commercial

Why are Commercial, Industrial, and Office real estate leases so long?

“Why is this lease so long?”, “Is all of this wording really necessary?”

I get questions like this from either new businesses, or businesses that have come from a building that simply had a very relaxed leasing policy. More often than not, a relaxed leasing policy and short lease documents that lack detail cause problems.

A commercial real estate lease should be very detailed about the relationship between landlord and tenant. Not only should it contain important details about the deal such as lease term, start date, rental rates, size of premises, use, etc, but it also needs to have details about rules on the property, insurance requirements, types of action that can be taken in the event of a default, environmental responsibilities, and so on. The list is actually quite extensive for what can be contained in a commercial real estate lease which is why most documents are dozens of pages in length. My document often ends up between 30-35 pages depending on the tenant, building, landlord, type of lease, zoning, etc. While many tenant’s may think that’s a long document, I feel each point is necessary and would have difficulty shortening it. I would actually have an easier time finding content to add than take away.

Back to the questions, why are leases so long and is it necessary? If a tenant asks that question and I look at the building they’re in, I likely see issues such as poor maintenance, poor parking arrangements, structural issues, driveway pothole and access issues, and tenant conflicts. A properly written lease document that can address those issues and is enforced by the landlord and tenant ensures fewer issues for both parties. A lengthy lease should be considered as necessary by both parties because leases should be designed to protect the interests of both landlord and tenant. Yes, leases by default are naturally pro-landlord, but that’s because it’s their property. That doesn’t mean there isn’t or shouldn’t be protection for tenant’s so that is something you need to look for and ensure is in your lease. The landlord’s I represent take good care of their buildings because the lease requires them to. This allows the tenant’s to use the property as efficiently as possible to run their businesses, as long as they follow the rules with the other tenant’s. This is the ideal situation for everyone.

Every clause in my lease has a reason and my document is updated when new industry trends occur or new issues are discovered in the marketplace. Each clause has a purpose because at one point it was created to correct a problem or properly define something.

So is all that wording necessary? Absolutely. As long as it reflects the needs of your business and protects the interests of both parties, every clause should be seen as necessary and relevant. Make sure you are represented by a knowledgeable commercial real estate broker to ensure you get what you need from your lease.

What is a rent free period in a commercial or industrial real estate lease and how do you achieve one?

A commonly requested or negotiated item in commercial real estate leases is a rent free period. Depending on market conditions for the type of space or building you’re looking to lease you may be able to achieve one.

A rent free period is a defined period where the tenant does not pay rent either prior to their lease term or at the start of their lease term. How much rent free to ask for is usually dependent on market conditions and the reasons for needing a rent free period. For Example, an office or industrial tenant looking to build out a new floor plan of offices might need 2 months to complete the work at their cost, and in turn would ask if they could achieve two months rent free to make the transition smoother. A landlord might see this as a reasonable request dependent on market conditions and the length of the lease term.

Speaking of the lease term, a rent free period is usually not considered unless you are signing a longer term lease, which in current market conditions is usually around 5 years depending on the landlord, property, and the reasoning. If you are not prepared to offer a lengthy commitment, it would be wise to not request a rent free period as you would be seen as unrealistic. It would also be wise to not request too much rent free period for the same reason unless it’s a very unique deal that warrants it.

There are also different options for a rent free period. In the situation of a triple net lease for example, some landlord’s may only agree to giving base rent free, meaning the tenant would still pay their proportionate share of property expenses through TMI, CAM, or additional rent depending how the lease is worded (this is common practice and considered a reasonable request).

There is also the option of having a rent free early occupancy period or a rent free period at the beginning of the lease term. If your lease starts February 1, 2019 and you have one month rent free early occupancy, your rent free period would be for the month of January before your lease starts. If it is rent free within the lease, it would likely make February the month you have free. What is agreed is usually a matter of preference between landlord and tenant. For landlord’s, it’s usually more of an advantage to have rent free early occupancy because if you have a 5 year lease, you still get the full 5 year term whereas with rent free within lease, the beginning of the term is eaten up with the free period.

