Hudson’s Bay Co. holds its annual meeting of shareholders in Toronto on June 3, 2016. Two landlords of the Hudson’s Bay Co. are suing the retailer for unpaid rent, alleging the iconic department store that anchors shopping malls across Canada hasn’t paid its bills at multiple locations since April. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov

Hudson’s Bay Co. holds its annual meeting of shareholders in Toronto on June 3, 2016. Two landlords of the Hudson’s Bay Co. are suing the retailer for unpaid rent, alleging the iconic department store that anchors shopping malls across Canada hasn’t paid its bills at multiple locations since April. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov

Landlords sue Hudson’s Bay for unpaid rent, retailer says malls aren’t ‘first class’

The coming months could see more disputes emerge as shoppers turn to e-commerce

Two Hudson’s Bay Co. landlords are suing the retailer for unpaid rent, alleging the iconic department store that anchors shopping malls across Canada hasn’t paid its bills at multiple locations since April.

The lawsuits, filed in Quebec Superior Court by Cominar Real Estate Investment Trust and Oxford Properties Group and its co-owners, are seeking so-called safeguard orders compelling HBC to pay rent.

The companies say in court documents that HBC owes more than $3.5 million in rent and other fees at five Quebec shopping malls, an amount that continues to climb by more than half a million dollars each month.

In an affidavit filed in response, Ian Putnam, president and chief executive officer of HBC Properties and Investment, said the company has been trying to reach a mutually acceptable solution with the landlords that recognizes COVID-19’s “dramatic impact” on retail.

“HBC still hopes to arrive at a reasonable resolution,” he said in court documents filed Wednesday.

“But their demand that HBC pay the entirety of the rent ignores the fundamental change in the nature of these properties,” Putnam said, adding that they are no longer the “first class” malls HBC bargained for.

The legal wrangling highlights the challenges facing both commercial landlords and retailers as foot traffic in brick-and-mortar stores continues to lag after widespread closures last spring.

With the second wave of the pandemic intensifying, the coming months could see more disputes emerge as shoppers turn to e-commerce instead of local shopping malls ahead of the busiest shopping season of the year.

Oxford Properties said the ongoing loss of rent from an anchor tenant could be crippling for its shopping centres, suggesting the retailer also has unpaid bills outside Quebec.

In court documents, the company said that while HBC continues to pay rent “under protest” at three of its shopping centres, it’s withholding rent at eight other locations.

The company’s portfolio of malls includes the Yorkdale Shopping Centre in North York, Ont., the Square One Shopping Centre in Mississauga, Ont., and the Southcentre Mall in Calgary, Alta.

“HBC’s aggregate indebtedness to the landlords of the Oxford Shopping Centres … is extremely large and growing at an alarming rate,” Oxford Properties said in court documents.

Oxford Properties, which is the real estate subsidiary of OMERS, added that an inability to collect the amount owing from HBC would cause “irreparable harm.”

Meanwhile, Cominar is threatening Hudson’s Bay with eviction from its three Quebec properties in addition to seeking unpaid rent.

Cominar claims in court documents that HBC owes $603,169 in rent at the Rockland Shopping Centre, $662,490 at the Champlain Mall and $144,393 at the Centre Laval.

Oxford Properties claims the retailer owes $1.4 million in overdue rent at Les Galeries de la Capitale and $875,680 at Les Promenades Gatineau.

The landlord also alleges that HBC has made it clear it has “no intention of paying any rent in the foreseeable future.”

“It appears that HBC’s true intention is to take advantage of the current challenging times to occupy and carry on business from the leased premises rent-free as long as possible,” Oxford Properties said.

“HBC is attempting to use the pandemic as a pretext to unjustly enrich itself at the expense of the landlord.”

Daniel O’Donnell, a spokesman for Oxford Properties, said although the landlord is willing to share the financial burden of COVID-19’s impact, HBC has ignored “multiple requests to enter into a constructive dialogue to find a mutually agreeable arrangement.”

He said HBC’s continued refusal to pay any rent — despite being open for business — pushed the company to pursue legal action.

But in his affidavit, Putnam said the allegation that HBC has simply refused to pay rent while also refusing to engage in good faith negotiations is “completely false.”

“HBC is committed to arriving at a reasonable resolution with Oxford,” he said. “It is not HBC’s intent to continue operating its stores without paying any rent.”

Part of the issue for HBC is the current state of the malls it anchors.

