Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi says the Government’s hands are tied regarding calls from Trincity Mall tenants for help with rental fees during the COVID-19 shutdown.
Speaking to Guardian Media yesterday, Al-Rawi said a liquidator is in charge of the mall and Government cannot dictate what is done, noting there are lawful steps and a process that has to be followed.
CL Financial’s assets have been in the hands of liquidator Grant Thornton since 2017 after it was unable to repay Government for its 2009 bailout. The HCL Group, a subsidiary of CL Financial, owns Trincity Mall and others, including One Woodbrook Place One Plaza, Long Circular Mall and Valpark Shopping Plaza.
But Al-Rawi said other malls were using similar rent collection policies at this time and questioned why UNC MP Dr David Lee had separated those landlords from the Trincity Mall landlords. He said Lee was misguiding and exploiting the tenants during this difficult time.
Also contacted yesterday, Minister in the Ministry of Finance Allyson West said she could not say what position Minister of Finance Colm Imbert could take on the issue. However, she too held the view Lee was misleading tenants by suggesting Government could directly intervene because a liquidator was in charge.
Trincity Mall tenants are seeking Government help after they were told by management they will have to pay full rent for March despite losing business due to the shutdown measures.
“Remember March is right after Carnival, so it would
be a little slow because Carnival and lent season and thing,” Asim Williams, owner of Phat’s International Styles, asked Guardian Media on Monday.
“Why must we have to pay for the whole of March when you know that you closed the cinemas and food court and nobody was coming in the mall?”
Another tenant who did not want to be named added, “By the time the middle of the month when they found the first positive case people stopped coming to the mall.”
The Trincity Mall tenants said they have also been asked to pay their common area maintenance fee for April and May, a figure which will amount to almost half of the rent. These fees include charges for cleaning up common areas, security for the property, property taxes, property insurance, repairs and maintenance.
“Bear in mind the mall closed we doh need any common area space, we doh need janitorial services. I feeling as a tenant that the whole mall have to pay for the stores that open to operate,” Williams said.
The tenants said they just cannot make the payments and called on management to “have a heart”. Some of them said they have had to retrench workers because of the lack of income and foresee many businesses closing down permanently because they cannot afford the rent.
“Many businesses will move out. I had to terminate my staff, I am unable to continue keeping them on a payroll,” a tenant said.
Another Trincity tenant said they are hoping Government can assist by reducing the amount of rent they are being asked to pay.
“The same way how the country was there for HCL when they were in dire need for the Government to give them a bailout, which come down to taxpayers, now the landlord need to help back their tenants,” Williams said.
Over the weekend, Lee called on the Government to intervene and assist Trincity Mall tenants. He said the Government, by virtue of acquiring the assets of CLICO, controls Trincity Mall, Long Circular Mall and One Woodbrook Place, which are demanding rent from tenants despite the crisis.
The HCL Group owns malls such as One Woodbrook Place One Plaza, Long Circular Mall, Valpark Shopping Plaza and Trincity Mall. The HCL Group of Companies is the real estate aspect of CL Financial holdings, which was the largest privately held conglomerate in Trinidad and Tobago before it collapsed forcing Government to bail it out in 2009.
Guardian Media also reached out to companies that rent from other malls, including Movie Towne and C3 Centre and MovieTowne.
At Movie Towne, the companies said they were given a 30 per cent discount for March and April. The C3 tenants said they have been asked to pay rent in full for the month of March and common area maintenance charges for April.
The tenants are asking the Government to follow Canada’s lead by providing rent relief to businesses that can’t afford to pay their landlords at a time when their operations are seriously curtailed or shut down due to COVID-19.
An email was sent to HCL Group of Companies but up until press time yesterday there was no response. Calls to Grant Thornton also went unanswered.