For most landlords, some security may be better than none.
Landlords want to be
assured of the economic strength of their tenants; however, determining what is
the right amount of security can be difficult. In a perfect world, the landlord
takes a full guaranty from a creditworthy person, especially if there is any
question as to the tenant’s ability to pay the rent and meet its other obligations under the
lease. However, the creditworthy principals behind the tenant will likely
resist a full guaranty. After all, that is part of the reason some company
principals choose to organize as corporations and limited liability companies.
In these situations,
landlords may still be able to satisfy their need for security with a limited
guaranty. The following three limited guaranties are possible options. Though
not an exhaustive list, they should be a good starting point for negotiations
with tenants and any potential guarantors, providing landlords with acceptable
security for tenant obligations under the lease.
Maximum Dollar Cap
The parties may agree to a
maximum dollar cap on guarantor’s liability. The liability can be capped at any amount, and something
is better than nothing. The cap of liability should be related to the value of
the lease and the landlord’s potential loss. The larger the risk of loss from a tenant default,
the higher the dollar cap should be.
Obviously, the perceived credit strength of
the tenant is a factor, as well as whether it has been in business for several
years or is a new company. Negotiating a maximum dollar cap amount for a
limited guaranty would allow the lease guarantor to limit its potential
liability to an acceptable amount, and it would also allow the landlord to
mitigate its risk and reduce potential losses.
Alternatively, a formula
can be used to create a cap that will cover a landlord’s foreseeable losses. This approach may allow more
flexibility than a simple fixed cap. The following categories are commonly used
to create a formula to cover certain out-of-pocket expenses incurred by the
landlord at the start of any lease:
- the amount of the unamortized tenant improvement allowance and
- lease brokerage fees.
To the sum of those
amounts might be added an allowance for preparing the leased space for a new
tenant and an allowance for attorney’s fees expended to recover the premises. Some part of the rent, both
past due and pending, might also be added. The following is an example of a
Guarantor’s maximum liability =
delinquent rent + six
+ unamortized tenant improvement
allowance + any allowances
for recovering and preparing the leased space
Another variation on this
approach is to provide that the number of months of rent that is covered
reduces over time. If a tenant defaults in year one of a 10-year lease, the
guarantor will owe one year’s rent plus the other guarantied amounts. If no default occurs until
year five, then six months of rent might be guaranteed.
Of course, a formula-based
guaranty will focus on the business considerations of the parties and will
differ from lease to lease. A formula approach can be useful since it is more
flexible than a maximum dollar cap approach. When using a formula-based
guaranty it is important to define all key terms such as rent, attorney’s fees, maintenance costs, and others used in the
formula. If the components of the formula are not specifically defined, then
enforcement of the guaranty will be impaired.
A third option is a
rolling guaranty. If the tenant performs and fulfills its monetary obligations
under the lease for a certain period of time, then the landlord’s risk of loss declines, and the guarantor’s liability may be reduced. Thus, if a tenant does
not default for the first 36 consecutive months of a seven-year lease, then the
guaranty could expire at that point in time. Or the cap of the guaranty may
decrease in stages over time. Finally, instead of the simple lapse of time, the
cap on liability under a guaranty might decline upon reaching certain financial
benchmarks, such as an increase in net worth, gross sales, or revenues. As long
as the parties agree on the benchmark, any financial target can work.
These three examples of
limited guaranties are just some of the ways to address a landlord’s need for security while attending to the desire
of a lease guarantor to limit liability to a reasonable level. The keys to a
successful lease negotiation when a separate lease guaranty is necessary or
desired are for all parties to remain flexible and to understand the legitimate
business needs of the other party. By doing so, the parties should be able to
arrive at a mutually acceptable limited lease guaranty that facilitates the
successful negotiation of the lease itself — and helps secure the landlord.
Tamarah R. Feigl is a
partner and Megan Rose Altman is an associate at Norton Rose Fulbright in
Houston. Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.