When first entering into a lease of commercial premises the task may seem daunting as well as confusing.
A lease is a legally binding contract (carrying significant legal consequences if its terms are breached) which creates certain rights and obligations between a landlord and a tenant in respect of a particular property. A commercial lease is used where the main use of the property is for business purposes.
It is critically important for prospective tenants to be aware of, and to fully understand, all of the important terms and conditions of the proposed lease. Entering into a lease without doing so can lead to significant and potentially fatal financial consequences.
Most, if not all, commercial leases contain several key terms which must be well understood before any prospective tenant finally commits to entering into the lease. These include:
What is the rent that you will be expected to pay? When will it fall due and payable (i.e. each month or each fortnight)?
Generally rent is calculated based on the area (per square metre) of the premises being leased. Sometimes reaching agreement as to the area that is being leased and for which rent is payable is not a straight forward exercise.
Equally as important as ascertaining what is the actual rent payable, is understanding when rent increases are due and how they are to be calculated. Rent usually increases annually during the term of the lease determined either by a fixed percentage, market-value or possibly with respect to the Consumer Price Index (CPI). In the event that the lease provides for a market value review (as opposed to fixed increases) a market value review is required to take place at the expiry of the initial term and at expiry of any option to renew the lease.
In some instances, a landlord may ask for some form of security from the tenant or proposed tenant in order to cover a situation where the tenant fails one of the key obligations under the lease, such as failing to pay the rent. Sometimes the security required is a payment equal to 3 or 6 months’ rent and in some instances this is sought to be further guaranteed by some form of a bank guarantee. If such a security is sought in the lease, then the lease should also set out clearly the terms as to when the security payment will be returned back to the tenant. Similarly, if the tenant is a company then it is common for a landlord to require one or more of the company directors to provide a personal guarantee that the company will meet all of its obligations under the lease, including the obligation to pay rent.
Another key term of the lease is the duration of the lease itself. The lease document should set out clearly the length of the lease as well as any further options to renew the lease and any particular terms or preconditions that may be required relating to the renewal of the lease. Where a lease provides for one or more options for the tenant to renew the lease, it is essential that the tenant be aware of both when each option must be exercised and how it must be exercised (i.e. what form of written notice is required to validly exercise that option to renew the lease). Failing to exercise each option by the prescribed date and/or in the prescribed manner will (unless otherwise agreed) result in the lease ending and either no further lease being offered to the tenant or a new lease being offered but potentially on less favourable terms. This, of course, can be financially disastrous to a small business.