Commercial Property:

A recent High Court decision in Co-Operative Group Food Ltd v. A&A Shah Properties Ltd (2019) relates to an authorised guarantee agreement (AGA) dispute, in this case an agreement involving a guarantor of the outgoing tenant.

The issue in question was how a guarantor can guarantee an outgoing tenant’s obligations in an authorised guarantee agreement (AGA) without falling foul of the Landlord and Tenant (Covenants) Act 1995.

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Although there was some confusion given the terms in the licence to assign, the High Court held that the guarantee in the licence in the Co-Operative Group case, operated as a sub-guarantee and the guarantor was not released from its liability.

Privity of Contract:

The Landlord and Tenant Covenants Act came into force on 1 January 1996. The Act abolished “privity of contract” – the relationship between the parties in a contract which entitles them to sue each other, but prevents a third party from doing so – for all new commercial property leases, though in certain circumstances an outgoing tenant could be required to guarantee its immediate assignee.

Before the Landlord and Tenant (Covenants) Act 1995, the first tenant remained liable for the rent, etc., throughout the term of the tenancy, regardless of assignment. An assignee default at any time meant the original tenant could suddenly be presented with a demand for rent at any time.

The Act did not change the rules on underletting, but it meant that with any commercial lease the parties were permitted to enter into an agreement, usually explicitly in the lease, specifying those circumstances in which consent to assignment can be withheld, or any conditions subject to which consent can be granted.

In return for the loss of their rights under privity of contract, landlords were given greater powers to control assignments and the Act. It also amended s.19 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1927, and introduced for both new and existing leases a procedure under which landlords had to notify former tenants, and their guarantors, within six months of a current tenant’s breach of certain covenants. If in these circumstances the notified tenant or guarantor was to remedy the breach, it is able call for an overriding lease.

In the Co-Operative Group case, where the Act requires that on an assignment of a new lease the outgoing tenant is released from the tenant covenants and, at the same time, any guarantor of that outgoing tenant is also released, there is a qualification.

That is, the outgoing tenant may be required to enter into an AGA to guarantee the performance by the assignee of the tenant’s covenants in the lease. Subsequent case law has established that an outgoing tenant’s guarantor can guarantee the outgoing tenant’s performance of its obligations under the AGA as a sub-guarantee.

But, the outgoing tenant’s guarantor cannot guarantee performance of the tenant’s covenants performed by the assignee as that would be a direct guarantee and would be rendered invalid by the anti-avoidance provisions of the Act.

In the case of Good Harvest Partnership LLP v Centuar Services Ltd, the High Court held that direct guarantees by the outgoing tenant’s guarantor to guarantee the obligations of the assignee in an Authorised Guarantee Agreement (AGA) are void under section 25 of the Landlord and Tenant (Covenants) Act 1995.

If this were not the case, a condition would have imposed obligations on the tenant’s guarantor equivalent to those from which section 24 LTCA 1995 sought to release them thereby frustrating the aims of the Act. The effect of Good Harvest was that any direct guarantee from on outgoing tenant’s guarantor of an incoming assignee is unenforceable.

The Coop case was complicated by there being more than one provision in the licence to assign, but the crux of the matter is that landlords and their solicitors need to be very careful when drafting to make the distinction between a sub-guarantee and direct guarantee, to ensure that the outgoing tenant’s guarantor only ever guarantees performance by the outgoing tenant and not performance by the assignee.

In the end, in the Coop case, purely because of one provision in the licence to assign, the AGA was held on this appeal to be an enforceable sub-guarantee.

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