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Business and Company Law Property Law Start Your Own Business

Why Reviewing a Commercial Lease Alone is Of Limited Value

I am often asked by budding entrepreneurs to review the lease of a commercial premises which is part of a small business they are considering purchasing.

The entrepreneur, understandably, is trying to avoid as much avoidable expenditure as possible and wants the lease reviewed for a competitive fee.

I can do that, of course, without any difficulty but I have to explain that reviewing the lease alone is of extremely limited value.

Because most commercial leases emanate from a standard template or precedent lease which is widely used and accepted by solicitors in Ireland. Therefore any difficulties in the proposed acquisition of the business and taking on of the lease are unlikely to be contained within the terms, covenants, and conditions of the lease which are similar across commercial leases.

What are the dangers?

Potential problems are more likely to appear in relation to other issues outside the lease, issues like

  • Title-is there good legal title to the lease? Was the granting of the lease in the first instance in order?
  • Planning-are there any planning issues arising from the use of the premises? And any development carried out over the years, development that would have required planning permission?
  • Is the premises being used for a use permitted by the lease?
  • Rates/charges-are there any issues in respect of rates or other charges that may attach to the premises and is there any arrears for which the new occupant may become liable?
  • Is there a management company? Are there outstanding charges?
  • What condition is the premises in?
  • Are there any issues likely to arise from a fire safety perspective?
  • If the business is involved in food preparation and sales are the necessary plumbing, electrical, food preparation, refrigeration issues compliant with building regulations and any applicable food regulations?

If you are considering taking on a business in which there is a leased premises you are taking an avoidable, critical risk by not having all aspects of the lease assignment investigated.

This involves pre-lease enquiries about title, planning, rates, and so forth being properly investigated. None of these issues will be dealt with by a review of the lease alone.

Yes, it will cost you more money.

Yes, there may be no further issues.

But checking the lease on its own is of extremely limited value and if your finances cannot stretch to having the transaction carried out property, with the necessary checks and pre-lease enquiries carried out, you should seriously consider your investment.

Because you cannot afford it. You are too early and it is premature.

You might be as well going to a casino and putting all your money on red, or black.

Because the likelihood is that any problems that arise from your purchase of the business will not necessarily be contained in your lease, they will probably lie elsewhere, outside the 4 walls of the lease itself.

 

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Property Law

Can A Deed of Variation Be a Deemed Surrender of an Existing Commercial Lease?

Are you a landlord or tenant of a commercial lease? Depending on when you entered into the lease it may provide for ‘upward only’ rent reviews.

Commercial leases from before February 2010 typically contained upward only rent reviews. This meant that the rent could only increase at each rent review date, and that is what the parties had signed up to in the first instance.

However, the Land and Conveyancing Law Reform Act 2009 introduced a significant change iin respect of commercial leases. Section 132 of the Conveyancing and Law Reform Act 2009, which commenced in February 2010, provided as follows:

132.— (1) This section applies to a lease of land to be used wholly or partly for the purpose of carrying on a business.

(2) Subsection (1) shall not apply where—

(a) the lease concerned, or

(b) an agreement for such a lease,

is entered into prior to the commencement of this section.

(3) A provision in a lease to which this section applies which provides for the review of the rent payable under the lease shall be construed as providing that the rent payable following such review may be fixed at an amount which is less than, greater than or the same as the amount of rent payable immediately prior to the date on which the rent falls to be reviewed

(4) Subsection (3) shall apply—

(a) notwithstanding any provision to the contrary contained in the lease or in any agreement for the lease, and

(b) only as respects that part of the land demised by the lease in which business is permitted to be carried on under the terms of the lease.

The vitally important change is contained in subsection (3) which now permits the rent to stay the same or fall at rent review time. This effectively prohibits the use of ‘upward only’ rent review clauses in commercial leases from February 2010.

You will note, therefore, this significant difference between leases which were entered into prior to the Land and Conveyancing Law Reform Act 2009 and those signed after the commencement of this act.

Deed of variation

There is a significant consequence flowing from this act and the granting of a deed of variation between the parties after February 2010. Let me explain.

If the parties agree a deed of variation, which may deal with a reduction in the rent and other terms, it is possible that the granting of this deed will bring about a de facto surrender of the original lease. 

The consequence that flows from this, if it occurs, is that the new lease cannot contain an enforceable upward only rent review clause and the landlord will have a less valuable property interest.

And you need to understand that the intentions of the parties when entering into the deed of variation are immaterial; the fact is that if the lease term is extended you are probably looking at a new interest in the land and you can rest assured you do not have 2 leases as the first one will be a deemed surrender.

Deemed surrender

How could this deemed surrender occur?

One of the ways this can happen is if one of the terms of the old lease which is varied/changed is the term of the lease. If the term is increased, for example, there is decided UK case law which holds that if a term is increased a new legal interest in the land comes into existence and the old one, the original lease, is deemed to have been surrendered.

Conclusion

The law surrounding land and interests in land can be complex and requires professional legal advice. Each case must be looked at on its own particular facts and circumstances.

However, one thing is clear: should you not obtain professional advice you run the risk of making a costly mistake that can greatly affect the value of the interest you hold, either as a landlord or tenant.

Categories
Property Law

Side Letters to Commercial Leases-What You Should Know

If you are leasing a commercial property you may encounter a ‘side letter’ in addition to the lease itself.

A side letter in such a situation is used by a landlord and tenant-as it is signed by both parties-to modify the terms of the lease itself, generally on a temporary basis. This would be done to confidentially vary the terms of the lease and prevent any knock on comparable consequences for the landlord from other tenants in a development.

An example of this would be a concession in relation to rent for a temporary period of time.

This concession would not be in the public domain as the rent might be if the lease was lodged in the Registry of Deeds or details registered with the Commercial Lease Register of the Property Services Regulatory Authority.

Some points to consider

  1. The time period or special event which is to be covered by the side letter should be clear if the concession is to be temporary and for the particular lessee
  2. If the lease itself contains an ‘entire agreement’ clause then the side letter should be mentioned in the entire agreement statement
  3. If the side letter is agreed and granted at a different time from the lease itself then there should be some consideration given for the side letter, even a nominal sum
  4. The landlord needs to be careful that the granting of the side letter will not inadvertently let a guarantor off the hook
  5. Is this side letter to be binding on a future landlord if the sells the building? Is the side letter to be personal to the existing lessee and not assignable to a new tenant?
  6. The side letter will be terminated if any provisions of the lease are breached-for example, late payment of rent

A problem may arise if the breach of the lease leads to the side letter being set aside as this may amount to a penalty for the tenant which is disproportionate to the loss suffered by the landlord for the breach. If that is the case the side letter may be unenforceable if challenged.

Provided the penalty is proportionate the side letter is likely to be enforceable, however.

Side letters will usually bind a landlord’s successor in title and should, therefore, be disclosed to a any future purchaser. For this reason any side letter should be kept with the lease so that it is disclosed on sale. If it is not disclosed a future purchaser will probably succeed in a claim for misrepresentation and the cost of complying with what has been agreed in the letter.

The leading case in this area is Vivienne Westwood Limited v Conduit Street Development Limited, a UK case. This decision is not binding on Irish Courts but would probably be persuasive as the Irish and UK landlord and tenant law is broadly similar and the decisions tend to be similar.