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Working With Your Landlord to Achieve Expanded Tenant Improvement Allowances


Tenant improvements (TI) represent a critical aspect of the commercial leasing process, offering tenants the opportunity to customize leased spaces to suit their specific business needs. Following our previous discussion on common TI allowances, we will now be delving into the strategic approaches that tenants can use to collaborate with their landlords in securing more favorable TI allowances. This dialogue not only enhances the leased space's functionality but also fosters a mutually beneficial relationship between tenant and landlord.


Tips for Tenants on Working With Landlords to Secure Better Allowances


Understand Market Standards

You should begin by researching typical tenant improvement allowance (TIA) amounts for similar properties in your area. This information provides a benchmark for what you can realistically request. Recent deal data will serve as a valuable negotiating tool, setting a clear precedent for what landlords in your market are willing to offer.


Clearly Define Improvement Needs

Approach your landlord with a well-thought-out plan for the desired improvements. Demonstrating how these enhancements serve the interests of both parties can significantly strengthen your case. It's crucial to communicate the long-term benefits, such as increased property value and attractiveness to future tenants.


Leverage Competitive Bids

Securing multiple bids for the proposed improvements is prudent for cost management and also equips you and your landlord with more useful and pertinent information during the discussion. Presenting these bids to your landlord can facilitate a discussion about a more substantial TIA that reflects the actual improvement costs.


Influence of Tenant Creditworthiness and Lease Term Length


Tenant improvements represent a significant investment on the part of landlords, intended to adapt commercial spaces to meet the specific needs of tenants. The willingness of landlords to fund these improvements, and the extent to which they are willing to do so, can be heavily influenced by two key factors: the creditworthiness of the tenant and the length of the lease term. Understanding these influences can empower tenants to negotiate more effectively for improved allowances.


Tenant Creditworthiness: A Measure of Reliability

Tenant creditworthiness refers to the perceived financial stability and reliability of a tenant based on their past and present financial health and business performance. Landlords view creditworthy tenants as lower-risk investments, as they are more likely to fulfill their lease obligations over the term, including rent payments and maintenance responsibilities. Here's how creditworthiness can impact negotiations around TIs:


  • Financial Statements and Business Plans: Providing solid financial documentation and a robust business plan can demonstrate a tenant's stability and growth potential. Landlords might be more inclined to invest in tenants who can show a strong balance sheet, positive cash flows, and a clear business trajectory.


  • Past Lease Performance: A history of successful leases, without defaults or late payments, can bolster a tenant's negotiating position. Landlords will often consider a tenant's track record in previous commercial leases as an indicator of future reliability.


  • Security Deposits and Guarantees: In some cases, a tenant's financial standing might lead a landlord to request a higher security deposit or a personal guarantee, especially if the tenant is a startup or lacks a long business history. Negotiating these terms effectively can also impact the overall TIA package.


Lease Term Length: Balancing Commitment and Benefit

The length of the lease term plays a crucial role in determining the size of the tenant improvement allowance. Longer lease terms provide landlords with a more extended period of stable rental income, justifying a larger upfront investment in TIs. Here's how lease term length influences TIA negotiations:


  • Long-Term Commitment: A tenant willing to commit to a longer lease term signals to the landlord a stable, long-term tenancy. This commitment reduces the landlord's risk of future vacancy, making them more amenable to offering a higher TIA.


  • Negotiating Leverage: Tenants can use the willingness to sign a longer lease as leverage in negotiations for a larger improvement allowance. However, it's essential to balance this with the business's future flexibility and potential for growth or relocation.


  • Break Clauses and Renewal Options: While longer leases can secure higher TIAs, tenants should also consider negotiating break clauses or renewal options to maintain some level of flexibility. These clauses can provide an out or an opportunity to renegotiate terms should the business's needs change significantly.


Legal Considerations and Lease Terms to Keep Front of Mind


These improvements are typically governed by specific legal terms within the lease that dictate how they are executed, funded, and maintained. Tenants must have a deeper understanding of these key legal terms—improvement allowance clauses, construction and improvement standards, compliance with laws, and landlord approval requirements—to ensure their improvements are both beneficial and compliant.