A rent free period is a common negotiating tool for commercial, industrial, and office building leases, but it has its limitations in many markets and not all landlord’s consider it. Because it’s an incentive there may also be a claw back clause in the lease for that incentive in the event the tenant defaults. If the landlord agrees to a rent free period it’s because they feel there is a legitimate reason for the timing of the request and that it benefits their long term big picture of their investment property.

In the current Niagara industrial market, in particular St. Catharines, space is tight so rent free incentives usually aren’t very long if considered. Rent free on a commercial retail space is dependent on building and scenario and office buildings usually have consideration for it if the tenant intends to do their own improvements and alterations to the space.

To make sure you’re getting the best advice on rent free incentives, make sure you’re speaking with a knowledgable commercial real estate broker for the market that you are in.

10 things to consider if you're a tenant wanting to buy a commercial or industrial building

I work with a lot of tenant’s and something I commonly hear from them is that their goal is to buy a building. Owning commercial or industrial real estate can be an excellent investment and a worthwhile pursuit, however, I have discovered that most tenant’s with this goal aren’t aware of what is required to buy a building when they make this statement. Not only do I do commercial and industrial leasing, I also do sales, and I want tenant’s to know what the process is like not because I want to discourage them, but because it’s a process that is approached best with eyes open and expectations realistic. I would say most tenant’s abandon this pursuit after learning about the requirements and the process.

To start, the biggest thing you need to know is that getting a commercial real estate mortgage is way different than getting a mortgage for your home for many reasons. It’s common to encounter large downpayment requirements, fees, appraisals, an environmental site assessment etc. which adds time to the approval process. Many residential mortgages achieve approval within a couple weeks, but on the commercial side it could take months. Below is a list of things to consider before you even start looking at properties for sale.

1) High Downpayment Requirements - Probably the most notable obstacle for buying any real estate is ensuring you have enough for a downpayment. In comparison to residential mortgages that can offer a great deal of flexibility on the down payment requirements, it’s common to see a demand of 25% - 40% downpayment. I’ve met many business owners that have assumed this requirement can be much lower and have come to realize they just don’t have the ability to put together that much cash. There may be some flexible exceptions out there through private lending options or through the BDC that can present better options for buyer/users but this is dependent on the business.

2) Bigger Deposits - With bigger downpayment requirements comes the need for bigger deposits (and for other reasons). It’s common for knowledgeable commercial real estate brokers to try and achieve a deposit around 10%. Why? Commercial sales can take a long time to come together and if you’re expecting to tie up someones property with lengthy conditions you need to prove that you’re worth the wait, and, show that you obviously have a good chunk of cash ready for a downpayment. If you’re expecting to tie up a property with a few grand, you may be perceived as unrealistic.

3) Longer Closings - In comparison to home sales which can go firm within a couple weeks, it’s common for commercial sales to take a couple months, sometimes even longer depending on the structure of the deal. The main culprit for longer deals is usually the financing where lenders request environmental site assessments that can take anywhere from weeks to months to complete. It would be wise to expect occupancy of the building to be months into the future, don’t expect to be moving your business in within the span of a month. It’s not impossible, just very unlikely.

4) Different Mortgage Requirements - In addition to high down payment requirements, commercial mortgages are typically structured differently. The interest rates are different from residential and it’s not common to get an amortization period as long as you could achieve in a residential mortgage. Not only are the down payments higher, your mortgage payments will be higher with having to pay the building off sooner. It’s also common to come across fees in the process of commercial lending which is not something you typically encounter when buying a house.

5) Environmental Site Assessments - In Canada (and probably most of the United States) it is standard for commercial mortgage lenders to request an ESA for commercial and industrial properties to prove it is within ministry of environment standards. Most times it is standard for the seller to prove the property is within MOE standards so the cost of the report usually falls on them, but, this condition can take anywhere from weeks to months to complete which can create a lengthy conditional period and a potentially drawn out closing. Things usually get drawn out and costly if contamination is discovered.

6) Lender Selection - You would think that most of Canada’s big banks are a great source for a commercial mortgage but few actually specialize or excel in offering this service. If you’re not exactly happy with your preferred bank for commercial mortgages you may want to explore lenders that specifically market themselves for that service.

