Atlanta firm Ardent expands lending to UK

The manager has hired Sunny Lakhtaria as UK head of real estate debt.

Atlanta-based real estate investment management firm Ardent Companies has expanded its lending strategy to the UK and has hired Sunny Lakhtaria as UK head of real estate debt.

Lakhtaria will lead the debt platform, through which Ardent plans to lend against most property asset classes, including retail, offices, healthcare, residential, hotels, leisure and logistics. It is aiming to originate a range of loan types within a ‘mid-market’ range of £10 million (€11.54 million) to £100 million (€115 million), Lakhtaria told Real Estate Capital Europe.

“There is clearly strong UK market demand for debt and financing solutions across a number of real estate sectors,” he added. “We think there are significant opportunities across all sectors, with development finance for the living sectors – build-to-sell, build-to-rent and purpose built student accommodation – an area where there is a considerable need at the moment.”

The Atlanta business expanded into the UK, with the formation of Ardent Companies UK, in March 2021. The firm appointed former Battersea Power Station deputy head of legal Richard Benson and head of phase two Andrew Hilston to lead the firm’s equity investment deals in the UK. The firm launched the $230 million Ardent Strategic Fund I to opportunistically invest in the country.

At the time, the company was also aiming to provide debt solutions in the UK. However, market uncertainty across Europe, due to the covid-19 pandemic and then the war in Ukraine, delayed its lending market plans. Instead, the firm largely focused on logistics equity deals due to the tailwinds the asset class was experiencing, Lakhtaria explained.

It has since established a UK industrial and logistics portfolio of over 2.25 million square feet.

It is understood, during its expansion into the UK in 2021, the firm was aiming to lend through its real estate credit fund series, Ardent Financial Fund. However, with the official formation of the debt platform, it has diversified its sources of capital, Lakhtaria said.

“We’ll be working in a range of ways including mandates, joint venture partnerships and our own capital,” he explained. “We are in discussions with capital partners who want to work with us on debt operations and have the full backing, including financial, of the wider Ardent group. We won’t be launching a European fund at this stage,” he added.

In the US, the firm is currently raising capital for its fifth real estate debt fund, Ardent Financial Fund V, and is aiming to raise $500 million. Through the fund, it will target mid-market senior debt ranging from $5 million to $75 million. It aims to lend on value-add and opportunistic repositioning, development and redevelopment of all types of commercial properties in the US. Terms on its loans range between six and 36 months.

Lakhatria was a partner at UK-based residential development finance lender Urban Exposure between 2013 and 2019. At the firm – which at the time was run by Randeesh and Daljit Sandhu, co-founders of residential development finance lender Precede Capital Partners – Lakhatria oversaw the inception of a £165 million joint venture with New York private equity firm KKR, to provide development financing. Urban Exposure has since been wound down.

In 2020, Lakhatria set up a financial management firm called Terrain Capital in London, according to UK business register Companies House.

He joined Ardent from London-based brokerage firm Kingswood Associates – where he worked beginning November 2022 and was its senior lending director.