By Altus Group | April 23, 2020

Tribunal decision builds on Altus Group track record in applying landmark Supreme Court judgement across key real estate sectors

 Business rates liabilities while properties are under refurbishment have been clarified to the benefit of industrial landlords, thanks to a groundbreaking appeal win at the Valuation Tribunal by Altus Group.

The decision applies empty rates case law now established in relation to office and retail properties and challenges the Valuation Office Agency to mend its ways in its less favourable treatment of industrial property.

Acting for a client of Orchard Street Investment Management, Altus successfully argued that a warehouse unit on the Griffin Industrial Estate in Feltham was “incapable of beneficial occupation” for the purposes of business rates from the date that physical works to strip out and refurbish the property had commenced.

The appeal was launched when the Valuation Office Agency rejected Altus Group’s challenge under the Check Challenge Appeal system. The Valuation Tribunal’s decision clarified a point of dispute from the Supreme Court decision in Newbigin v Monk, making reference to an earlier Altus Group empty rates victory in the Upper Tribunal in Aviva Investors Property Developments v Whitby.

The VOA had argued that the unit was undergoing repair works rather than a course of refurbishment. The Valuation Tribunal noted that refurbishment was all the more likely when the premises had just been vacated by the previous tenant, but found the argument irrelevant to the case when it was clear that the unit was “incapable of beneficial occupation”.

Head of UK business rates at Altus Group, Robert Hayton, comments: “The VOA continues to drag its feet in implementing the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Monk case. It has been particularly dismissive of the commercial realities in refurbishing and reletting industrial property. The distinctions they make are spurious and deny prompt relief to landlords.

“Long term reform of empty rates regulations by the Government is needed to recognise that the current three and six month exemption periods are woefully inadequate to allow commercial properties to be refurbished, marketed and relet.

 “In the meantime, this is a timely victory for landlords, who cannot claim any of the COVID-19 related reliefs in respect of their empty properties and yet are facing some months of rent holidays and tenant failures.”

Luke Wilcox of Landmark Chambers appeared as Counsel at the tribunal on Altus Group’s instruction.

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