7) Borrowing Potential - If you think that owning a building might be the best thing for your business, it actually may not be for everyone. Each business only has the potential to borrow so much money and if it’s perceived that most or all of your borrowing potential is tied up in bricks and mortar, it may be difficult or impossible to borrow money for other business purposes, like if you wanted to borrow to upgrade some expensive equipment or make alterations to the property. Unfortunately I have met some tenant’s who have felt that buying a building paralyzed their business growth and regretted their decision. The positive idea of building ownership can make you blind to this potentiality.

8) Lease Payments are Tax Deductible - Mortgage payments… not as much.

9) Cost of Alterations - Unless you’re building new to spec, you will likely find it impossible to find a building that is perfect for your business needs in its current state. Alterations to make sure the building is a good fit for your business are almost always necessary because the previous business was different and had different layout needs than your business. The cost may not necessarily be high in some situations but you will want to make sure you have a proper budget allocated for this after closing.

10) Maintenance and Repairs - As a tenant the building is likely repaired and maintained by arrangements through the landlord or a property management. This is handy because it allows tenant’s to focus on their business and not maintaining a property. Once you buy a building you become the landlord and are now responsible for arranging repairs and maintenance, just something to keep in mind.

If after reading this you feel that buying a building is the right thing for your business then please reach out and lets see if there are some options available for you in the Niagara Market. It would be wise to ensure the agent you’re working with has experience with commercial or industrial real estate sales.

What is a Commercial Real Estate Lease Assignment?

Yesterday I wrote a blog about subleasing in commercial real estate which is usually the most common option when the space or unit is no longer needed by the tenant for various reasons. Today I want to touch on the other option which is commonly referred to as a lease assignment.

If you read my blog on subleasing you would notice that I mention that the original tenant still remains on the hook to fulfill obligations of the original lease in that the sub-tenant pays the tenant and the tenant still pays the landlord in addition to fulfilling other obligations in the document. The difference with a lease assignment is that it usually releases the original tenant from its obligations to the lease. While this may sound like the more attractive option from the tenant’s perspective, it’s not always an option on the table and it’s often not the preference of the landlord. In the lease assignment one tenant assigns all responsibilities of the lease to the new tenant, letting the original tenant off the hook. The new tenant would have a direct relationship with landlord going forward.

So what are some reasons that a lease assignment would be preferred over a sublease? As mentioned above the first choice and sometimes the only option a landlord wants to give is the option to sublease. In the eyes of the landlord they have an existing relationship with the current tenant so they may not feel comfortable working with a lease assignment. Reasons for a landlord to consider a lease assignment instead of a sublease is because there may be an opportunity to achieve higher rents with the newer tenant, or the newer tenant may appear to have a more solid financial backing (such as a well known national franchise) vs. a mom and pop business that is going out of business. It’s obvious the landlord would want to form a direct relationship with a tenant they perceive to be a better fit for the building and their investment goals.

If you’re a landlord or tenant who has encountered this situation and don’t know what’s best, weigh the pros and cons of either and it should be clear what is best for the scenario.

What expenses can be used in TMI, CAM, or Additional Rent in a commercial real estate lease?

What should be used as a TMI expense is dependent upon how the lease is written, but, the vast majority of the time I write triple net leases and I know most commercial and industrial landlords and practitioners prefer triple net leases where they can be applied, The list below is based on a triple net scenario and isn’t limited to what is listed:

1) Landscaping - The property needs to look well maintained to make a good first impression in a business situation. Lawn cutting, gardening, weeding, tree and bush trimming, litter pick up, and so on can be a landscaping expense.

2) Snow Removal - If you live in a province or state that gets snow, snow removal contracts are a necessity for commercial and industrial properties to ensure businesses and customers have a place to park. Salting and Sanding also falls into this category.

3) Parking Lot Repairs - Parking lots function and look best when the pavement is smooth and free of potholes.

4) Roof Repairs and Maintenance - There are various things that can cause a leak in the roof but leaks tend to occur most towards the end of the roof life. Fortunately repairs can be made and the roof can often be functional for years longer with proper maintenance. There will reach a point where repairs won’t work and a full replacement will be necessary.

