A Reading-born property tycoon has been slammed over a lockdown rental row during the coronavirus crisis.

Sykes Capital owner John Sykes, who grew up in Reading but now lives in the Bahamas, refutes accusations of not behaving within the spirit of government measures during the Covid-19 crisis.

Reading’s Escape Hunt, on Kings Road, was threatened with legal action by Sykes Capital if it did not pay its rent on time.

The company hit out at the behaviour of its landlord, comparing it to “constructive and helpful” discussions with other landlords, but Sykes Capital has refuted the complaints.

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Escape Hunt director Andrew Jacobs said: “I have been involved in a hundred leases in my career and I have never come across a landlord like this.

“He does everything by the book but he is nothing but obstructive. I don’t think he is doing anything illegal but I don’t think he should be allowed to get away with this behaviour.”

The Chronicle has seen email correspondence which confirms Escape Hunt was threatened with legal action.

Pho, another business in the same building, was also threatened with action, according to the Financial Times.

The emails, which warn the escape rooms company that it needs to pay rent quarterly or face legal action, were sent by Sykes CEO Andrew Strong, who lives in Thailand, and the company’s legal advisors.

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Escape Hunt shut its doors on March 20 due the Covid-19 pandemic and recently furloughed its retail staff.

The company asked Sykes Capital for a three-month rent and service charges holiday on March 18 due to the crisis and the need to halt business operations. This was refused.

Mr Jacobs then asked if Escape Hunt could pay monthly instead of quarterly, but this was also rejected by Sykes Capital.

He said: “Most landlords are agreeing to rent deferrals because they understand the current climate.

“In our case we feel very bullied and poorly treated by this landlord and I am aware of similar behaviour towards other tenants of his.

“He is not behaving in line with the spirit of government measures nor in any way constructively towards his tenants.”

He also highlighted how the landlord regularly enforces additional charges, such as £50 for every letter sent.

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The government said earlier this month it would consider taking action against landlords that are placing unreasonable demands on their tenants, in an announcement from Reading West MP and business secretary Alok Sharma.

Landlords have been asked to act “within the spirit” of the lockdown measures by the government, though it has also called on tenants to pay rent where they can afford it in recognition of the strains felt by commercial landlords.

Sykes Capital, which has £305million in assets and £50million in capital to invest, is one of the largest private landlords in the Thames Valley, backed solely by Mr Sykes.

Mr Sykes also finances charity the Johns Sykes Foundation, which offers grants of up to £10,000 to people in Reading who need support.

CEO Andrew Strong has refuted the suggestion the lease is heavily biased in Sykes Capital’s favour and said the company was “unsure why Mr Jacobs claims the lease is unfair”.

He added: “We are equally disappointed to read Mr Jacobs comments about the ethics of our business, given that even after his lease had commenced, we arranged free advertising and many other concessions far beyond our obligations under the terms of the lease.”

The CEO said Escape Hunt had decided to withhold its rent rather than being unable to pay it.

He added: “It is surprising that after just five days of being closed that they could not pay their rent.

“On further investigation it became clear that Escape Hunt had created a policy of hoarding their cash and assets and attempting to avoid paying their commitments.”

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Escape Hunt has since paid its rent in full and has zero arrears but Mr Jacobs said the company is, like many retail businesses having to take a very careful approach to managing cash in light of the coronavirus crisis and Brexit.

Mr Strong said Sykes Capital is sympathetic to the pandemic and difficulties its tenants face and has only instigated legal action on those tenants it believes can pay but are choosing not to do.

He said the company is “unwilling to be the bankers for global and well capitalised brands such as Escape Hunt”, accusing businesses of escape room company’s size of “bullying” landlords for a commercial advantage.

The CEO added corporate landlords like the £355 million-strong Sykes Capital are themselves “struggling with the lack of rental income”.

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