Improvement Allowance Clauses: Funding Tenant Improvements

Improvement allowance clauses define the financial terms under which tenants receive funds for improvements. These clauses can vary significantly in structure and disbursement methods, including:


  • Lump-Sum Allowances: Tenants receive a fixed amount of money to cover improvement costs. This method offers flexibility but requires careful budgeting to ensure the funds cover all desired improvements.


  • Reimbursement: The landlord reimburses the tenant for improvement costs up to a specified limit. Tenants need to front the initial costs, which can impact their cash flow.


  • Turnkey Projects: The landlord undertakes and completes the improvements based on agreed-upon specifications before the tenant takes occupancy. This approach relieves the tenant of construction management responsibilities but may offer less customization.


  • Direct Payment: The landlord pays contractors directly up to the agreed allowance amount, streamlining the process for tenants but requiring close coordination to ensure timely payment and project progress.


Construction and Improvement Standards: Ensuring Quality and Compliance

Lease agreements typically include clauses that set forth the standards for materials, workmanship, and design of tenant improvements. These standards serve multiple purposes:


  • Maintaining Property Value: High-quality materials and workmanship help preserve or enhance the property's value, serving the landlord's long-term interests.


  • Ensuring Aesthetic Cohesion: Standards may be in place to maintain a uniform appearance within a commercial complex or building.


  • Compliance with Lease Terms: Adhering to specified standards ensures that improvements do not breach the lease agreement, avoiding potential conflicts.


Compliance with Laws: Navigating Regulatory Requirements

Compliance clauses in lease agreements mandate that all tenant improvements adhere to local, state, and federal regulations, including but not limited to:


  • Building Codes: Ensuring structural integrity, safety, and accessibility.


  • Environmental Regulations: Addressing concerns such as hazardous materials, waste disposal, and energy efficiency.


  • Zoning Laws: Complying with regulations related to the property's use, density, and other factors.


Failure to comply with these laws can result in legal penalties, project delays, and additional costs. Tenants should work closely with their architects, contractors, and legal counsel to ensure all improvements are fully compliant with applicable regulations.


Landlord Approval: Securing Consent for Improvements

Many leases require tenants to obtain landlord approval for specific improvements or the engagement of particular contractors. This approval process:


  • Ensures Compliance: Landlords can verify that proposed improvements align with lease terms, property standards, and legal requirements.


  • Maintains Oversight: Landlord approval allows property owners to maintain oversight of changes to their assets, protecting their interests.


  • Prevents Disputes: Securing approval in advance helps avoid conflicts or misunderstandings that could arise from unauthorized improvements.


Tenants should familiarize themselves with the approval process outlined in their lease, including any required documentation, timelines for approval, and conditions under which approval may be granted or withheld.


"As Is" Clause: Navigating the Status Quo

The "As Is" clause is a common feature in commercial leases, stipulating that the tenant agrees to accept the property in its current state. This acceptance can significantly impact the dynamics of tenant improvement negotiations. Under this clause, the landlord's responsibility for existing defects or inadequacies in the property is typically limited, placing the onus on the tenant to make any desired improvements.


For tenants, this clause necessitates a thorough inspection of the property before signing the lease, as any issues discovered post-agreement could become the tenant's financial responsibility to rectify. Moreover, tenants should negotiate TI allowances with the "As Is" clause in mind, ensuring the allowance covers the cost of essential improvements needed to make the space viable for their business needs.


Restoration Clause: The End-of-Lease Implications

Restoration clauses require tenants to return the space to its original condition at the end of the lease term. This requirement can entail significant expenses, especially if extensive modifications were made to accommodate the tenant's business operations. For example, removing installed fixtures, repairing walls, or reinstating original floor plans can be costly.


Tenants should negotiate these terms upfront to limit the extent of restoration required or to clarify which improvements can remain. In some cases, landlords prefer to retain certain improvements, particularly if they enhance the property's value. Clear agreements on restoration expectations can prevent disputes and unexpected costs as the lease term concludes.


