What types of issues are we talking about?
It often happens that a landowner signs a 10 year telecoms lease, then puts it in a drawer and forgets about it. This can have very serious unintended consequences: we have come across one instance where it emerged upon review that the rent had not been paid for over 9 years, as a result of which over £100,000 was outstanding to the landowner. Owing to statutory limitation rules, some £30,000 of this was irrecoverable and lost forever.
So what does a landowner need to do?
It is crucial to keep a close eye on what is happening with any telecoms equipment on your land. For example:
Has the rent been paid? Have the rent reviews been carried out? These will almost certainly increase the amount paid over to you. You certainly shouldn’t just rely on the operators to pay what’s due; a much more proactive approach is required;
Is the operator acting within its rights? With all of the recent consolidation in the market, some operators are sharing sites even where no permission has been granted and/or this is expressly prohibited by the terms of the lease. Alternatively, a site share payment may be due but is not being paid. It pays to be vigilant. One way in which you can monitor who is actually on the site is to keep an eye on which contractors are coming and going. Ask them who they are working for. If they reply Vodafone and you had understood that only O2 occupies the site, then this warrants further investigation!
Consider other operator obligations – staying within access and/or parking rights at the site and permitted equipment levels, obligations to keep the site clean and tidy/in good repair. Again, don’t just rely on the operators to comply with the terms of their agreements;
Check when lease renewals are due. Could the agreement be renewed at a higher rent? If your lease is linked to RPI, then this is almost certainly the case – see Lease Renewals;
If an operator attempts to break or surrender the agreement, vary the terms or reduce your rent, do seek professional advice before responding. Don’t just take things at face value – for example, see Contested Break Notices. The operators and their agents are under significant pressure at the moment to save costs and have leases on terms which match their requirements. In many cases as a landlord, however, you are not legally or practically required to agree to these changes;
Don’t sign up to any operator standard agreements without seeking professional advice. These will almost certainly be heavily weighted in their favour;
- Beware of approaches from supposedly “independent” advisers. Agents acting on behalf of the operators may have a financial interest in a deal going through, or other conflict of interest and, in this instance, certainly won’t have your best interests in mind.
What should I do next?
Our team is always happy to discuss any issues or concerns you may have, without any obligation. Do get in touch.