An organisation representing some institutional landlords here has said its members are offering support where appropriate to their commercial tenants through the Covid-19 crisis, but there are limits to what they can do to help. 

Irish Institutional Property (IIP), which represents a section of large retail landlords here, said there is quite a variation in how tenants are coping through the crisis.

"Some tenants are trading at the moment, others are partially trading, there are some who are also continuing to distribute through their online distribution platforms and then there are others who simply cannot trade," said Pat Farrell, chief executive of IIP.

"I can say with conviction that we have tenants today that we would like to have tomorrow and after this crisis. It is not in anybody's interest other than to support their tenants in these circumstances...so they have a fighting chance when they come out the other side of this crisis of remaining in business."

But Pat Farrell added there are limits to what landlords can do in this situation.

"We are not talking about big faceless corporates here, we are talking about investors who in the main are backed by pension funds," he said.

"They in turn have obligations to their pension savers. There are practical limits to what landlords can do."

Mr Farrell said his members echoed calls from the retail sector for Government support aimed at giving businesses a chance of surviving.

Retail Ireland is seeking Government intervention on the issue of commercial rents, including burden-sharing of costs split between the state, landlords and tenants.

Arnold Dillon, Director of Retail Ireland, said there had been a mixed response from landlords, with some working with retailers, but others putting forward a very hard-nosed approach that could lead to closure of businesses.

"There is deep concern right across the retail sector about the commercial rent liabilities that are building up during this period," Mr Dillon said.

"The vast majority of the sector is closed and is simply not in a position to pay those charges during this period, so we do need a systematic approach."

This would involve a collaborative effort between landlords and tenants, but also involving the Government, leading to some burden-sharing on the part of the state to incentivise landlords to negotiate and find workable ways of helping their tenants get through the crisis, he said.

He added that there had already been positive moves from Government around liquidity and rates, but the clock is ticking when it comes to the issue of rents.

"In Sweden we have seen an example whereby if a landlord gives a significant discount the government also matches that and thereby reduces the liability for the tenant," he said.

"And I think that's the sort of system that we need, we need a system that actively brings together landlords, tenants and the Government and incentivises practical and workable solutions. But with some public money to make sure that works.

However, legal experts have warned that ultimately leases are binding contracts which generally have to be honoured by tenants.

"There is not a huge amount of options open to them, because a lease is a contract and like any contract both parties have to comply with their terms," said Brian O'Callaghan, Partner at William Fry.

"So what we would say to any client getting in touch with us as tenants is to engage with the landlords at an early stage."

He added that it is usually not a good idea for a government to intervece in real-estate markets, as it sends a bad message generally for future investment and doing business in Ireland generally.

Mr O'Callaghan said many landlords were taking a pragmatic approach to the situation, offering rent deferrals or holidays.