The majority of businesses need premises to operate from, whether they be for offices, workshops, factories or storage facilities. While some businesses own the premises they operate from, most occupy under a lease paying a market rent. But, there is more to a commercial lease than the payment of rent and the answers to the following commonly asked questions will give potential business tenants some useful guidance:-
1. Once I have signed the lease can I get out of it if my business suffers a downturn?
Leases are generally granted for a fixed period of years known as a term. The lease term can only be ended early by the tenant if, prior to entering the lease the landlord has agreed that the tenant has an option to do so, or, the landlord later agrees to release the tenant from the lease before the term has expired. If neither of these situations arise, and you cannot find an acceptable replacement tenant for the premises, you may well remain bound to pay the rent and comply with all other obligations until the end of the lease term, even if you have vacated the premises.
2. I know there will be rent to pay, but are there any other costs I may be responsible for under the lease?
If you are renting part of the landlord’s building such as an office block, you may also have a responsibility to contribute to the upkeep and maintenance of common parts of the whole building such as the roof and structural walls, or other things that are used in common with other occupiers of the landlord’s property, such as lifts or a reception area. This is often referred to as service charge. The tenant will also be responsible for the payment of the insurance premium for the premises to cover damage to the premises and also the loss of rent the landlord may suffer if the premises become unusable due to such damage.
There can be a cost if you want to transfer the lease, or sub-let part of the property to someone else, as you will usually need the landlord’s written permission, and the landlord can normally claim the cost of considering whether to agree to the transaction and also drafting and agreeing the form of the written permission. Finally, you will usually be responsible for the business rates, utilities and any other outgoings in relation to the premises.
3. If I find that there are repairs required to the premises, am I right to think the landlord will sort them out?
Most commercial landlords not only seek to avoid any responsibility to carry out repairs to the premises, but will actually seek to put the responsibility for putting the property into repair on the tenant’s shoulders. A tenant who agrees to a full repairing obligation can find himself with a repairing bill running into tens of thousands of pounds when the lease ends, despite the fact that the disrepair pre-dated the lease itself. A well advised tenant will try to limit his repairing responsibility to keeping it in no worse state than it was at the date of the lease. For this reason, it is highly recommended that an ingoing tenant obtains a survey to check and record the condition of the premises before they enter into a lease.
4. What happens if, after I have taken the lease, I discover there are problems relating to the premises that impact on my business?
The principle of “buyer beware” relates to a tenant taking a lease in the same way that it does to a purchaser buying a property, meaning that a tenant takes a property “warts and all” and he must satisfy himself that it is suitable both physically and legally for the use he intends. The research into the property carried out by a good lawyer will reveal many things about the property, including whether the landlord actually has the power to grant the lease, any adverse rights that may affect it as well as any rights that benefit the property such as rights of way. Lawyers can carry out a range of enquiries and searches to discover such things as planning permissions affecting the land, whether the property is connected to the public highway, whether there is any risk that the premises may be on contaminated land, whether the is a risk of subsidence due to historic mining in the area, whether the property is connected to mains utilities and a host of other information.
It is common for tenants who have not been represented by solicitors to enter a lease without finding out any of this information. If a problem rears its head in such a case, say for instance the property does not have planning permission to use it for the tenant’s business, he will have no comeback against the landlord and the tenant will have to continue paying the rent despite the fact he may have a useless asset.
5. I’ve heard that a landlord can change the locks of my business premises if I am late paying the rent, is this true?
In short, yes. The powers of a commercial landlord to deal with non-payment of rent are far-reaching. Forfeiture is the procedure by which a landlord can terminate a lease and virtually all commercial leases will have a clause allowing the landlord to terminate the lease if the rent is unpaid for a specified number of days, usually somewhere between 14 -28. Unlike their residential brethren, commercial landlords do not need a court order to retake possession of leased property if their right to forfeit the lease has arisen because of late payment of rent. Landlords also have the right to send bailiffs in to seize the tenant’s goods and sell them if the rent is unpaid, but legislation will soon come into force to restrict this right.
The above answers cover some basic issues relating to commercial leases, but in reality only scratch the surface of what is a complicated topic. If you have any queries relating to commercial leases please comment on this article and I will try and answer them. I will also be posting further blogs on different aspects of commercial leases and commercial property in general and welcome and comments and contributions you may have.