A high court judgment could pave the way for more affordable rents for art and antiques dealers in St James’s.
After a six-year legal battle, textile dealer S Franses was victorious in a dispute with its landlord over a new lease and rent at the gallery in Jermyn Street.
Following a four-day hearing, culminating on June 18, the High Court case of S Franses Limited v Cavendish Hotel (London) determined the rent set in a new lease for the gallery should be £102,000, less than half the previous passing rent of £220,000.
S Franses director Simon Franses said: “This is an incredibly important judgment and is great news for us and for tenants. There are 12 empty, or soon to be empty, shops along Jermyn Street.
“We want art and antiques galleries to know that this area is now affordable. This is one of the few central London locations that are now attractive for galleries again.”
Christopher Battiscombe, director general of The Society of London Art Dealers, said: “This is a very encouraging decision and it will be interesting to see what impact it has on rents elsewhere in St James’s and Mayfair, where over two-thirds of SLAD members are based.
“There is little doubt that rents in these areas have risen very steeply over the last few years and there may need to be some reappraisal as landlords take stock of the long-term impact of the Covid crisis.”
St James’s and Mayfair had historically been the centre of the art world in London.
In 2016, Mayfair and St James’s received designated protection by Westminster City Council planners as part of a new policy for central London. The St James’s Special Policy Areas (SPA) seeks to ‘protect the unique historic character and function of St James’s, including its art galleries…’.
However, increasing rents and competiton from fashion and luxury retailers had forced many galleries to move upstairs away from street level or out of the area altogether.
The S Franses court case centred on a dispute over the lease and rent at 80 Jermyn Street, where the gallery has operated for 27 years.
The six-year battle included a Supreme Court ruling in December 2018 (after earlier decisions and appeals) which had ordered the landlord to grant a new lease.
The Cavendish Hotel (a subsidiary of Singapore’s CapitaLand) had planned to redevelop the space and had hoped S Franses would leave when the previous lease had come to an end in 2015.
The 2018 Supreme Court ruling effectively altered the interpretation of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1954 which allows a landlord to oppose the grant of a new tenancy where it intends to redevelop the property. However, in this case it was determined that a new lease should be granted to S Franses despite the landlord’s plans.
Franses added: “This period has been very tough for us. During the pandemic we had no income and had this court case to deal with. But we are thankful for the result.”
He added: “It was thanks to the painstaking research into rental comparables by our expert [John Buckingham of Union Land] that we were able to rebut the over-optimistic forecasts of the landlord’s surveyor.”
The dealership is now undertaking a refurbishment of the gallery which is currently open by appointment only. It will reopen fully next year once the works are complete.