Concern, confusion among small business owners as rent comes due

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BROWNSBURG, Ind. — As small business owners scramble to access resources amid the coronavirus pandemic, many find themselves trying to negotiate with landlords who also need to pay the bills.

Michele Isenhower owns Michele’s Boutique and Gifts in Brownsburg, where lately she has spent time getting her website up and running, as her doors remain closed. Last week, she said that she was caught off guard by a call from her out-of-state landlord.

“The gentleman wanted to know what my intentions were for my April rent and was I going to be paying it,” Isenhower said. “Honestly, I had been so focused over the last week just trying to figure out, ‘What do I do?'”

Isenhower’s landlord offered her reduced rent for a few months, but only if she sent her April rent check overnight and extended her lease another three years.

“I said, ‘Whoa, wait a minute, my lease isn’t up for four more years,'” Isenhower said.

Given just hours to make a decision, Isenhower declined. She soon received a notice of default, even though her rent had yet to come due for April.

“I’m shut down, not because of any fault of my own. I’m trying to take it one day at a time and they’re trying to prey on me and get me to extend my lease in a vulnerable time,” Isenhower said.

FOX59 took Isenhower’s case to attorney Chris Braun, partner at Plews Shadley Racher & Braun in Indianapolis. Braun said his phone has been ringing off the hook with questions from small business owners who are trying to make ends meet.

“We’re really looking at … a 90 day window for people to deal with this. Let’s get through it, and then reassess in 90 days,” Braun said.

That means Braun has been helping clients negotiate with landlords as rent is due, which can mean different ideas depending on the situation.

“You’re limited only by your creativity and the willingness of the parties to work together,” Braun said. “You ultimately want to make it a win-win so everybody survives this.”

Braun offered additional advice to small businesses, including strategies that he has seen work in cases already. You can watch more in the extended interview below.

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Isenhower is still working through her situation and hoping that getting her business up and running online will provide one positive in uncertain conditions.

"I’m so lucky that I have so many loyal customers that have called and reached out to me. It’s upsetting, it’s upsetting that this landlord would do this to me," Isenhower said.

Small business owners can apply for the SBA's COVID-19 disaster loans at the link here.

The Indiana Chamber is offering webinars for owners, including one on April 6 that covers contract provisions. You can find more information and sign up at the link here.

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