The increasing popularity of online shopping has incessantly made it difficult for retailers to maintain their bricks and mortar stores. Then along came COVID-19, which forcibly opened the world up to online shopping and changed our spending habits. Besides, COVID-19 is not going anywhere fast.
Between the increase in online shopping, and the ever present threat of a ‘lockdown’, it is a tough time to be in the retail sector, for stores and centres alike.
In an environment of uncertain income, and with fixed costs, centres are looking at ways to cut their variable costs. One such variable cost is the cost of contract cleaners. Although, in reducing cleaners – are centres opening themselves up to a lawsuit should a customer come to harm on a spill that has gone undetected?
The law in relation to liability for injuries to customers who have come to grief on a hazard in a centre is based on whether centres had a reasonable amount of time to detect and remedy any hazard before the injury occurred.
While consideration is given in relation to the type of area (i.e., food court area verse non-food court area), the number of customers who attend a centre has generally not been a consideration. However, having regard to the unique situation facing centres as a result of COVID-19, the Courts may adapt their approach. Such that the decreased level of patronage may be taken into account when determining what is reasonable. This has not been tested.
However, there may still be some savings to be made, with the potential for fewer cleaning staff being required to maintain the same level of rotations, by reason of the demand for their services being less.
It would be prudent for any business seeking to reduce costs by reducing their cleaning bill to consider what are the current requirements for the centre, and to also consider terms that allow for reduced cleaning in the event of a lockdown situation.
This may also be a prudent time for centres to review the terms of the leases and cleaning contracts regarding requirements for tenants and contractors to take out insurance in the name of the centre (landlord and/or manager), and to seek evidence that these terms have been complied with.