COMMERCIAL TENANTS: SHOULD YOU PAY RENT DURING THIS CRISIS?

In my opinion, the answer is generally no; don’t pay your rent for now.

Why?  Because it’s probably the only leverage you have over your landlord right now, and it is good leverage which most tenants don’t typically have with a landlord. A relevant Costar News Article discusses how The Cheesecake Factory is one of many examples of a business that has found it impossible to pay rent.  If you pay your rent as usual, why would a landlord offer you any kind of help?

I have been receiving many calls from business owners from existing clients and those that are becoming new clients related to what they should do regarding their commercial real estate leases.  Negotiate to terminate the lease early, sublease or assign the leased space, apply for governmental aid, make an insurance claim, etc. are some of the potential options. There are pros and cons to each option but one of the best options for a tenant right now is to simply not pay your rent.

Not paying your rent might not be a good idea if your landlord has offered you a reasonable alternative such as not paying rent now and adding on the deferred rent to your lease. This could be done either at the end of your term, via a term extension for three months, or whatever length of the deferred rent amounts to in months, or in some other fashion like raising your rent in the future to recoup the abated rent.  However, if this doesn’t work for you for some reason, then you have to find a different solution like one of the ones mentioned in the paragraph above. Here is a link to another article on this subject that you might find of interest.

But what if you ask the landlord for some kind of help and he isn’t responding to you?  Then in my opinion, not paying your rent could be your best option. Landlords and lenders both don’t want empty buildings as landlords might give a building back to a lender if too many tenants aren’t paying rent or vacating.  My experience is that by not paying rent you will get your landlord’s attention and get a response with what the landlord is willing to do for you quickly.

Some of my clients I have spoken with are worried about litigation if they don’t pay their rent.  “Won’t the landlord evict me?” or “Won’t this hurt my credit?” The answer to these questions is that the courts aren’t open now and might not be for some time. And if the landlord has to spend a lot of money on legal fees chasing a lot of tenants and creating a lot of vacant space at their property that traditionally has not gone well for a landlord or a lender.  Also, you can always change your mind and pay the rent once you get a notice of default as long as you pay within the allotted time but even then most times I would probably recommend that you still don’t pay.

Doug Schneider of Alabama-based Bayer Properties knows what store and shop owners are struggling with amid this COVID-19 crisis. In a recent Costar News article, Tony Wilbert states: 

“To help, Schneider, the executive vice president of operations at Birmingham, Alabama-based Bayer Properties, is starting a program to help tenants access some of the money available to them as part of several federal programs, including the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act and Small Business Administration Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL). Tax credits are available under expanded provisions of the Family and Medical Leave Act as well, he said.”

Here is another great article from Bisnow: The Coronavirus Tenant-Landlord Playbook Revealed.

Each situation is unique and needs to be figured out carefully, so run it by your attorney, CPA or other counsel if you want help making the right decision on how to handle what you should do regarding your commercial lease.   I have settled these types of matters both as a landlord and tenant hundreds of times so I can assist you if you need help. Reach out at david@djmcre.com or 805-217-0791.

Here is a resourceful list of additional relevant articles:

 

Tenant Rent Abatement During This Crisis

Many businesses are experiencing the same income drop that you and I are.

In a relevant Costar article, Brad Tisdahl states:

 “The people I’ve been in contact with are asking, how long and how serious is this going to get,” said Tishahl, adding he’s recently received a steady stream of inquiries from current and prospective clients. “Landlords want to get a sense of what they should be doing if they’re getting a lot of rent-relief requests.”

While it is true that many businesses are experiencing income drops, the landlords probably won’t give a rent reduction of any kind because they are going to have losses also as many businesses, especially in retail centers, will go out of business.

It doesn’t hurt to ask your landlord for a rent reduction, but you are going to have to prove your income drop, which is not normally something you do in advance, but rather in arrears after many months of the loss.  You also have to prove that you don’t have enough other financial resources to cover your debts without this income and that you are probably going to terminate the lease early if they don’t help you in some way.

