Simpson's Tavern rent dispute continues

By Amelie Maurice-Jones

- Last updated on GMT

Saving Simpsons Tavern: Dispute between landlord and tenant continues (Getty/ simongurney)
Saving Simpsons Tavern: Dispute between landlord and tenant continues (Getty/ simongurney)

Related tags London Property Finance Tenanted + leased

The landlord of historic chophouse Simpson's Tavern said it had “no choice” but to lock its doors after the tenants failed to pay rent, a claim the tenants have rubbished as “a selectively remembered version of events”.

More than £96,000 has been raised so far​ to save the Cornhill-based pub in central London, which Samuel Pepys, William Thackery and Charles Dickens are said to have frequented. 

Landlord Hartnell Taylor Cook (HTC) claimed it had been “supportive” of the tenants, Restaurant EC3, but added it had not engaged meaningfully with negotiations. 

However, Restaurant EC3 said the landlord’s “shambolic” handling of the situation had “fatally undermined the business”.   

An HTC spokesperson said the closure of any venue because of persistent non-payment of rent was never a good outcome, especially when the institution was as historically relevant and popular as Simpson’s Tavern. 

However, they stressed the issue was not with Simpson’s, but with the tenant, under the control of director and owner Sarvindra Singh, who it claimed failed to settle commitments or engage meaningfully in negotiations over several years. 

Complicated case

“Not only did the company fail to pay the rent, but also failed to pay the service charges and the insurance,” they said. “This has amounted to arrears, including VAT, of £336,634.16, and the landlords had no choice but to act.” 

A spokesperson for Restaurant EC3 Limited said while they did not dispute the arrears both parties allowed to run, it was “disingenuous” to suggest HTC was not complicit here. 

“This is not a simple case of Simpson’s refusing to pay rent,” they continued. “We had felt we were in meaningful negotiations to resolve the issue in the round (arrears behind – rent going forward) As both parties agreed, ‘there is no point in being piecemeal’ and ‘we won’t chase you for rent’.”

The landlord claimed to have been “supportive” and “patient” of the tenant. 

The Morning Advertiser​ understands Singh was offered a rent reduction, in December 2017, from £105,000 plus VAT per annum to £80,000 including five months’ free rent. 

An agreement was also reached with Singh in March 2020 that, in exchange for the settlement of historic service charges and insurance debt totalling £23,646.44, all rent during the first lockdown until reopening on 7 September 2020 would be cancelled.  

This offer was made on the condition that rent and other sums due would be paid when trading started up again, and in the hope it would keep Simpson’s Tavern operating after the first Covid lockdown. 

Financial stress

While the £23,646.44 was paid, the rent and other sums due were not, and no further payments arrived, according to the landlord. 

On 7 July 2022, Singh made a verbal commitment to settle service charges and insurance arrears of £62,101.76 immediately, according to HTC. 

On the same day, it said he was also made an offer allowing him to come up with a repayment proposal that Restaurant EC3 Limited could afford and that was to be supported by the financial records of the company. Despite agreeing to do this, no proposal was received and no payments were made, said the landlord. 

Although chased on 2 September 2022, a proposal was eventually made by Singh on 6 ​September 2022. However, the proposal was made without the agreed supporting financial documentation and contained a proposition to write off all rent between 25 March 2020 and 23 June 2022, which amounted to £241,500 gross, in addition to requesting that rent from 24 June 2022 until 2032 would be reduced by an average of 26%, claimed HTC. 

Notwithstanding the landlord’s wish to reach an agreement, which would enable Simpson’s Tavern to continue trading, HTC did not accept the proposal as it was “too one-sided [and] unreasonable”. 

“With regret,” its spokesperson continued, “the forfeiture was affected on Sunday 16 ​October. On 26 October 2022, Restaurant EC3 Limited paid £19,000, being the balance of the rent for the September 2022 quarter, followed up with a further proposal that was deemed not to be credible and therefore rejected.” 

While the landlord was sympathetic to non-payment of rent in 2020 when Covid was at its peak, it said there was “no justification” for the tenant’s lack of payment of insurance and service charges for that period. It also found no reasonable basis for the tenant to have fully traded for more than a year since July 2021 without making any payment of rent, except for a small sum after proceedings were initiated. 

“The landlords still hope to find a solution that keeps Simpson’s Tavern, and Mr Duggan [Simpson’s GM], in business and employment for years to come,” it added. 

Fraught negotiations 

However, EC3 Restaurant Limited claimed: “We had no engagement from 20 October to 22 July and were reassured this was an issue both parties were aligned with as we reviewed the volumes returning after Covid.

“It was HTC that suggested the City would not return and a review was needed and, as a sitting tenant of 265 years (40 within Mr Singh’s direct governance), [we] felt the matter was a being dealt with in good faith.” 

The spokesperson believed HTC’s act of closing the tavern to be at odds with its purported intent to “find a solution that leads to Simpson’s Tavern” continuing. 

Restaurant EC3 would welcome evidence of HTC engaging in some way to work this through. Its spokesperson continued: “We cannot continually be told ‘no’ to offers, without counter, and be accused of not engaging. Offers that include full and immediate repayment for months open, further to a six-figure offer being placed, prior to the deadline of Government Covid Arbitration Scheme.  

“This offer was deliberately ignored until after the 30 ​September deadline, which removed our right to be protected from this sort of behaviour through the scheme.” 

While a new lease was negotiated in 2018, Restaurant EC3 claimed it was “not unusual” to re-evaluate rent at that time, and the lease currently has steps raising annually. 

It could not be right to say the value of rent in 2020 should rise by £5,000 during the closure and a further £5,000 the following year when City employees were still working from home, according to the spokesperson. 

They continued: “While we are grateful for HTC putting out a selectively remembered version of events, we would have been more grateful had they simply picked up the phone and engaged on simple terms to restore our lease.  

What will the future hold?

“Perhaps by setting a schedule of repayment and terms they see are acceptable. Instead, they have repeatedly refused terms of repayment and failed to engage. If there was an ounce of credibility in the statement they are making, it must be lost when the irony of their actions is examined. How can HTC claim they still hope to find a solution to keep Simpson’s Tavern in business when they have closed it? 

“Our staff will find HTC’s hope of a solution some comfort I am sure, as they are being made redundant.” 

Restaurant EC3 claimed it needed to see a Christmas trading period that wasn’t curtailed by Covid, as well as perhaps receive revenue that could assist in paying down the arrears.

“It is at this point that HTC closed our business, forcing on us the legal costs, redundancy and further fees of insolence,” the spokesperson continued. “It beggars belief that their shambolic handling of this is anything other than knowingly fatally undermining the business to ensure its failure while they state in press ‘it did everything it could’. 

“We are desperate to return to service and maintain the tavern as a living part of the City of London’s history. HTC knows this and are now refusing reasonable offers of repayment and stopping our ability to trade.  

“There is an eminently achievable deal to be done here, but HTC are hell bent on keeping us out. They are deliberately employing an unclear agenda that is only revealed in their actions not their supposed intentions while they market this property’s freehold.  

“They are defying any financial logic, by denying reasonable settlement and bankrupting a viable historic business and ensuring zero return for HTC. They continue to say no to offers, they say they have no choice – they did, and they do.” 

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