2015 Is The Year For Commercial Leasing, Apparently

Retail Space AvailableAt least, it has been for me so far. I have been doing a lot of tenant representation so far this year … reviewing and negotiating commercial leases. For some reason my transactional work (loan closings, purchase/sale closings, etc.) has been lagging since the end of 2014, and I’m not sure whether it’s a trend for real estate in general or is specific to my clients and my practice. In any event, the commercial leasing work has helped take up the slack and I enjoy the work and the clients for whom I do it. Generally, it’s fast-paced work … once an LOI has been agreed to both parties want the lease negotiated and executed as soon as possible: the tenant, because they want to get in, get their tenant improvements installed and get revenue flowing in as quickly as possible, and the landlord, because they want the rent to start flowing in as quickly as possible. That sometimes puts stress on the attorney(s) involved because we’re called upon to do our our work in short order, often with the client or their broker in our ear continually asking (or repeatedly emailing) “have you gotten to that lease, yet?” That, in turn, requires an experienced practitioner who is skilled at focusing on the most important issues to his client and is discerning enough not to waste time haggling over terms that aren’t material or that, even if they are material, are very, very unlikely to be changed by the landlord even if objected to. I am glad to have several tenant clients with whom I’ve worked long enough, and for whom I have negotiated enough leases, that I know what is important to them. It is one of the (few, perhaps?) pleasures of this demanding profession to have long-standing clients who trust you and are appreciative of your work and with whom you are knowledgeable enough to know what is important to them and what is a waste of their time and money.  If you need an attorney like that, I know where you can find one!  BH

Good News Keeps Coming …

good-newsWow. I think the (seemingly mythical) “turnaround” in the commercial real estate market is actually going to stick this time! After many years of up and down and sideways market conditions, GOOD news about the Orlando/Orange County/Central Florida commercial real estate market is being consistently observed and reported. For example, see this article entitled “9 things that may surprise you about Orange County real estate” by Anjali Fluker, writer for the Orlando Business Journal. Local market indicators are the best they’ve been in at least 5 years, new construction and new commercial activity is booming throughout the area (have you seen the construction (and traffic) on International Drive lately? It’s insane!) and deals are being made! Here in Winter Park things are very active along the 17-92/Lee Road/Denning Drive corridors, which I think is fantastic. I WILL be checking out the new Trader Joe’s on 17-92 as soon as it opens! On a larger scale, my clients who attended the recent ReCon/ICSC convention in Las Vegas came back with pleasantly optimistic reports. Sure, everyone in real estate has been burned enough the past several years that they remain at least slightly wary, but that’s good business judgment in all market conditions and is also healthy for the industry. Nobody I know wants another real estate “bubble” to blow up in our faces. But, despite all the false starts and cautionary tales of the past few years, we finally seem to be in the midst of a consistent, upwardly trending, pattern of recovery. Thankfully, it feels good to read the commercial real estate news again, in the OBJ Commercial Real Estate News and other publications.

Too Busy To Blog! But that’s no excuse …

writing-life-300x200Sorry for my absence, lately! I understand now what marketing professionals mean when they tell me that the key to a successful blog is consistency, as in consistently providing new, meaningful content on a regular basis. Trust me, it’s a really hard thing to do, especially if you demand to personally write all of your own material, as I do. If I don’t write it myself I just don’t “feel” it, it’s not “me”, and that’s not the type of blog I want mine to be.

Unfortunately, the result is that I sometimes fall into the predictable pattern of many bloggers, which goes like this: (1) I find myself not as busy as I’d like to be or I’m busy with pretty mundane or unprofitable work; (2) I write articles to fill in any time gaps I may have, hoping to build business and find meaningful, profitable work; (3) I get busier with good work and feel (almost always wrongly) that I don’t have time for anything else; (4) I neglect to write articles because I’m so busy; (5) Suddenly, I finish a project or wrap up a big closing and realize I’m once again not as busy as I’d like to be; and (6) It occurs to me that I haven’t written an article in a long time and I think “Hey, I really need to write an article.” But it is SO hard to get those wheels turning again once they’ve stopped.

Successful blogging is very much like exercise. To get the greatest benefit one must exercise consistently and regularly because once you slow down or stop, it is 10 times harder to get going again. Same with the blog. Once I’ve slowed down or stopped, getting started again is akin to starting all over again with the proverbial “blank sheet of paper” that just stares back at you while all the great ideas for articles you used to have seem to have just evaporated.