However, no landlord I am aware of will even consider a rent reduction without a tenant sending them proof of their losses and showing they don’t have sufficient assets to cover these losses on their own.

The First thing I would recommend is checking with your insurance carrier to see if you have business interruption insurance (you probably do) and to see if it covers mandatory required government closings and loss of business income otherwise for any other applicable events.  There is usually a 90 day waiting period before a claim can be made on such policies. Click here for a promising link about this type of coverage. The main point here is to make the insurance claim so if your insurance company either decides to cover it or is required to cover it by the government you are in the queue before the other thousands of claims that will come in. This is to ensure, if there is coverage, you will get your money earlier than those who waited.

Landlord’s also have loss of rent insurance so you can check with your landlord to see if their coverage is in effect; if it is they will allow you not to pay rent. Because landlords will have to make a claim, I am recommending they do it sooner rather than later, even if they think there probably won’t be coverage. This is for the same reasons mentioned above regarding your business interruption insurance.

Many tenants are going to be in the same situation as you, so something will have to be done, or the landlords will have a lot of empty space.

In my opinion, your options regarding your current lease are the following: 1) Give back part of your space to the landlord. I don’t think this will appeal to your landlord much because currently the demand for space is very low and it will not be easy to lease it; 2) Sublease part of your space to others, especially those that might be potential referral sources for your business; you might actually end up receiving more rent than you are paying this way, but you also might want to make a better deal for someone who is a potential referral source for you. However, it might not be easy to sublease quickly because of demand for office space right now; 3) Terminate your lease early and relocate to another space in the building or to another property. Again, I don’t think this will appeal to your landlord but they may accept this option, or option #1 because it’s better than losing a tenant entirely. Moving to another property would be a more aggressive approach, but in my experience and opinion, you can usually get out of any lease for 6-12 months of your current rent. California usually requires landlords to mitigate a tenant’s lease damages, and the courts time and time again have stated this is the amount of time it should have taken the landlord to release your current location. I rarely see any award over 12 months of rent, but in most cases, the courts have awarded between 6-9 months of rent, as it really depends on your current market and how fast space is leasing for your particular type of space. 

In a recent Bisnow article, Michael Huddleston states:

” Waiting for the government to force closure is a dangerous game of damned if you do, damned if you don’t, Huddleston said. “The problem is if you voluntarily shut the business down, and you have one of these policies that provide the coverage for when the civil authority shuts you down, you are going to potentially lose the coverage or at least limit the coverage if you shut down before the civil authority acts,” Huddleston said.  “[But] if you wait for the civil authority to act, then you are potentially incurring liability to patrons coming in because you know there is a danger … that’s a liability exposure.” 

I can help you with all of the matters mentioned above, but if you reach out to your landlord to see what options they offer, it won’t hurt.

I hope the above helps, and let me know if you want to discuss any of the above further, as each option has many more details that need to be considered.

Here are two additional resourceful articles on the topic:

Before You Break That Lease Over COVID-19, Negotiate First, Brokers Say

Force Majeure And Business Interruption Insurance May Not Be The Solution CRE Hopes 

If you have questions about selling, buying, or leasing CRE or have any other CRE needs, please contact David Massie at david@djmcre.com or 805-217-0791.

SELL & LEASE YOUR COMMERCIAL REAL ESTATE FOR THE MAXIMUM PRICE

In my experience as an owner/landlord and broker of commercial real estate (“CRE”), most brokers hired to list office, retail, industrial or other types of CRE properties for sale or lease put up a “for sale” or “for lease” sign and list a property online at a couple of Commercial Real Estate (“CRE”) websites like Loopnet and CoStar.  This passive approach waits for the interested parties to find the property by driving by it or searching for it online.

