6 Key Provisions to Consider in a Commercial Lease

When you make the decision to rent commercial space for your business, the considerations involved go far beyond location, term, and rent. Failure to take into account a number of other important issues, or ignorance of the detailed terms of your lease, can come back to haunt you with devastating consequences for the continued viability of your business.

You should always retain and consult with an experienced commercial real estate lawyer before signing any commercial lease or agreeing to any terms. Boilerplate legal documents are rarely a good solution. Your business is unique; your legal documents should be unique as well. As you are evaluating your options for your business’s new home, here are some crucial issues that you should keep in mind as you make your decision:

  • Build-out. Most often, the space to be rented will require significant work to make it suitable and desirable for your business.  You of course will want to spend as little as possible on the build-out so you will want to negotiate a significant tenant improvement allowance.  In a “turn-key” build-out, the landlord covers all of the costs of the improvements and factors those costs into the agreed-upon rent. Alternatively, the landlord can agree to contribute a set amount to the build-out.  Either way, you need to ensure that you maintain as much control over the build-out process as possible.
  • Use Provisions. Use provisions within commercial leases are designed to prevent similar or competing businesses from renting and occupying nearby space in the same building. This is obviously more of a concern for retail space, but it is important that your efforts are not undermined by other leases, and that you have ensured that all of your intended uses for the space are allowable under the lease terms.
  • Assignment and Subletting. At some juncture, you may wish to assign or sublet your space to a third-party. Commercial leases almost always require that the landlord give prior approval before you can do so. Make sure that the landlord cannot unreasonably withhold its consent to a sublease and be careful to note that you will still likely be fully liable for all rents even if the lease is assigned or property sublet to another party.
  • Property and Facility Maintenance. It is critically important to define which party is responsible for maintaining the building and its interior. Although it may seem obvious that a landlord is in charge of repairing things like broken HVAC systems and leaking roofs, other items aren’t so clear-cut. If you bear the cost of new carpeting, shelving, and electrical wiring, is the landlord still obligated to fix these items if something fails? What if you install new signage? Who is responsible for repair costs pays for broken neon in one of the sign’s letters? These are all items that have the potential to create serious and costly conflicts if not addressed in the commercial lease agreement.
  • Gross v. Net Rent. Just like airlines tag on all kinds of fees on top of the base fare, your true monthly rental costs could be hidden if you don’t pay attention to whether you are signing up to pay “gross” or “net” rent. Gross rent is the rent calculated inclusive of all building costs. Net rent is the rent calculated excluding building costs. Make sure you understand what costs you will be on the hook for every month.
  • Default: Notice and Opportunity to Cure. You don’t want a technicality or an unexpected delay in making a rent payment to be an excuse for terminating your lease. You should seek to include provisions allowing for notice of default and an “opportunity to cure” before the landlord may begin exercising remedies.

These are just a handful of the issues that you need to consider as you engage in one of the most fundamental and impactful choices you can make for your business. With so much riding on the terms of a commercial lease, don’t make the mistake of thinking that form documents or your experiences as a residential tenant are sufficient to protect all that you have worked for. Meet with an experienced Chicago commercial real estate lawyer who can provide you with the guidance and peace of mind that will allow your business to thrive in its new home.

Louis R. Fine: Chicago Commercial Real Estate Lawyer

I invite you to learn more about how I might be able to help you with your business or real estate questions, issues, and concerns. Please give me a call at (312) 236-2433 or fill out my online form to arrange for your free initial consultation. I look forward to meeting with you.

Political Hack is a Stark Reminder of the Importance of Cybersecurity to Small Businesses

The hate and hope, hysterics and history of the political conventions are over. These editions of our quadrennial pageants put a great many things in stark contrast, even more than they typically do. But while many things were familiar – booming speeches, delegates in outlandish outfits, and thousands of balloons falling from the rafters – there was something new this year. The hacking, likely by Russians, of Democratic National Committee computers in order to undermine the Democratic candidate is a stark reminder of how vulnerable all of us are to cyberthreats. While this hack had serious political and national security implications, the threat to small businesses is no less real and can be no less devastating.

Companies big and small find themselves repeatedly under attack by sophisticated hackers who seek to gain access to trade secrets and personal customer information to use for their own gain. Such security breaches can cost companies millions of dollars in business and remediation costs and cause customers to lose faith in the ability of the company to maintain the confidentiality of their payment and personal information.

