Green building design, construction and operation practices have gained widespread popularity in the healthcare industry in recent years, even considering the current challenging economic climate. This trend is likely to continue because green building practices result in both decreased overall life cycle costs and healthier building occupants. This article will briefly examine the background of building green in the healthcare sector, discuss the unique needs of healthcare facilities in relation to green building practices, and finally examine the choices and challenges faced by healthcare facilities in determining whether to design, construct and/or operate a green building facility, with a specific emphasis on the legal issues therein.
Author Archive | Geoff White
Green roofs have been a part of building for over a thousand years. The current green building movement has, however, had the greatest impact on the growth of the green roofing industry. A green roof is commonly defined as a roof that consists of vegetation and soil, or a growing medium, planted over a waterproofing membrane. There are two basic types of green roofs: (i) an extensive roof, which has a few inches of soil cover; and (ii) an intensive roof that has two feet or more of soil for a variety of grass, trees, bushes and shrubs. Green roofs are used in a multitude of buildings, including industrial facilities, commercial offices, retail properties and residences. The benefits of a green roof include reduced storm-water runoff, absorption of air pollution, reduced heat island effect, protection of underlying roof material from sunlight, reduced noise, and insulation from extreme temperatures. A green roof can thus be a critical design element for a green building. As more properties across the country are attempting to obtain LEED certification, it is worth noting that a green roof can help a property obtain over a dozen LEED credits, including credits for reduced site disturbance, landscape design that reduces urban heat islands, storm water management, water efficient landscaping, innovative wastewater technologies and innovation in design. The increase in green roofs and the green building movement is also resulting in an increase in liability resulting from errors in the design, installation or maintenance of green roofs. As a result, owners, design professionals and contractors should carefully consider ways to mitigate the potential risks involved with building a green roof.
Once the sole domain of the ecologically minded, the green building movement has gone mainstream. Part of the green building movement has been the increase in solar power use in homes and businesses. The decision by homeowners and businesses to install solar electric systems, which are also known as photovoltaic (“PV”) systems, may be made for a variety of reasons. Some want to preserve fossil fuels and reduce air pollution. Some want to invest in an energy producing improvement to their property. Still others like the independence of a solar system, making them less vulnerable to increases in energy prices. A number of government incentives have helped spur this growth of the solar market. However, the increased interest in solar energy and solar systems has created certain real estate law issues, including: (1) the creation of solar easements, (2) restrictive covenants and homeowner’s association requirements, and (3) compliance with zoning and building codes. This article highlights the current state of the solar market and government incentives, with future articles highlighting each of items (1) through (3) above.
This is the first of a series of articles here at the Green Real Estate Law Journal on the impact that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 will have on green building generally. Future articles will provide greater detail as to the projects utilizing federal funds in a multitude of states, some unique legal risks associated with these projects, and the disputes that may arise in connection with such projects. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (the “Recovery Act”) offers multiple opportunities for property owners, developers and other stakeholders in the green building arena. There are tens of billions of dollars in funding initiatives for green building in the Recovery Act. Many of the provisions are complex and the specific projects that are to be have yet to be fully provided. That being said, the commitment to green building is clearly apparent throughout the Recovery Act and a quick summary of the critical green building funding proposals are detailed after the jump.
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.
Much like the term green building, green lease is a term without a widely accepted definition. (Editor’s note: this is a critical point that we will be exploring in detail in future articles in this series). A green lease can take many forms. However, the key concepts in any green lease are: (i) rent structure and operating expenses; (ii) build out of tenant improvements; (iii) sustainable development principles and regulations (throughout the building or larger development); (iv) the use and disposal of hazardous materials, including cleaning supplies; (v) recycling; and (vi) environmental management plans. A green lease will generally detail environmentally friendly products to be used, water and energy conservation methods and targets, the use of alternative sources of energy on-site, such as solar or wind, indoor air quality standards, and dispute resolution procedures.
The real estate finance industry has experienced extreme changes in the past eighteen months. The credit crisis and subsequent economic recession have resulted in a severe tightening in the real estate finance market. As a result, the few banks that are still providing financing secured primarily by real estate are able to be far more selective in project selection. Some of these lenders have greatly increased their commitment to providing financing to developers of green buildings. One prominent source of funds has been from Wells Fargo & Company, which has provided more than $2 billion in financing secured by green real estate. As the world financial headquarters has shifted from Wall Street to Washington, D.C., many commentators are expecting that green building will be a common condition of allocation of federally funded real estate projects whether in the form of direct subsidies or grants or public/private partnerships. This article will briefly examine a small portion of the unique legal risks that should be considered by lenders and property owners and developers in regard to obtaining financing for green buildings. It will specifically focus on ways lenders should attempt to mitigate risk through a basic understanding of green building, the careful examination of leases, construction documents and loan document covenants.