5) HVAC Maintenance and Repairs - To ensure the longest life and most efficiency of your HVAC units you should have a regular maintenance contract. A few visits a year from an HVAC technician to keep the unit clean and running smoothly is a wise idea.

6) Outdoor and Common Area Lighting Costs - Tenant’s and Customers definitely appreciate it when coming and going during darker hours of the day, and, having a lit building is a bonus security feature.

7) Property Management and Administration Costs - Property management takes time and money. It would be rare to see management fees higher than 15% of the property expenses but this depends on the landlord and management company.

8) Elevator Maintenance - Elevators require monthly maintenance contracts to remain operation.

9) Waste Removal - If you have common waste, recycling, or compost bins for tenant use.

10) Outdoor/Common Walkways, Ramps, or Stairs - Need to be maintained to code for safety.

11) Fire Prevention - For buildings with sprinkler systems, common area alarms/detectors, these are items that have maintenance costs. Depending on the situation, most times tenant’s would have alarms/detectors in their own units at their own expense.

12) Security Systems - For common areas only. Tenant’s should do their own monitoring for their own unit.

13) Electrical - Maintenance of the electrical room or main transformer.

14) Water - Most units of commercial and industrial buildings don’t have a separate water meter. Water costs should be added to the TMI in this situation, except if there is evidently a tenant that uses more than the others, a fair approach to billing should be made.

15 Insurance - For building and land. Tenant’s should be providing their own content and liability insurance as per the lease.

16) Property Taxes - The largest and most obvious expense.

This list can and will be more extensive in the future, but for now this is a good base guide.

Depending on the wording of your lease you may be able to amortize capital improvements over a longer term. The default wording of my lease allows for roof, HVAC, and parking lot replacement costs to amortized over 10 years but this isn’t used in all documents.

If you’re a client of mine that needs some assistance with best TMI practices I have no problem offering that help. Make sure you work with a Realtor that knows all of the expenses that need to be accounted for.

How to Calculate TMI ,CAM, or Additional Rent on Commercial and Industrial Buildings

This blog is targeting commercial and industrial buildings that have little or no common area. Most commercial retail plazas and most industrial buildings will fall into this category. Office buildings, or buildings with an abundance of common area would usually take a different approach which I plan to cover in another blog. If you’re new to this TMI, CAM (common area maintenance), and additional rent are industry phrases to represent the expenses for the property, and whatever phrase is used is usually a matter of preference but TMI is most common.

T.M.I. stands for taxes, maintenance, and insurance so the first place to start is adding together your property taxes, all of your maintenance and repair costs on the property, and your insurance costs for the most recent year. That makes up your combined annual total of property expenses. You simply need to divide that total by the total number of square feet that make up the building. You then have your per. sq. ft. rate for TMI.

A simplified formula: (Property Taxes + Maintenance + Insurance) ÷ total square feet = per sq. ft. TMI rate

If you’re looking for information on what TMI is (also known as CAM or Additional Rent), you may want to visit my other blog post with that explanation here https://www.stevendavidson.ca/blog/2018/8/13/what-is-tmi-cam-and-additional-rent-in-commercial-real-estate-leasing

For information on how often your TMI should be calculated I have a post about that here: https://www.stevendavidson.ca/blog/2019/2/12/how-often-is-tmi-cam-or-additional-rent-updated-in-a-commercial-real-estate-lease

If you were looking for information on how to calculate month rent instead of TMI I have information on how to do that here: https://www.stevendavidson.ca/blog/2019/2/22/how-to-calculate-monthly-rent-for-commercial-real-estate-lease-listings

The Industrial Real Estate Business Parks of Niagara Falls

While it may be known for its tourism, Niagara Falls is the second largest city in the Niagara Region and has a healthy amount of industry in their commercial real estate sector. An attractive feature about being in Niagara Falls is that it has its own border crossing at the Rainbow bridge, convenient for businesses that export to the United States. While Niagara Falls may have industrial properties throughout various areas of the city I’ll make mention of the commonly known ones below.

On the West side of the QEW highway and filling out to Montrose Road is a strip that runs through most of the city which is made up of mostly industrial properties, some with highway visibility. Conveniently located with easy access to the highway, this business park is great for truck access.