Well, I’m back now and away we go. I’ll try to do better. The good news is that as I write this I am actually pretty busy. The commercial real estate market is clearly heating up, if not to the “hot as the sun” levels of the bubble years 5 or 6 years ago, at least to a nice, steady simmer, and maybe even a gentle boil. New buildings and shopping centers are going up all around the Central Florida area, and I have been working on quite a few commercial leases, purchase and sale transactions, and loan closings, but of course could always do more! Just down the street (17-92 in Winter Park) the new Trader Joe’s is going up fast, as is the new ABC Fine Wine & Spirits across from Winter Park Village, and it looks fantastic. Other parts of the Metro-Orlando area appear to be just as busy. Clients of mine who are commercial tenants report that they are having a more difficult time finding available space and shopping center owners are actively shopping for new centers. All of this bodes well for Central Florida’s economy and I’m glad to see things picking up.

Remember, if you are involved in commercial real estate, buying, selling, leasing or financing, get an experienced commercial real estate attorney (I hope it’s me!) involved early in the transaction. If you’re leasing, have your lease reviewed before you sign it. If you’re buying, have your contract reviewed before you sign it. Hopefully, we’ll all be busy with meaningful, profitable work for a long time to come AND I’ll do a better job of adding new, interesting content to the blog at the same time. And exercising. Mustn’t forget to exercise.

Thanks for reading!

BH

Considering a sublease? LOOK BOTH WAYS!

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I recently assisted a client that is a commercial tenant with extra square footage by reviewing a proposed sublease of the extra space to a prospective subtenant. It was a good opportunity to once again think about the best way to structure such an arrangement and the risks involved, particularly for the tenant (my client) that will now be “sandwiched” between their landlord under their own master lease and their subtenant under their new sublease. Most importantly, it reminded me that in these situations the tenant must LOOK BOTH WAYS before stepping out into “Sublease Street” because now they are taking on risk in both directions, “left” as tenant under the master lease and “right” as sub-landlord under the new sublease.

In these situations, it is very important to review both the master lease, to ensure that subletting is permitted and, if permitted, under what circumstances and conditions, and the sublease, to ensure that the sublease meets all the conditions of the master lease and that it is an acceptable and enforceable lease in it’s own right as between the tenant and subtenant. Balancing the requirements of all the parties (landlord, tenant and subtenant) is complicated business!

look_both_waysI’ve seen subleases done two ways: One, as a stand-alone lease between tenant and subtenant that does not incorporate the master lease, or two, as a lease between tenant and subtenant that incorporates the master lease and thereby requires the subtenant to abide by all of the terms and conditions of the master lease. The proper structure in a commercial situation is usually method two, incorporating the master lease, because usually in a commercial situation the master lease imposes the obligation to do so, along with other conditions such as obtaining landlord’s prior consent. “Looking both ways” by reading both leases and making sure they are compatible (and, especially, that neither the sublease nor any of its terms results in a default by the tenant under the master lease) is the only way to know the proper way to move forward.

Because several parties with opposing needs are involved, subleasing can be tricky business, so looking both ways is critical for the tenant in the middle of the arrangement. Hire a highly qualified commercial real estate attorney (hey, maybe that’s me!) to draft or, at minimum, review the proposed documents and helping you LOOK BOTH WAYS.

As always, thanks for reading! BH

How Do You Define Confidence? Here’s One Way …

ConfidenceSaw this on the internet the other day and it rang true to me. For me, one way of defining confidence as an attorney is being able to respond to a client’s question by admitting, without any shame, “I don’t know … ” but being able to ‘confidently’ add “however, I can get that answer for you.” I recall an instance when, as a young associate at a large firm, I whined to my supervising partner, “You never explain anything to me. I feel like I’m always trying to figure everything out.” He looked at me, perplexed and a little annoyed, and said, “We’re ALL just trying to figure everything out.”

Lesson learned. NOBODY has all the answers.

