As Commercial Buildings Mature, Will Tenants Lose?

By the end of the 1980s, almost half of the office buildings that existed at that time were constructed during the previous ten years.  When leasing space in new office buildings, it was easy for tenants to understand that they would not likely experience significant pass-throughs of capital expenditures.  Why?   Because the majority of those buildings were new, and even in a poorly conceived or constructed building, a tenant had a reasonable expectation that at least for the first few year of its lease term, substantial capital improvements would not be required.

Another interesting trait of the 1980s was that every third dentist became a real estate developer over night.  And, many of us have heard of those stories where buildings were so horribly constructed that they immediately started falling down around their tenants.  Thank you cheap money and speculative construction!

Those shiny new office buildings had brand new elevators, HVAC systems, electrical and safety systems, facades and parking lots.  Their tenants, not expecting to bear the financial burden of major capital improvements,  negotiated their leases by restricting their landlords from passing through such costs.   Landlords, who also recognized that their buildings would not likely require immediate capital re-investment, most often agreed to such restrictions.

That was in the 1980s….30 years ago!  Now, those buildings are mature, the warranties on their roofs, windows, elevators, HVAC systems, parking lots, and other infrastructure and capital components have long since expired.  Replacements of capital items have been made once, twice, or more (at least in better run buildings!), in order to properly maintain functionality and service levels.  That’s the nature of buildings…as their systems wear out, and they will wear out, those systems must be replaced. 

Because of how leases were negotiated in the past, under the terms of such older leases, replacement of major systems and the associated costs fell to landlords.  Now, with office buildings maturing and the expectation that building systems will require on-going replacement over time, should landlords continue to be responsible for these significant costs?  Should those costs be passed onto tenants?  Should both parties share these costs?  Should those costs be handled differently for existing and renewing tenants versus new tenants?  Who is rightfully responsible?

What do you think?

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2 Responses to “As Commercial Buildings Mature, Will Tenants Lose?”


  1. 1 Gary April 2, 2010 at 5:22 pm

    So, with unemployment at 30 year highs, tenants either going out of business or re-working their leases, and vacancies at the highest level in over 15 years – is it reasonable to even consider that landlords will have success pushing the cost of renovating their obsolete buildings to tenants?


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