In the South East end of the city there is another major industrial park off Stanley Avenue which spans closer to the highway and Dorchester Road. While it may be more tucked away than the industrial park on Montrose, this location of the city is still accessible for trucks but a bit removed from the highway so lease rates may be a bit more competitive in comparison.

Like Niagara on the Lake, Niagara Falls is also close by alternative market to St. Catharines for industrial operations, depending on your needs. To ensure you’re getting the best opportunity for industrial leasing in Niagara Falls, be sure to work with an agent that has extensive knowledge and experience in industrial real estate for the area.

The Prime Commercial Real Estate Areas of St. Catharines

Most main artery roads in St. Catharines have commercial retail plazas but if you’re looking for the most prime, high traffic areas you will want to consider one of the areas below or close proximity.

1) Fourth Avenue - Located just off of Highway 406 where Welland Avenue from central St. Catharines turns into 4th Ave. and continues into the West end of the city with new plazas and the hospital. This stretch is arguably one of the highest traffic areas of the city, it’s also an area of the city that is still growing (to an extent). You can find most retail amenities in this area of the city with big box stores in the Smart Centres developments, medical buildings around the hospital, and other retail buildings that house a mix of local and franchise tenant’s. A great deal of benefit can be had to locating in this area but it comes at a price with base rental rates usually starting around $18 per sq. ft.

2) Glendale Avenue (Penn Centre area) - The stretch of Glendale that runs from Merritt Street , under Highway 406 and ends after the Penn Centre is another commercial district that is incredibly high traffic. There is a mix of new buildings, old buildings, and even some nice redeveloped buildings such as where The Keg and Johnny Rocco’s, as well as the city’s largest shopping mall the Penn Centre. With a diverse mix of retailers, food options, and even government services such as the passport office, it’s no wonder Glendale Avenue is packed with traffic during business hours. You might be able to find base rents as low as $16 per sq. ft. in older buildings but you will likely be paying over $20 in most areas.

3) YMCA Drive / Fairview Mall - This is actually a large block of big box retailers and a shopping mall located next to the QEW highway. It is bordered by Lake Street to the West, the QEW to the South and Geneva Street to the East. The Fairview Mall is actually quite small but has some notable tenant’s such as Chapters, Ikea, LCBO and grocery stores such as Zerhs and Food Basics. One of the largest traffic draws in this block is Costco which is connected off YMCA Drive along with Home Depot, Pet’s Mart, and a YMCA. This is retail area may be the most central in the city and there is quite a bit of plaza development and traffic in the surrounding neighbourhoods as a result.

Other notable high traffic commercial retail areas would be Ontario Street from Calrton to the QEW, Lake Street from the QEW to Lakeport, Lakeshore Road from Lakeport to Geneva, Scott Street from Vine to Niagara, Welland Ave from Grantham to Bunting, Hartzel Road from Queenston to Merritt, Port Dalhousie, and downtown.

Why do commercial tenant's need insurance if the landlord has it?

Full disclosure here, I’m not an insurance broker.

I’m writing this post because occasionally a new business will ask why they are providing insurance for commercial or industrial lease space if the landlord already has it.

It’s true that a landlord should have insurance to protect their property, but that is exactly what it is limited to, their property. The type of insurance that is usually being requested in a commercial lease is in addition to the landlord’s insurance, often called content and liability insurance.

As you suspect, content insurance is to protect the tenant’s contents in the event they are damaged or destroyed from various potential issues that could arise such as a building fire, a break in, a flood, etc. Seeing as the landlord’s insurance only covers the building this added insurance brings peace of mind to cover the tenant’s equipment and inventory. The liability aspect is protection from unfortunate events such as injuries, deaths, other types of damages, etc. that may occur in the tenant’s place of business. These are very shortened explanations of content and liability insurance so if you’re looking to know more details, it’s best to speak with your commercial insurance provider.

Content and liability insurance should be considered mandatory in a commercial real estate lease (it is in my lease) and if you are a landlord who has not implemented it, make it mandatory for your tenant’s as soon as possible. If you’re a tenant without this insurance, it would be risky to operate without it.