When hiring an attorney don’t be dissuaded by one who says “I don’t know.” Instead, if he or she has the other characteristics you’re looking for … solid reputation, significant experience, strong work ethic, a personality you’re comfortable with … be encouraged by their willingness to be open and honest and rely on their determination to doggedly pursue the answer. Remember, the “law”, like the “internet”, is a massive thing. Nobody knows it all. BH

Two Words On “Attitude” …

Captain Jack Sparrow, channeling Charles R. Swindoll …

Captain Jack Sparrow - AttitudeThe longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failure, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company … a church … a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice everyday regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past … we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it. And so it is with you … we are in charge of our Attitudes.  Charles R. Swindoll

Reps and Warranties in Orlando Real Estate Contracts

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What are Reps and warranties in real estate contracts

The “Reps and Warranties,” as they’re commonly referred to, are a more important part of a commercial real estate contract than most Buyers and Sellers realize. Many Buyers and Sellers regard the reps and warranties merely as part of the “boilerplate” legalese inserted by attorneys (a) to justify their fee, and (b) to complicate things for the sake of complicating things. That’s just not true. A large part of what your attorney should be doing for his or her client when drafting a contract (or reviewing a contract prepared by someone else) is to include provisions that protect the client from unnecessary risk and that benefit the client by putting him or her in a more advantageous position. The Reps and Warranties section is one place in the contract where the attorney can make these things happen.

First, some explanation on how reps and warranties differ and whether that even matters. A “representation” is a statement of present or past fact made to induce someone to enter into a contract. For example, “the Seller is not in default under any indenture, mortgage, deed of trust, loan agreement, or other agreement to which Seller is a party and which would have an adverse effect on any portion of the Property.” A “warranty” is a promise that a particular fact is true. For example, “the Property is and will continue to be, from the date hereof through the time of closing hereunder, free from all mechanics’ liens and any rights to mechanics’ liens.”

The difference between representations and warranties

Now, what’s the difference? Case law and legal articles about reps and warranties that are directed at attorneys do distinguish between the two, in a legal sense, because the remedies available for fraudulent misrepresentation versus a breach of a warranty differ significantly. If a representation is made that the representing party (usually the Seller) knows to be false that the receiving party (usually the Buyer), believing it to be true, relies upon to their detriment, a claim can be made for fraudulent misrepresentation and the damaged party may be able to sue to rescind the contract, obtain restitution and possibly even receive punitive damages. Pretty serious stuff. In our example above, if the Buyer incurs due diligence and other costs in reliance on the Seller’s statement before learning that the Seller is actually in default under their mortgage and the Seller’s lender is foreclosing on the property, the Buyer could potentially sue to recover their costs and terminate the contract. In our other example, however, if it is discovered that there is a mechanics’ lien on the property the Seller likely would just have to take whatever action necessary to remove the lien, such as paying the contractor in full. In other words, they would have to make the warranty true but would not necessarily be at risk of the Buyer terminating the contract or suing for damages.

From a practical perspective, however, I’m not sure this all matters a lot to Sellers and Buyers entering into a real estate contract. For one, the representations and warranties are usually lumped together as the “Representations and Warranties” rather than being specifically identified as one or the other, and sometimes they are even grouped together in a long list of items that may be identified as “Representations, Warranties, Covenants and Conditions.” It can be hard to decide what is what and, depending on how they are worded, many of the statements could be interpreted to be more than one thing – a representation, a warranty and maybe even a covenant. In other words, it may ultimately depend on a court’s ruling as to whether a particular statement is a rep or a warranty or whatever and to determine the appropriate remedy.

Risk allocation in real estate contracts

More importantly, as far as Buyers and Sellers are concerned, this is really all about (a) risk allocation (more so from the Seller’s perspective,) and (b) information gathering (more so from the Buyer’s perspective.) Typically, a sophisticated Seller will want to limit their risk by making as few representations and warranties as possible and, instead, forcing the Buyer to bear the burden of learning all they can about the property on their own. An extreme example of this would be an absolute, “as-is, where is” contract in which the Seller makes no representations or warranties about the property. On the other hand, a sophisticated Buyer will want to have as much assurance as possible that the Seller really does own the property and that the contract is enforceable against the Seller. The Buyer will also want to get a jump-start on their due diligence by gathering as much information as possible about the property from the Seller and limit their risk by availing themselves of certain remedies if they are misled or if the Seller fails to make good on their warranties.

