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There are very few times then you must hire an attorney, but many times when you need to hire one. Which side do commercial leases fall on? The answer to that depends on you and your situation.
The Assumption Is That You Have Legal Representation
Commercial leases are viewed under the law differently than residential leases. With residentials, it is assumed that you don't have an attorney available to review various terms, and so the agreements are fairly standardized, and there are numerous consumer protections available under the law.
Conversely, the law generally believes that if you are securing a commercial lease, you either have an attorney available to you, or know enough about business law to be able to navigate the contract. But the question becomes, do you have that expertise?
What's in a Commercial Lease?
Commercial leases contain many negotiable clauses. Knowing which ones you can negotiate away, and which ones you need tightened up, usually only comes with experience. For instance, what is the length of term of the agreement, and do you want to be able to sublease? That depends on your business needs. Are American Disability Act (ADA) upgrades needed, and if so, who pays for those? Again, that depends on your business needs. What about signage? Exclusivity? These are all terms that never come up in a residential agreement. If you feel you need a lawyer to navigate and negotiate these for you, you aren't alone.
What's It Like to Hire a Lawyer To Review a Commercial Lease?
Hiring a lawyer can seem like an expense, but it should be viewed as an investment, since you may see greater rewards and less costly risks as a result. Reviewing a commercial lease can be a one-time meeting. Your attorney would review the lease, explain difficult terms, tell you what you should negotiate for, what isn't necessary to have, and the like. This may run you about $500 per contract.
If, however, you want your lawyer to write a letter to the landlord, delineating which terms in the agreement you want to negotiate, and then actually negotiate the lease for you, that will require an additional fee that depends on the attorney's rate, and the complexity of the negotiation. But this could run you about another $500.
If you are entirely new to this game, you may want to consider engaging a lawyer earlier in the process. If you find a space you like, before the landlord even offers you a lease agreement, have your attorney speak with the landlord about specific terms you want, and don't want. This often leads to the most favorable negotiated outcomes for tenants. This may run you slightly more than the reactionary alternatives, above, but it may cost you less overall, depending on the terms you secure.
If you are looking into commercial space, and especially if this is your first rodeo, contact a contracts attorney. An experienced lawyer will be able to quickly and easily get you the terms you want, probably at a better price point, and handle all the adversity that comes with negotiating an adversarial process. After all, your interests in this agreement are, by nature, at odds with the landlord. Having an attorney handle the negotiation may actually preserve your relationship with your landlord, which may be necessary later down the lease.