The passive approach discussed above, while necessary, is not the best way to sell or lease your property for the maximum price and/or fast as possible as it takes the least amount of effort by the broker.  In some hot CRE markets with lots of demand and limited supply, this might be all that is required. However, even then you aren’t seeing all offers and might not be selling or leasing for the highest price or as fast as you could have.  In conjunction with this passive approach, there are many other meaningful actions that can be performed but they take the knowledge that most brokers don’t have as well as time, energy and dollars that these brokers simply don’t want to invest.

One such action a broker can take is contacting your current client base (via LinkedIn, email, phone call, etc.) and even your personal contacts (via Facebook, Twitter, etc.) to see if they have any interest or know of anyone that does.  The power of these contacts is not to be underestimated especially if you have strong business and/or personal relationships and have kept in touch with them. I have found the more personable broker that has a reputation for putting people first over making commissions and that specialize in certain cities or certain parts of larger cities know the local people that actually live and work in these areas. This helps them get more referrals to help them sell their listed properties faster.  I recently received an office lease listing where a large national brokerage firm could not lease the space for 2 years but I was able to lease it in less than 30 days because of the aforementioned personal relationships and referrals to me from them.

Another action a broker can take is changing up the listing and flyer information periodically.  I prefer doing this monthly but it does depend upon the property type and demand for it but at a minimum, I would recommend doing this quarterly.  I recommend changing the listing and flyer to highlight different important property features and use different headers so interested parties that might have seen the original marketing information see new information that they might not have seen the first time.  I recently received a new office lease listing that a large regional brokerage had tried to lease the space for years where the listing, flyer and other marketing information simply was never changed and I was able to make it better and have created new interest in the property with multiple offers coming in now.

To reiterate, there are many other actions a broker can take to help his client sell or lease their CRE for a higher price and/or faster but many brokers simply lack the knowledge, don’t want to invest the time (they might work for a big brokerage and be focused on volume rather than quality), don’t want to pay more for different listings other than what their company has access to, don’t have a good reputation, etc.  And these are areas I have overcome as both an owner/landlord and broker for CRE and I can help you sell or lease your property in a better way.

If you have questions about selling, buying, or leasing CRE or have any other CRE needs, please contact David Massie at david@djmcre.com or 805-217-0791.

Commercial Landlords In California Facing Potential Large Property Tax Increases

California commercial landlords, owners of office, medical, retail, warehouse/industrial spaces and more, are in for a shock if the current proposition on the ballot passes in November.

In a recent Bisnow article, Rex Hime states: 

“If this comes into effect, they [small businesses] are gone,” Hime said to Bisnow after his presentation during the ICSC Southern California Idea Exchange event Thursday at the Long Beach Convention Center. “The second issue is, you have these large corporate property owners with many, many tenants, and since most are under triple net leases, they are going to pass that tax along to their tenants, and some of them will not be able to survive.”

But what Hime doesn’t state is that this will not just adversely affect retail landlords but all commercial landlords who own commercial properties of any type.  It’s not just retail leases that pass through the cost of property tax increases.  Office and industrial leases usually do it also even though they are modified gross leases and not triple net.

Also, how will these potential tax increases affect commercial real estate prices?  I think it will cause sales prices to drop.

The commercial real estate market in California, and also nationwide across the US, has been doing very well for the past decade with prices at all-time highs with no real end in sight as of now. But if this initiative passes in CA and it causes prices to drop and vacancies to increase as predicted, California is in for some serious financial pain.

And those owners/landlords who bought at high prices in the past decade won’t like it much if this initiative causes prices to fall and vacancies to increase. This will probably also lead to more bankruptcies and foreclosures because of loan defaults.

If you want help with leasing, buying or selling your commercial real estate, whether office, medical, dental, retail or warehouse/industrial space, contact David Massie of DJM Commercial Real Estate at david@djmcre.com or 805-217-0791.  

More Medical Tenants Leasing At Retail Locations.

In 2017, I had written a blog predicting that medical leasing in a retail center would be beneficial, and more prevalent in the future. This prediction has recently come true, as there is, in fact, a shortage of medical space available.