Default and Damage Clauses: Protecting Against Unforeseen Events

Default and damage clauses outline the repercussions for tenants who fail to adhere to lease terms or who cause damage to the property, especially during improvement works. These clauses can affect the TIA, as landlords may seek to withhold or recover part of the allowance in the event of tenant defaults or damages.


To mitigate risks, tenants should ensure they understand the lease's default terms and the procedures for reporting and repairing any damages incurred during improvements. It's also wise to maintain comprehensive insurance coverage for property damage and to document the property's condition before starting any work, providing a baseline should disputes arise.


Caps and Exclusions: Understanding Limitations

Leases often specify caps on TIAs, setting a maximum limit on the funds available for improvements. Additionally, certain types of improvements may be excluded from the allowance, either due to their nature (e.g., purely aesthetic enhancements) or their permanence (e.g., structural changes).


Tenants need to be acutely aware of these limitations when planning their improvements. Prioritizing essential modifications and negotiating the terms of caps and exclusions can ensure that the available tenant improvement allowance aligns with the tenant's most critical needs. Furthermore, understanding these limitations can aid in budgeting, preventing scenarios where the tenant incurs significant out-of-pocket expenses for improvements not covered by the allowance.


Importance of Having Legal Counsel Review


Navigating a lease agreement, particularly when it involves tenant improvements, can be akin to traversing a minefield. The complexity and potential implications of lease terms demand not just a keen eye but a profound understanding of property law and commercial leasing practices. Legal professionals play an indispensable role in this process, offering expertise in risk mitigation, clarification and understanding of lease terms, negotiation support, and compliance assurance.


Risk Mitigation

Legal experts excel in identifying potential pitfalls within lease agreements that could pose risks to tenants. These risks might include unfavorable termination clauses, hidden costs, or ambiguous terms regarding maintenance responsibilities. By meticulously reviewing the agreement, legal counsel can pinpoint terms that may be disadvantageous or expose the tenant to unforeseen liabilities. For instance, a clause might stipulate automatic lease renewal under conditions unfavorable to the tenant, or there might be vague language surrounding the condition in which the tenant must leave the property at the end of the lease, potentially leading to significant restoration costs.


Clarification and Understanding

Lease agreements, especially those involving TI allowances, often contain complex legal jargon and intricate clauses that can be challenging for non-specialists to fully understand. Legal counsel serves as an interpreter, translating these complexities into clear, comprehensible terms. This clarity is particularly crucial for TI clauses, which detail the scope, budget, and execution of improvements.


Negotiation Support

Skilled in negotiation, attorneys can be invaluable allies in securing more favorable lease terms. Their expertise allows them to identify areas within the lease where there is room for negotiation or compromise. This might involve negotiating a higher TI allowance, more favorable payment terms, or flexibility in the lease's improvement and alteration clauses.


Compliance Assurance

Ensuring that all planned improvements comply with local, state, and federal regulations, including building codes and accessibility requirements, is paramount. Legal counsel plays a critical role in this aspect, providing guidance on regulatory compliance and helping to navigate the often complex and dynamic landscape of legal requirements.

Securing enhanced TI allowances requires a strategic approach underpinned by thorough market research, clear communication, and a solid understanding of legal terms. By adopting these strategies, tenants can forge a stronger partnership with their landlords, resulting in a leased space that truly supports their business's success.




Chief Legal Officer

Joe Acker joined SimonCRE in 2015 as General Counsel and, in 2023, rose to the position of Chief Legal Officer. In this role, he provides a broad knowledge of real estate law and a tenacious, yet affable negotiation style that is appreciated by all parties in a transaction. Over the course of his career, Joe has built a reputation as an experienced and knowledgeable commercial real estate and corporate transactional attorney. He has been involved in more than $2 Billion worth of real estate transactions.

Joe’s expertise encompasses all facets of commercial real estate law, including review and negotiation of purchase agreements and leases, due diligence for development projects, and coordination of pre and post-closing issues. He is also experienced in corporate transactions, including the purchase and sale of businesses, the facilitation of corporate contracts, and the formation of corporations and limited liability companies.


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