Technology

PDF Security

Learn how to make your digital documents tamper-proof.

Commercial real estate brokers share information daily with their clients, fellow agents, lenders, attorneys, and other industry professionals. Due to the need for rapid communication and information access, e-mail and various online services quickly are replacing traditional communication methods, such as postal service, overnight delivery, and even the fax machine. Instantaneous delivery methods are more economical and easier to access. Unfortunately, in many cases, digital documents offer little or no security or methods for privacy.

The need for document integrity, confidentiality, and security is inherent in broker/client relationships. The basic principles of information security include protecting documents against unauthorized access, assuring they come from the stated authors, detecting unintentional or malicious alterations, preventing senders from refuting documents they have signed, and maintaining document security throughout the transaction process.

Adobe Systems' 6.0 versions of Acrobat Professional, Standard, and Reader have improved document security solutions for portable document format, or PDF, files. These security options include document control settings, password encryption with the ability for user-targeted encryption, digital signatures, and certified documents, as well as complimentary security technologies.

How does this all work? Acrobat maintains PDF security through a framework that Adobe refers to as “persistence,” which means that the assigned security controls remain inherent to a specific document, such as a contract, whether it is available on a Web site or sent via e-mail. Persistence eliminates the need to explicitly secure a communication line; thus, anyone who has access rights to that document can read and print it.

One way users can encrypt documents is by assigning them a single password. Only recipients with the password can access the file. Authors can also add further password security to the document to restrict modification of permissions initially assigned to the document. These permissions include setting document printing options, allowing users to copy or extract words or pictures, or add or change document comments.

Another more powerful option is to use targeted encryption, which allows authors to assign unique document access rights to each recipient. This option relies upon the public key infrastructure, or PKI, to eliminate the need for disseminating passwords to recipients. Assigning individual document rights is simple after locating each recipient's digital certificate, or secure electronic identity. Consult your e-mail provider for instructions on finding the digital certificates attached to recipients' addresses.

As an added layer of security, digital signatures can validate who created the document, and control any changes to document content by warning the author of any tampering. Most importantly, digitally signed documents provide added assurance to recipients that important documents are valid. Recipients using the free Adobe Reader also can sign a document digitally (if this permission is enabled by the document's author). A single PDF document can contain multiple digital signatures, which can validate that all required parties have reviewed an agreement.

Visit Adobe's Web site at www.adobe.com/products/acrobat/main.html for more information on Acrobat's security features.

David C. Mayo, CCIM

David C. Mayo, CCIM, is principal of Vector Realty Advisors, a firm specializing in retailer and restaurant representation nationwide. Contact him at (502) 648-7828 or dmayo@ccim.net.Lease Audits Can Help Landlords Recapture Expenses The repositioning of a retail center is the perfect time to perform lease audits to evaluate the language of current leases and the impact of various pre-existing lease provisions. A well-designed lease audit helps landlords understand the return on investment that is recouped through operating expense recoveries, as well as what revisions may be beneficial to landlords when structuring updated provisions to increase reimbursements of these expenditures. For example, language related to the pass-through of common area maintenance charges should be rewritten to include monthly payments based upon budgeted amounts for the upcoming year or increased as the landlord\'s costs increase. Currently, many leases permit only monthly estimates that are based upon the prior year\'s expenses to be billed monthly to the tenant, as opposed to the upcoming year\'s anticipated costs. Typically, these costs are reconciled in the following year, which, in many cases, is several months subsequent to the actual expenditure. Modifying this language would allow the landlord to increase cash flow and accomplish a higher degree of return simultaneously based upon true and current expenses. If possible, it also is advantageous to insert language clarifying a tenant\'s right to audit the CAM expenses, while limiting the tenant\'s options to review the landlord\'s expenditures. Further, as part of the lease audit process, lease language should be reviewed carefully to ascertain whether or not the landlord is recapturing 100 percent of operating expenses. A few examples of reimbursable expenses are roof repairs, security, insurance, and payroll. One such area deserving scrutiny is the repairs and maintenance language contained within the common area provisions of the lease. Many leases call for the reimbursement of repairs vs. more specific language that incorporates reimbursement for repairs, improvements, and replacements, including expenses of a capital nature. In numerous court cases tenants have not been held responsible for replacements and improvements when the lease states merely “maintenance and repair.” To avoid ambiguity, landlords must insert clear language that permits them to recoup all anticipated pass-through costs. Insurance is another area where specificity of lease language is critical. In response to the terrorist attacks last year, insurance costs skyrocketed, and, in many instances, property owners are trying to mitigate the impact of the increased premiums upon both parties. This can be accomplished by either reducing coverage or increasing deductibles and/or the amount of self insurance where applicable. As properties change hands, insurance costs need to be re-evaluated within the context of both the lender\'s requirements and the reimbursement features contained within the leases in order to evaluate the potential exposure. It is paramount to insert concise language specifying the reimbursement of cost vs. a more restrictive premium reimbursement to assist in recapturing the true costs. Finally, all existing documents should be reviewed by way of stringent due diligence to verify that any landlord-subsidized costs for major tenants are being recovered via the remaining tenants. To that end, the definitions of gross leaseable floor area, gross leaseable occupied area, and other pertinent terms should be examined and refined to maximize potential reimbursement to the property owner. When repositioning a retail center, landlords have an opportunity to recapture expenses by performing lease audits designed to review management\'s standard lease language and to provide recommendations to ensure the greatest possible recovery of costs. Having a clear and unambiguous document that accurately represents, in written form, the original intentions of the landlord and tenant is always in the best interests of all parties to any lease. --by Jeffrey N. Strauss, CPA, director of lease audit services for Schonbraun Safris McCann Bekritsky & Co., a real estate accounting and consulting firm headquartered in Roseland, N.J. Contact him at (973) 618-5002 or jstrauss@sss-cpa.com.

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