Bisnow article on the matter states:

“In the last three years, we [retail brokers] have done more medical deals in retail spaces than I have ever done previously in my career,” Franks said. “Additionally, we have done more specialty retail uses in traditional retail space than we ever have done before.”

From my previous blog on the topic, I stated that it would not only be good for a landlord to capture medical tenants and bring in potential new business for the other retail tenants in the center but also that it may bring in new patients for the medical tenants as well.

However, the main problem for medical tenants leasing at retail centers, particularly nice ones where they probably want to be most, is that the rent is usually higher than a nice medical building. Retail landlords don’t typically pay for the medical improvements needed for leased space as a medical building landlord would. Because of this, the medical tenant usually takes the cheaper way out and leases at a medical building. But what if leasing at the more expensive retail center brought in more income because of the retail exposure? If it more than covered the extra costs for rent and improvements, it should make it worth doing.

If you want help with leasing, buying or selling your commercial real estate, whether office, medical, dental, retail or warehouse/industrial space, contact David Massie of DJM Commercial Real Estate at david@djmcre.com or 805-217-0791.

DANGER: USE AND EXCLUSIVE USE CLAUSES IN COMMERCIAL REAL ESTATE LEASES

Pay attention to how your use clause is written in your lease.  If you don’t, it could come back to haunt you and cost you in many ways. 

Although all tenants need to pay attention to this and make sure the use clause is written correctly, retail tenants need to do this the most.  Imagine you are a retail tenant and you sell a food item, for instance, coffee, as part of your menu.  How do you make sure you always have the right to sell coffee under the terms of your lease?  It’s not as simple as it sounds.  And what if you don’t want other tenants to have the right to sell coffee?  This is where the exclusive use clause comes in.

It is my opinion that a tenant should have a broad use clause.  Example:  “Tenant shall have the right to sell food products”.  That way, the tenant has the right to pretty much sell any type of food product.  But for a landlord, it would be better to limit the use clause to something like “ Tenant shall only have the right to sell coffee and coffee-related drinks”.   In practice, savvy landlords and tenants end up writing the use clause somewhere in between the aforementioned two options.

The exclusive use clause is different than the usual use clause and adds to it in that it should prohibit or severely limit another tenant from selling your main product.  But again, how the exclusive clause is written is of paramount importance.  Example:  “Tenant shall have the exclusive right to sell coffee at the Project” and it might add “except for up to 10% of another’s tenant’s gross income” or something like that with more details for clarification.

The above examples are for retail tenants but the same principle holds true for office, industrial or other types of leases also.  If these clauses aren’t written just right you can have a legal battle on your hands and if the clauses weren’t crafted correctly you probably won’t win the battle so I urge great caution.

I have written and studied thousands of use clauses and make it a priority for my clients to do it right.

If you have questions about any of the above topics or have any CRE needs, please contact David Massie at david@djmcre.com or 805-217-0791

How Being An Expert Witness Helps My Commercial Real Estate Clients

I know, and have worked with, many commercial real estate (“CRE”) brokers.  Most of them aren’t expert witnesses for legal matters related to CRE.  Being an expert witness really gives me the ability to help my clients in ways brokers that aren’t expert witnesses can’t.

One primary way being an expert witness helps my clients is when I learn what the court judges will and will not allow even if a lease or other contract states something to the contrary.  Even if the parties to a contract agree on an issue but it’s now allowed by law or by a judge, my understanding on these issues can really help me negotiate better for my clients and help them get out of sticky legal situations.  

Don’t get me wrong; I am not an attorney.  Hiring an attorney at the right time is something I highly recommend.  But I am often able to use this type of experience, or clout, with a landlord (I bring the landlord tenants many times) as a broker to persuade the landlord. This includes the landlord’s property manager, and sometimes even their legal counsel, with me persuading them that they aren’t going to prevail on a certain matter. I can thereafter reach a reasonable settlement at great monetary, time and headache savings to my client.