For small business owners, a robust cybersecurity program is no longer optional. Failing to implement a comprehensive strategy to protect valuable intellectual property and proprietary information is essentially business negligence. Failing to act swiftly and aggressively once a breach has occurred can be business suicide. A complex patchwork of state and federal laws establish notification requirements in the event of a breach and failure to follow those laws can expose businesses to fines and adverse regulatory actions that only add to the pain.

The U.S. Small Business Administration has a wonderful website dedicated to helping business owners prevent and respond to cybersecurity threats. The site includes these ten key steps companies should take as part of a comprehensive strategy:

  1. Protect against viruses, spyware, and other malicious code
  2. Secure your networks
  3. Establish security practices and policies to protect sensitive information
  4. Educate employees about cyberthreats and hold them accountable
  5. Require employees to use strong passwords and to change them often
  6. Employ best practices on payment cards
  7. Backup copies of important business data and information
  8. Control physical access to computers and network components
  9. Create a mobile device action plan
  10. Protect all pages on your public-facing websites, not just the checkout and sign-up pages

I recommend that all small business owners spend some time at the SBAs cybersecurity website (https://www.sba.gov/managing-business/cybersecurity)  and take all steps necessary to shore up this crucial aspect of their operations. A hack of your network may not attract national headlines, but it could repel customers and cost you your business.

The Law Offices of Louis R. Fine

As an experienced Chicago business lawyer, I know how important it is to get a deal done. I also understand how crucial it is to get a deal done right. That is why I take a balanced approach to business transactions, one that is meticulous and detailed, but that does not delay a closing or consummation of a deal. My role is to facilitate, not stand in the way. Please give me a call at 312-236-2433 or fill out my online form to arrange for your free initial consultation.

When It’s Business and It’s Personal: Small Business Ownership and Divorce in Illinois

If you own your own business, you know that it can be hard sometimes to not take things personally. With so much cash, sweat, and tears invested in your company, its successes or struggles will impact you in ways far beyond what is reflected on a balance sheet.

Just as your business can impact your personal life, your personal life can have a huge effect on your business, especially if you are going through a divorce.

The ownership, valuation, and division of small business interests in a divorce can be a major source of conflict. Whether you own your business by yourself or with other partners or members, it is important to understand how the end of your marriage will affect your business, your ownership interest, and your wallet.

In an Illinois divorce, property is divided into “marital” property and “non-marital” property. The former is property acquired during the marriage and will be equitably divided between the spouses. The latter is the property of the spouse who owned it prior to the marriage and will be awarded to that spouse.

As such, if one spouse owned a business prior to the marriage, it will generally remain their business after the divorce. But this is where things get complicated.

Businesses aren’t pieces of furniture; they don’t just sit there stagnantly. During the course of a marriage, businesses grow; businesses pay salaries and make distributions; businesses incur debt; businesses obtain capital and investments from the owners; businesses may add owners, including a spouse.

Much of what happens to the business while a couple is married means that both spouses may be entitled to an interest in the value of the business. For example, the following will be counted as marital property to be equitably divided:

  • Business ownership interest acquired during the marriage
  • The gain in value in the ownership interest of a business established before the marriage which accrued by personal effort of the owner spouse during the marriage
  • Discrete, distinguishable assets acquired by a non-marital business during marriage

Furthermore, a non-owner spouse may be entitled to a right of reimbursement for contributions made toward a non-marital business during the marriage.

When a business or an interest in a business is deemed to be marital property, the valuation of the business or ownership interest becomes a big issue. Each spouse may wind up retaining accountants or other experts to establish the value of the business such that the cash value can be allocated as part of the larger division of assets. Rather than force a divorcing couple to remain business partners, courts will often offset the value of the business interest by awarding other assets to the non-owner spouse.

Of course, a valid pre-nuptial agreement that addresses the issue of business ownership upon divorce can take all of this out of the court’s hands and bring clarity to both the divorce process as well as business operations going forward.

Louis R. Fine: Chicago Business Division and Valuation Attorney

Illinois business division and valuation issues are complicated and can have a long term impact on the financial well-being of both spouses. As an experienced Chicago divorce lawyer, I understand the complexities and challenges involved in dividing business interests as part of divorce. I work to ensure that every client receives what they are entitled to while minimizing conflict and acrimony throughout the process.

If you have questions or concerns about how your business may be impacted by your divorce, please give me a call at (312) 236-2433 or fill out my online form to arrange for a consultation. I look forward to assisting you.