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Green Leasing Series: The Legal Risks of a Green Lease

This is the second article in our Green Leasing Series here at GRELJ. Our next article in the Green Leasing Series will provide further examination of the form green leases that are currently available on the market.

Much like the rest of the green building industry, green leases contain a collection of legal risks that landlords and tenants have not previously had to consider. This article considers a small sample of such problems, specifically in relation to certification requirements, cost issues, insurance provisions and green product issues.

Many companies and government agencies require their space to satisfy an applicable LEED for Commercial Interiors certification level. These entities look for a lease to specify that the space will meet such standards. Landlords are not generally in the position to guarantee such certification level. The project architect, general contractor, subcontractor and USGBC all have a much greater impact on whether the space meets the required certification level. The landlord will thus need to make sure it is working with contractors and architects that understand the issues and are able to work towards achieving the necessary certification levels. It will need to protect itself in its applicable project contracts. The landlord and tenant must work together in attempting to craft a lease that adequately protects each of their respective interests and avoids liability outside of either of their control. Crafting lease incentives such as free rent periods or rental abatements are the best way to incentivize a property owner to deliver a green lease space without undue penalty for items outside of its control.

In addition, green building is generally more costly and timely than the standard building process. Landlords and tenants must realize this when determining the tenant improvement allowances detailed in the lease. Although green space is obviously important for a company, having a finished space is a far more important issue.

The improvements must also be are properly insured. A party entering into a green lease must carefully consider the increase in both (a) the replacement cost and (b) the rebuilding period following a casualty event, due to specific green building issues. As detailed above, the cost of green building products are generally more expensive than standard materials. There will also be additional costs incurred if the space needs to re-obtain its LEED certification level following a casualty event. It is important that each of those points is considered when determining replacement value and how that is detailed within the lease. If the casualty event is not the fault of the tenant, the lease should also consider who will be responsible for the costs of the LEED re-certification. The rebuilding of the space will also take longer due to both (i) the installation of many energy efficient systems and (ii) the LEED re-certification process following the casualty event. Such issues must be considered in the sections of the lease detailing the rebuild obligations of the parties following a casualty event.

The use of certain green products can also create unforeseen issues for both the landlord and the tenant. Some specific examples were detailed in Frank Musica’s “Don’t Let Green Design Cause Red Ink” presentation at the 2007 AIA National Convention in San Antonio.

The first example to consider is one in which a design firm specified cork flooring in kitchen areas. Unfortunately, this product had not been properly tested for use in high traffic kitchen areas. As a result, the cork flooring eventually saw growth of mold created by the high traffic and water spillage of the kitchen area. Another example was a tenant that provided the government with military systems designs and terrorism identification systems. The tenant invested in green design and extensive daylighting systems, including skylights and large window systems. Upon inspection of the new space by the government, it was determined that the tenant was putting confidential information at risk. The tenant faced a threatened revocation of its contractor’s security rating and cancelation of existing contracts. These outcomes show why tenants must work with their landlords in the installation of green building products and systems within their spaces in order to avoid potential liabilities that may have been unforeseeable for the landlord, contractor or architect.

In conclusion, green leasing, much like the green building movement itself, is here to stay. There are a multitude of new legal issues and risks that both a landlord and a tenant must consider if they elect to lease green space. These potential risks are further reasons to work with the most skilled professionals in the green building and leasing industry, whether that is an architect, contractor or attorney in site selection, plan preparation, lease negotiation and the final build-out of the space in connection with a green lease.

Geoff White is a Senior Associate in the Commercial Transactions and Real Estate Group at Frost Brown Todd. He is a contributing author to Green Real Estate Law Journal. He also oversees the Green Building Series on the Frost Brown Todd’s Construction Law News website. Mr. White is licensed to practice law in Kentucky and Ohio and is a member of the Kentucky Chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council. Learn more about Geoff at http://www.frostbrowntodd.com/geoffwhite

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  1. Asking your Landlord to “Green” your space « Askthefm’s Weblog - February 20, 2009

    [...] risk for the landlord in this case.  In an ongoing series on the Green Real Estate Law Journal (http://www.greenrealestatelaw.com/2009/02/legal-risks-of-green-leases/) there is a fairly thorough explanation and assessment of these risk and issues.  I would [...]

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