More rental relief for eligible SMEs, non-profit organisations in commercial properties

QUALIFYING tenants will be getting more help with rental costs as Singapore returns to Phase 2 (Heightened Alert).

The republic's Covid-19 taskforce reimposed a ban on dining-out for four weeks from July 22, while social gatherings will be limited to not more than two. The move comes two days after the Alliance of Frontline Business Trade Associations pleaded for more support measures for the businesses in the retail, food and beverage and services sectors.

Rental relief will be offered to small and medium-sized enterprises as well as non-profit organisations with an annual revenue of not more than S$100 million that are tenants of qualifying commercial properties, the Ministry of Finance (MOF) said on Friday.

Qualifying tenants in government-owned commercial properties will receive an additional four weeks of rental waiver, while tenants in privately- owned commercial properties will qualify for an additional two-week rental relief cash payout.

The measure is part of a S$1.1 billion support package announced by MOF to help cushion the impact of re-tightened Covid-19 measures.

MOF said in a press statement on Friday that while landlords were encouraged to provide rental support to affected businesses during the last Phase 2 (Heightened Alert) period, it received feedback that not all landlords were forthcoming.

"To ensure fair burden sharing, the government is looking to require sharing of rental obligations between the government, landlords and qualifying tenants," said MOF.

However, it noted that there are indeed landlords who face genuine hardship, adding that the ministry will take their circumstances into consideration.

More details will be announced by the Ministry of Law in due course.

Firms, which have been reeling from the impact of constantly changing social-distancing measures, welcomed the rental relief, saying that it would have been a struggle to stay afloat without additional support.

P.O.D Bistro's owner Mary Woon said that it would be impossible to afford the full rental without these measures.

Ms Woon had decided to shut the doors of P.O.D Bistro during the Phase 2 (Heightened Alert) period. Offering deliveries or takeaway options "is not worth it" as the bistro only gets a handful of orders, she said.

"We are trying to stay afloat but it's not really possible if they shut us down longer," she said, adding that she has not deducted the salaries of her employees.

Lionel Seng, co-founder of local blogshop Shop Sassy Dream (SSD), which has outlets in Plaza Singapura and Bugis Junction, said that the rental relief is "very helpful". This is as the drop in revenue since measures were tightened was "immediate", with SSD facing a 70-80 per cent drop in revenue on Thursday - the first day of the return to Phase 2 (Heightened Alert).

During pre-pandemic times, about 20-30 per cent of SSD's revenue went towards rental; and this has risen up to 60 per cent in some months during the pandemic. When Phase 2 (Heightened Alert) measures were implemented the first time round, sales for one of its stores would not have been able to cover rental without rental relief from the government and landlords, Mr Seng said.

"Our landlord is supportive and has been matching government's support so far. We hope they would be able to give the same support this time round," he added.

But given that only firms with an annual revenue of not more than S$100 million qualify for the rental relief, Singapore-listed food & beverage (F&B) player RE&S Holdings is not eligible for it. The group had nonetheless been affected by the tightened Covid-19 measures, with business dropping by more than 50 per cent since. RE&S operates various Japanese food establishments including Ichiban Boshi and Kuriya Japanese Market.

"While disappointed, we are grateful for the enhanced job support scheme that has just been announced for the F&B industry. We hope our landlords will see us as long-term partners and extend their support to help us over this period. In the meantime, we will continue to streamline our operations and manage our costs to stay competitive," said a RE&S spokesperson.

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