August 31, 2017
A friend emailed me a suggested topic for this coming Sunday’s blog post. 「So with the events in Houston, is it time for a blog on Rent Abatements in Damage and Destruction clauses?」
Clearly, it is. And, as landlords and tenants are not going to wait to start paperwork for claims until Sunday, it is time for a Thursday blog.
Photo from American Urban Radio Networks (aurn.com)
It is rare to see too much negotiation around 「Damage and Destruction」 or 「Reconstruction」 or the portion of the 「Utilities」 clause related to the unavailability of utilities, or to 「Business Interruption Insurance.」 And, honestly, when landlords summarize their lease requirements in an abstract, most of these clauses are not captured because, for the most part, the clauses rarely come into play. But, in the coming weeks, they will be front and center for property owners and tenants alike.
There is only one 「pat」 answer for who is responsible for what in terms of reconstruction, the payment or abatement of rent, damage-related terminations or so on, and that answer is that the responsibility is defined by each individual lease.
Typically, the damage and destruction section of the lease will define whether it is the landlord or tenant that is responsible for the reconstruction of the premises, and, more often than not, the party responsible for obtaining the property insurance on the building itself (as opposed to the contents), will be responsible for the repair/reconstruction.
The leases will also address whether or not the tenant is responsible for the payment of rent during the reconstruction period. Again, with the 「more often than not」 comment, there will be an abatement of rent during the period of reconstruction. But, it is not unusual for the tenant’s rent responsibility to continue. You will find that when it is the tenant responsible for rebuilding, it will be more common for the tenant being required to continue to pay rent during the reconstruction period.
Often buried in the lease is a requirement for the landlord or tenant to carry business interruption insurance. Again, it would be more common for a tenant responsible for reconstruction and for the payment of rent during reconstruction to have also been responsible for carrying business interruption insurance. The business interruption clause typically will address the prior the landlord or tenant the insurance is required to cover – often 12-18 months. It will often follow that if the landlord is required to reconstruct, and the tenant gets an abatement during the repair/reconstruction, then the landlord would have been required to carry the insurance covering the period. (The tenant likely paid either a prorata share of the insurance, or paid for it as part of a fixed CAM/operating charge.) The opposite is likewise true. If the tenant is required to repair and pay rent during the down time, they would have been required to carry the insurance. That being said, I just pulled a lease for a national sandwich shop at a property outside of Houston where the standard lease included business interruption insurance as part of the landlord’s responsibility with the tenant paying a prorata share. But, the requirement was stricken from the lease by the tenant.
Another issue to consider is that leases often include language giving the landlord and/or tenant the right to terminate the lease if the damage/destruction occurs in the last x months or years of the term. Over the years, we have seen damage destruction in a transitioning area being used to clear out a property to make way for a completely different tenant mix.
Also to be considered an issue addressed in an earlier blog – 「when minimum rent is abated, the breakpoint shall likewise be abated.」 Keeping it simple, if a tenant’s annual breakpoint is $1,200,000 for the year and they have a 12/31 lease year end, a Houston tenant will pay percentage rent for 2017 based upon sales through 8/31 over a denominator of $800,000 ($1,200,000 x 8/12. I am oversimplifying the other variables). Then let’s say it takes 12 months to restore the property. For 2018, the tenant will pay percentage rent using sales for the year (just 9/1-12/31) and a breakpoint of just $400,000. Knowing how sales typically fall, they may end up paying no percentage rent for 2017, but a disproportionate amount for 2018 (and since it will not really be considered a partial year in either case, any extended or extended partial lease year language (addressed in yet another earlier blog) will not be there to protect the tenant.
And, just when you think you may not have issues because your property was not damaged, in many cases, even though it is beyond the landlord’s control, if utilities are not available at the property and the tenant cannot operate, there may be related rent abatements. It never ends!
I wish there were better, more universal answers that I could give. But, yet again, the answers lie in the leases.