After serving customers from Bow Business Centre for more than twenty years, forty businesses were given a month’s notice to vacate their premises over Christmas.
On November 30 2023, forty businesses in the Bow Business Centre were given a month’s notice to terminate their tenancies. The notice letter from Sunmount Properties Limited specified that businesses must leave the premises by 31 December 2023, as per clause 4 of their licence agreements.
Some business owners were offered an extension on a case-by-case basis, allowing some to remain in Bow Business Centre into January.
Lloyd Morgan, 45, had been running London Locks from Bow Business Centre since 2003. Like other business owners, he was shocked when he was told he had a month to re-locate.
Morgan said: ‘We’ve been there for twenty years and we were given thirty days’ notice. Worse than that, it was over December, when there weren’t even 30 days available.
‘A lot of people were then rushing out at the same time trying to find premises. Anything that was available locally, it became a grab. It caused loads of trouble.
‘Trying to hire vans and hire movers over that period was an absolute nightmare. A few of us were able to negotiate extensions, but that was after a lot of fighting with the management.’
According to Morgan, the businesses were asked to relocate to give space to existing tenants Global Banking School (GBS), who themselves faced the threat of displacement following the fire in Bow Business Centre on 25 August 2023. GBS occupied the fourth floor of the centre, meaning their premises were most damaged by the incident in summer.
‘They had a new intake of students coming in January. So being the largest tenant of the business centre, they threw their weight to the landlord and demanded that they take over the entire business centre, or they would be forced to leave. So they displaced forty small, SME businesses.
‘A few of the businesses are trying to take legal action. On paper, we have a licence and are not tenants, and you have different rights if you’re a tenant. However, apparently, in some documentation, they have called us tenants.’
Licensees are distinct from leaseholders and experience different property rights. According to commercial property solicitor Luke Crocker, leaseholders benefit from the right to possession of their property to the exclusion of all others, including the landlord, during the fixed term. Meanwhile, tenants with a licence do not receive ‘exclusive possession’, and a licence is revocable by the licensor at any time.
While it’s been a ‘horrible couple of months’ for Morgan and his employees at London Locks, the locksmiths have managed to successfully re-locate from the basement of Bow Business Centre to an old optician’s at 143 Bow Road.
‘We were in the basement, no one really knew we were there, and now everyone knows we’re here which is great. I knew where I wanted to go, and as soon as I was told what was happening, I walked out and spoke to the landlord.
‘Had I left it any longer, I might not have been so lucky. I’ve fared better than most.’
Kristine Gotual, 50, who has run Bow Road Print from the business centre since 2014, wasn’t so lucky. She said:
‘Suddenly, we came to the office to start work as usual, and the receptionist came to us and told me personally: “I have to tell you, you have to go from here.” I said: “Why should I go, I am paying my rent, I never miss my rent, I never did anything bad.”
‘I was shocked, I couldn’t believe it. Then I checked my email a few hours later, and I received an official letter from the building owner, saying you have to leave the building.’
Gotual has been searching for an alternative premise for her business but hasn’t found anywhere sufficient.
John Caffrey, 56, owns Bercaf, a leading provider of construction qualifications across the UK. He one of the business owners pursuing legal action. He said:
‘They told us at the end of November, so we had a month before they kicked us out. They told us they were changing the locks at the beginning of January.
‘There were companies in here for twenty years, or more than twenty years. We weren’t expecting them to turn around and say: “We want you out.”
‘It’s too short notice. They would have known about this, this wasn’t a sudden thing. They just told us at the last minute. I was going on holiday two weeks after they gave us notice for Christmas. It wasn’t very convenient, they had no excuse.
‘What we were told is they were worried people wouldn’t pay rent if they were given more notice.’
Adam MacAlister, owner of AdMacFitness, had been running his personal training company in Bow Business Centre for eight years. MacAlister has been granted an extension to remain in the business centre until the end of January. Soon, he’ll be relocating his business to a much bigger space at a Railway Arch on Bow Common Lane, near Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park.
About the landlord, he said: ‘I’ve actually stayed on good terms with them.
‘I’m thinking this will be a better move for us, it’s forced me to make a brave decision but I think we’ll be better for it in the long run.’
Three businesses are seeking guidance from Landmark Law Solicitors, a community-based social welfare firm also based in the Bow Business Centre.
For more local news, read More than 160 residents sign petition against extra major event days at Victoria Park.
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