Boilerplate reps and warranties

Most often, as in most things, the end-result is something in the middle. The Seller will make the reps and warranties it can truthfully and comfortably make within their own risk tolerance, while the Buyer will require certain basic representations that, if false, would be “deal-killers” from the their perspective and will also seek to gain as much information about the condition of the property as it can before expending funds on its own due diligence. Achieving this type of risk allocation while protecting the client, be it the Buyer or Seller, is one of the attorney’s primary roles in drafting the commercial real estate contract or reviewing any contract prepared by the other party. Don’t disregard the reps and warranties as mere “boilerplate.” There’s a lot more going on there than you may realize.

Exclusive Use and Non-Compete Clauses in Commercial Leases

Orlando Real Estate Lawyer Offers Caution When Using Exclusive Use Clauses

Picture of a commercial lease signingWhether you’re a shopping center landlord or a would-be commercial tenant, consider – but use caution – adding an “exclusive use” clause or a “non-compete” clause to your commercial property lease in Orlando. These terms are sometimes used interchangeably but make more sense to me defined as follows:

“Exclusive use”

Exclusive use provisions are typically requested by the tenant and are intended to prohibit the landlord from leasing space in the shopping center to businesses similar to the tenant’s. The obvious reason is that the tenant wants to limit to the greatest extent it can competition from competing businesses. Thus, the landlord grants to the tenant the right to some “exclusive use” within the shopping center.

“Non-compete” clause

A non-compete provision is typically requested by the landlord and can limit the activities of the tenant in at least two ways. First, the provision can be used to prevent the tenant from selling products or services that compete with other tenants in the shopping center who may have exclusive use provisions in their leases that would be violated if such activities were allowed. Second, particularly where the tenant is going to be paying percentage rent (i.e. a portion of the rent is based on the amount of the tenant’s sales), the provision can be used to prevent the tenant from establishing a competing business or franchise within a certain geographic area that may cannibalize sales from the subject property, thereby reducing the percentage rent payable to the landlord. Thus, the tenant agrees that it will forego certain activities so as not to compete with other tenant’s sales or, in the percentage rent scenario, its own sales.

These provisions are sometimes difficult to negotiate (depending on the relative bargaining power of the parties) and are difficult to enforce in the event of a violation unless they are very clearly drafted by an Orlando real estate lawyer. For example, the use or service that is at issue is often hard to define, making it the subject of a potentially protracted negotiation on the front end or a potentially disputed matter later on. For instance, let’s say that you want to lease space to operate a cupcake shop. You certainly wouldn’t want a competing cupcake shop next door, but what about a chocolate shop? An ice cream store? Do you have the negotiating power to require the landlord to exclude all businesses selling desserts of any kind? Probably not, but you get the idea. The important point is that it’s an issue that has to be addressed when the lease is negotiated and the more clearly the use or service is defined the easier it is to categorize excluded or permitted competing uses.

The same issue arises in the context of non-compete provisions. Suppose you enter into a lease for the operation of a yogurt shop, you are paying percentage rent and your lease prohibits you from opening a competing store within two miles. The landlord certainly wouldn’t want you to open a competing yogurt shop close by, but could you open an ice cream shop? Snow cones? Italian ice? The same analysis could apply to electronics (which could include computers, computer games, computer parts, computer accessories, etc.), spa services (which could include spa treatments, skin treatments, manicures, pedicures, massages, maybe even a hair salon that offered some of these services) or any other broad category of uses or services. The answer depends on what was negotiated before the lease was signed. In the event of a violation and resulting litigation, the Court may ultimately have to decide what was intended to be excluded and what was intended to be permitted. Not a position you want to be in.

Another difficult issue to address is what happens when a violation occurs. How do you calculate damages if the damages are the amount of sales lost to a competing business if sales are also dependent on numerous other factors? If the landlord violates the exclusive use provision and allows a competing use, should the tenant’s rent be reduced? By how much? Should the tenant be entitled to terminate the lease and move elsewhere? Could the tenant obtain an injunction against the other tenant to stop the competing use? Could that tenant then sue the landlord? Sure they could. Almost anybody can sue almost anybody!

These and other concerns should be addressed and negotiated before the lease is ever signed. By involving your attorney early in the lease negotiation process you can improve your chances of obtaining an exclusive use provision or non-compete clause that you can live with, at minimum, or that protects your interests and maximizes your business prospects long term, at best. In addition, a clearly drafted exclusive use provision minimizes confusion and conflict when the question arises as to whether a particular use is excluded or permitted or an alleged violation occurs.