And knowing what a court judge or applicable law will allow, no matter what is agreed to in a contract, really helps my clients when I negotiate their leases or purchase or sell contracts.   If the opposing party to us doesn’t agree to change a term that isn’t allowed by law, it gives our side the ability to let this landlord get what he wants in exchange for something we want. However, I always recommend my clients run any of these types of matters by a really good experienced  CRE attorney just to make sure before we say “yes” to the landlord on an issue like this. Many times the landlord doesn’t know the issue he is fighting for isn’t even legally enforceable and usually worthless to pursue for a landlord. 

Lately, I have been involved in landlord/tenant or buyer/seller or other types of disputes on average about four times per month.  Many of these disputes settle out of court, but the ones that don’t can go the legal way. With rare exception, most of the ones that head to court eventually settle, and many at the last minute before a court appearance.  A few examples of some of my recent expert witness assignments involve: terminating a lease early for a tenant and requiring the landlord to mitigate the tenant’s damages, commission dispute between a selling broker and their client seller, commission dispute between a seller and party promised a finder’s fee (paid to a nonlicensed broker), and representing a tenant in retail shopping center against a landlord for a NNN and square footage matter that ended up with me having to testify in court.  I would say the two biggest disputes that I am involved with as an expert witness include terminating a lease early (and requiring a landlord to reasonably mitigate a tenant’s lease damages as prescribed by applicable law) and NNN (tenant’s share of expenses usually for all retail and large industrial CRE) or operating expense increases over a base year (usually office and small industrial leases).

In summary, I learn quite a bit through being an expert witness by being involved in legal cases.  Both judges and very good CRE attorneys have taught me much that can help my clients prevail in difficult disputes related to just about any CRE matter.  And, if necessary and at the right time, I can refer my clients to a really good CRE attorney that has successfully handled their specific type of matter in the past.

If you have questions about any of the above topics or have any CRE needs, including hiring an expert witness, please contact David Massie at david@djmcre.com or 805-217-0791.

Successfully Negotiating the Commercial Real Estate Lease

This is my fourth and final article in a series where I give insight into the world of a California commercial real estate broker. A commercial real estate broker leases/buys/sells commercial real estate (CRE) for the client (tenant/buyer/seller). Commercial real estate is defined for this article as office, retail and industrial spaces.

As reminder from last time, there are four main things a good CRE broker does. They: find suitable locations, negotiate the offer, negotiate the lease itself (the many clauses) and are there when the client needs help thereafter. The first article I wrote was about finding locations; the second about negotiating the major deal points, the third one about negotiating the lease and this one will focus on how I as a broker help my clients after they sign the lease.

What happens if you have a dispute with your landlord after you sign the lease?  Common disputes with landlords that I get involved with quite a bit are a tenant needing to terminate a lease early, HVAC too hot or cold, tenant being overcharged for its share of common area expenses, and many other similar disputes like these.  Shouldn’t you just hire an attorney to help you?  My answer is not right away. If I can settle the dispute, it will save you a lot of money by not having to hire an attorney.

Why can I handle these types of dispute when other brokers can’t and why can I resolve them without usually using an attorney?  Because my experience is mainly from the landlord side of the tenant/landlord equation.  After negotiating over 1,000 leases, handling the property management and legal disputes for large landlords – I’m truly equipped to know how to deal with landlords with disputes like those aforementioned.  It is one of my largest value ads as your broker.  And if you are a landlord, I can even help you also to negotiate these matters with a tenant or the tenant’s attorney because it works both ways with my experience.   I am an expert witness on these matters in court and am used frequently and successfully by real estate attorneys for these types of disputes.

Don’t get me wrong; I value good real estate attorneys highly and use and recommend them often, but only when needed.  I have clout with a landlord because I bring tenants to their property; an attorney does not have this clout.  If a landlord upsets or is unfair to one of my clients, and I share this information with a new potential client, there is a good chance my new client won’t want to lease at this landlord’s project.  I don’t know of any other brokers that offer this service to their clients like I do and have such a high track record of negotiating acceptable settlements between the parties for these types of disputes.

