because then I have to look for other tenants, and that will take months. Count your profits. In the end, I’m better off this way.”

John said he has been inundated with requests for rental discounts, especially from small retailers.

“But do you know what amazes me so much?” he asked with a wink. “I also rent out to AH and Jumbo. Those chains are making 30 percent more turnover than usual. Yet I am never called by their directors with the question: Mr. Koolmees, we have made so much money this month, can we please pay you more?”

This column was made for Den Haag Centraal, in which Raymond de Mooij writes monthly about what he experiences in his practice.