James Tate, a retail market analyst retained by HBC legal counsel, said in an affidavit that the landlord “is not delivering a first-class suburban regional centre in terms of customer traffic and opportunity for HBC.”

He said Oxford Properties has not consistently provided the elements required for a “first class suburban regional shopping centre,” including a place to shop, eat and socialize that is perceived as a clean and safe.

Diane J. Brisebois, Retail Council of Canada president and CEO, said it’s disappointing the landlords decided to take the issue to court.

“The case could set a precedent that’s damaging to the retail sector,” she said. “It’s unfortunate it had to come to this. Having huge anchor stores disappear from malls is a recipe for disaster.”

Citing shifting consumer behaviour, HBC said earlier this month it would permanently close its Winnipeg store in February 2021.

ALSO READ: No new COVID rules for B.C. gyms as Ontario fitness studio sees ‘very large outbreak’

Brett Bundale, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

CoronavirusRetail

Just Posted

From left: Thomas Kuecks, David Lane, John Ivison, Denis Berger, Rod Gray, and James Kuecks are Cabin Fever. Catch their performance on the Cowichan Performing Arts Centre website. (Ashley Foot photo)
A&E column: Music Festival winners, CVAC awards, and Cabin Fever

The latest from the Cowichan Valley arts and entertainment community

BC Green Party leader and Cowichan Valley MLA Sonia Furstenau introduced a petition to the provincial legislature on Thursday calling for the end of old-growth logging in the province. (File photo)
Cowichan Valley MLA Furstenau introduces old-growth logging petition

BC Green Party calls for the end of old-growth logging as protests in Fairy Creek continue

The city-owned lot at 361 St. Julien St., which has been home to a temporary homeless site for more than a year, will be sold and plans are to build a three-storey mixed-use development there, Peter de Verteuil, Duncan CAO explained at a recent council meeting. (File photo)
New development planned for homeless site in Duncan

Lot on St. Julien Street would see three-storey building

Historian and longtime Citizen columnist T.W. Paterson photographs the historical wreckage of a plane on Mount Benson. Paterson recently won an award from the British Columbia Historical Foundation. (Submitted)
Cowichan’s Tom W. Paterson wins award for historical writing

British Columbia Historical Federation hands Recognition Award to local writer

This electric school bus is the newest addition to the Cowichan Valley School District’s fleet. (Submitted)
Editorial: New electric school bus good place to start

Changing public transit like buses to electric really is important.

People line up to get their COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre, Thursday, June 10, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Vaccines, low COVID case counts increase Father’s Day hope, but risk is still there

Expert says people will have to do their own risk calculus before popping in on Papa

The Co-op gas station at Whiskey Creek is burning after a camper van exploded while refueling just before 4 p.m. on Thursday, June 17, 2021. (FACEBOOK PHOTO)
Exploding camper van torches Highway 4 gas station between Qualicum Beach and Port Alberni

Highway traffic blocked after Whiskey Creek gas station erupts into flames

Helen Austin performing with Trent Freeman at the 2018 Vancouver Island MusicFest. Austin is one of the many performers listed for the 2021 event.
Vancouver Island MusicFest goes virtual for 2021

Black Press to stream 25 hours of programming July 9-11

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Greater father involvement in the home leads to improved childhood development and increased marital satisfaction, says expert. (Black Press Media file photo)
Vancouver Island researcher finds lack of father involvement a drag on gender equality

Working women still taking on most child and household duties in Canada: UVic professor

FILE – A science class at L.A. Matheson Secondary in Surrey, B.C. on March 12, 2021. (Lauren Collins/Surrey Now Leader)
Teachers’ union wants more COVID transmission data as B.C. prepares for back-to-school

BCTF says that details will be important as province works on plan for September

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry outlines B.C.’s COVID-19 restart plan, May 25, 2021, including larger gatherings and a possible easing of mandatory masks on July 1. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. records 120 new COVID-19 cases, second vaccines accelerating

Lower Pfizer deliveries for early July, Moderna shipments up

A Heffley Creek peacock caught not one - but two - lifts on a logging truck this month. (Photo submitted)
Heffley Creek-area peacock hops logging trucks in search of love

Peacock hitched two lifts in the past month

The Calgary skyline is seen on Friday, Sept. 15, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
2 deaths from COVID-19 Delta variant in Alberta, 1 patient was fully immunized

Kerry Williamson with Alberta Health Services says the patients likely acquired the virus in the hospital

Most Read