Pick a broker that can help you properly in all areas including these types of landlord/tenant disputes and you will sleep much better at night while saving money and time. When searching, you will find that the list of brokers with this type of expertise is very narrow. Picking the right broker is the key to getting your best deal. You can never do as well, or even come close, if you try and negotiate the deal without a good broker.

If you have questions about any of the above topics or have any CRE needs, please contact David Massie at david@djmcre.com or 805-217-0791.

Want to Lease a Prime Location? It Might Be Best to Buy The Business First

Many of my retail clients, especially restaurants and other food types of users, want to lease a great location with lots of visibility and quality foot traffic.  The main problem is that most of these prime locations are already leased.

So, what if your broker found you a prime location where the business owner might be willing to sell at a very inexpensive price?  Many businesses will accept an unsolicited offer to buy them out inexpensively because they simply aren’t doing that well, are tired of the hours, want to retire, are ready to try something else and for many other reasons.   If you bought the business, you would then have the option to either assume the existing lease or, at times, the landlord will agree on entering a new lease with you instead if he likes your business and/or financial strength better than the existing tenant.

As both a business and commercial real estate broker, I have been successful in doing the above for my clients.  For as little as $20,000, I have been able to secure many prime locations for my clients to lease.  (The price varies for many reasons, such as the worth of the existing improvements in the space, inventory, existing lease terms, perceived value by seller, etc.)

There aren’t many brokers that successfully perform both business sales/buying and commercial real estate leasing/buying/selling like I do, and the combination serves my clients well.  Unless they are very experienced at both, you should never let your leasing broker also represent you on your business sale or your business broker represent you for your lease. They might be good at their main expertise, but won’t be good at the part they don’t do much of; and it won’t end well for you if you do.

If you want to find out more about how to lease a prime location, buy/sell a business or commercial real estate, please contact me at 805-217-0791 or david@djmcre.com or visit our business brokering page.

Retail Spaces Offer a Fix to the Medical Space Shortage in Southern California

Recently, I wrote about the shortage of medical space and an increase in retail vacancies in Southern California right now. My suggestion was to have medical tenants lease space in retail centers as compared to an office or medical building that they traditionally leased space in. This may seem like an unusual suggestion to solve the problem, but recent news suggests that this issue is beginning to grow.

According to CoStar Group, the gaining US population is expected to drive demand for medical space with more than 200 million square feet of medical office space needed in the next decade:

Driven by an aging U.S. population, within 10 years the amount of medical office space needed is projected to be 16 percent more than today, based on current trends. That’s greater than the combined medical office space in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Dallas–Fort Worth, the nation’s four largest medical office markets. This undeniable demographic trend in the U.S. is both a headwind for traditional office demand and an incredible tailwind for medical office demand in the coming years.

So, what are medical tenants to do with this shortage? Lease space in retail centers.  When you lease in a quality retail center, your business has good parking, signage, and retail visibility from shoppers at the retail center.  The main criteria for any business is usually the bottom line so, if being in a retail center increases your net income, wouldn’t you want to be there?  This is rule #1.

Retail space in southern California is undergoing a change.  The smaller to medium sized retail centers in particular are starting to become more restaurant/food and service focused as opposed to other types of retail uses.  Customers at retail centers want to enjoy their experience and be able to do as much as they can at one location.  So, with the foregoing in mind, wouldn’t many medical tenants fit in with this new retail trend of a retail landlord leasing to service providers like doctors and providing a better experience for the retail customer?  I think so.

Read more on this fix for Medical Space Shortage & Retail Vacancies in Southern California.

David Massie specializes in buying, selling and leasing office, medical/dental, retail and industrial buildings -especially off market ones that are hard to find in Southern California that only his clients are made aware of first.  Contact David now if you have interest in finding one for you:  david@djmcre.com or 805-217-0791.