Friday, April 20, 2018

Are YOU Prepared for a Rent Increase?

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You've opted to lease your business location - which means every month you pay rent to a landlord. Several considerations led you to the decision to lease versus own your building. We will leave the lease versus own conversation for another day.

Today, my goal is to discuss the dynamics that will cause your rent to increase - sometimes dramatically! Hopefully, the topics discussed here will prepare you for the call that your rent will soon balloon.

When a commercial real estate lease originates, the number of years - term, rent amount, rent increases, concessions - such as abated rent, building improvements and the like are spelled out in the document you and the landlord sign.

As the term of your commercial real estate lease can dictate increases in your rent, a brief explanation about length of leases is important to review.

Depending on the size of your space, lease terms range from month-to-month to ten+ years. A smaller space - fewer than 5000 square feet - normally means a shorter term - fewer than two years. Why, you may ask? Tenants that occupy small blocks of space are frequently start-up companies without the benefit of years of financial history. In some cases, these businesses are a payment risk. Landlords counter this risk by limiting the lease term - the overall amount of rent to which a tenant is obligated. Additionally, growth trajectory is tough to quantify with a new enterprise. Therefore, these operators are reluctant to commit long term lest they outgrow their digs.

With term explanation as a back drop, there are several other factors can cause rents to rise. I've ordered these from least to greatest:

Increases in operating expenses. Operating expenses include charges for property taxes, insurance on the building, common area maintenance - landscape, trash, utilities, parking lot sweeping, a share of capital expenses - a new roof or air conditioner, and in some cases property management. All of these charges are either baked into your base rent - a gross lease, or are paid for in addition to your base rent - a NNN lease. Unless your agreement specifies otherwise, as these expenses increase over the term of your lease - yep - your rent increases.

Pre-set increases throughout the term. Leases today typically carry annual increases in the base rent of 3%-4%. Gone are the days where the amount of rent paid each year increased by the change that occurs in the Consumer Price Index. Even though three to four percent annually seems steep compared with inflation - please understand, commercial lease rates have increased approximately 70% since 2009 - a staggering 8% a year! So, if you signed a ten year lease in 2009 with annual escalators of 2.5%, prepare for a bit of a jolt next year.

The sale of your building. The largest operating expense is property taxes. Recall, these are paid as a part of your base rent or in addition to your base rent. Annually billed at one percent of the assessed value of the real estate, property taxes can increase a maximum of two percent per year - unless - the building is sold for more than the assessed value. And then, WHAM! You are stuck with a huge bill.

The expiration and renewal of an existing lease. The coup de grace these days. Many leases expire and are slated for renewal - as our volume of leasing hit a peak in 2010-2013. A seven year lease originated in 2010 expired last year as did a five year lease commenced in 2012. Shock and awe are mild adjectives to describe tenant reactions to their landlord renewal proposals. Met with a limited amount of available buildings, many tenants have been forced to swallow hard and accept that their rent might increase 30-40%! Ouch!

Next week, I will discuss some strategies for limiting your rent increases - so stay tuned, faithful readers!