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When to Sue a Commercial Landlord

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By Christopher Coble, Esq. on January 30, 2017 6:00 AM

The vast majority of small biz owners don't own the building out of which they do business, so that means searching for the perfect spot and negotiating a favorable commercial lease. And as hard as you've worked and as much as you might love your space, the landlord-tenant relationship is not always a happy marriage.

There are ways to get out of a commercial lease, but if those don't work, does that mean you have to go to court?

Clause-ing Your Way Out

If there's a way to avoid litigation, that's always preferable. If you're happy with your space, just not to keen on the lease terms, there may be ways to amend your commercial lease. And if you're trying to get out of your lease completely, there might be ways to do that, too. In either case:

  • Read Your Lease Carefully: Review your current agreement, with a focus on provisions or clauses that address early termination and penalties.
  • Talk to the Landlord: Your landlord might be more willing that you think to renegotiate your lease terms or negotiate a lease termination that works for both parties.
  • Find a Replacement Tenant: If you're bound and determined to leave, saving your landlord the time of searching for a new tenant might ease his or her mind and ease your transition out.
  • Break the Lease and Wait: It's a risky maneuver. Given the nature of the agreement in question and the money involved, your landlord will likely have lawyers who are ready to sue over breach of contract and/or unpaid rent. But then again, they may not.

Sue-ner or Later

If getting out of your lease means inevitably going to court, you have a couple options. If your landlord has violated any of the terms of your lease, you could sue first, asking for damages and/or a ruling from the court voiding the lease and allowing you to relocate penalty-free. Or, as described above, you could violate the lease and wait for the landlord's lawsuit. The second strategy is obviously riskier and could be more expensive in the long run.

Additionally, some commercial leases contain clauses that require disputes to go to mediation rather than court. So your best bet is to me as familiar with the ins and outs of the lease before you try and get out of the building.

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