Attorney Trey Wilson - RL Wilson Law

22 July 2009

Commercial Leases -- Review Before and Long After you Sign!

As an attorney with an active real estate law practice, I regularly review commercial leases before my clients sign them. Over the years I have represented restaurants, manufacturers, nail salons, gyms, hunters, physicians, snack bars, and other various other business tenants negotiate the terms of their Commercial Leases, and agree to the most favorable terms possible. On the flip side, I have represented several owners of commercial properties in the drafting and negotiation of their commercial leases with every imaginable tenant -- from flower shop owners to barbacoa stands (only in San Antonio!) to nationwide anchor tenants.

Recently, however, I was asked to do something new. The prospectivce client called and inquired as to whether i would perform a "mid-lease review." Though I didn't admit it at the time, I had never been asked to do so, and wasn't exactly sure of the purpose for such a review. After inquiring further, I learned that my prospective client -- a tenant in a large strip center in north central San Antonio -- felt something was amiss with their commercial lease, and the payments they were being asked to make for Common Area Maintenance (CAM) charges and other items of "additional rent." The tenant confirmed that he wasn't even sure that anything was wrong, but said he had a "gut feeling" something "just wasn't right."

After being provided with a copy of the Commercial Lease and all of the Invoices/Monthly Statements received from the landlord during the current lease term (3 years into a 7 year lease), I began a detailed review of the tenant's rent and associated obligations. After completing this review, it became clear that my client's suspicions were dead on -- his business had been overcharged by almost $17,000.00, with no sign of correction coming in the future! If the overcharges went unabated, his business could expect to pay up to $41,000.00 more in rent than he was obligated to pay under the terms of the written Commercial Lease.

In this particular case there were 2 issues:

(1) unpaid "build out allowances" granted to the tenant; and
(2) overcharges for CAM expenses.

After bringing the discrepancy to the landlord and management company's attention, the overcharges were credited back to our client. The result was that his business got to skip almost 2 full rent payments -- talk about a shot in the arm!

This experience got me to thinking about all of the complex lease negotiations we've undertaken in the last several years. What if just one-half of the Commercial Leases we negotiated were being misapplied? Think of all of the overcharges, and perhaps even undercharges, that might be taking place on a monthly basis... Think of the thousands of dollars in adjustments that might be necessary...

Many times, the obligations and payments will match-up and there is nothing to worry about. In other instances, there might be discrepancies about repair bills, rent concessions, security deposit burn-downs, taxes and untimely rent escalations. These issues may arise several years after the Commercial Lease has been signed, and when both the landlord and tenant are "asleep at the wheel."

The point of this posting is to encourage landlords and tenants who have signed Commercial Lease Agreements to have those leases reviewed periodically to ensure compliance and smooth sailing. Just because the Lease is signed and the tenant is paying rent doesn't necessarily mean all is well. The best bet, of course, is to have a qualified real estate lawyer review the lease. The amount you pay in attorneys' fees will likely be well worth the peace of mind or potential discrepancy that the lease review yields.

Trey Wilson --Named By Scene in SA Magazine As One of San Antonio's Best Real Estate Litigation Attorneys -- September 2008 -- As voted on by peers