My Two Cents

Preemptive Strike


My brother is watching the Oklahoma Thunder play against the Boston Celtics. I can hear him yelling at the television and, normally, I would be right next to him, getting working up too. However, today I have a little, yet important, project to complete before I can get to Veg-out Sunday. I am reviewing a lease for my husband, who is looking to rent office space.

I will be the first person to tell you how tedious legal documents can be, what with the whereases and herinafters sprinkled through the twenty page document. That’s the kind of language I thought I only had to deal with when reading Shakespeare. However, as long and not fun the review of a lease (or any other legal document, for that matter) may be, knowing and understanding what one is about to sign is critical. In the case of the lease in question, these twenty pages will determine my husband’s rights and obligations, with regards to the office space, for the next two years. If he signs off on something adverse, they may end up feeling like the longest two years of his life. Although he is an incredibly intelligent and organized person, he asked me to look at it because, when it comes to commercial leases, I have experience and knowledge that he does not.

I once worked for a company that owned commercial real estate and I was very involved in the financial aspects of tenant leasing. As a result, I am familiar with many of the peculiarities of commercial leases; peculiarities like escalations and common area maintenance (CAM) charges. I would go into more detail but I have seen people’s eyes glaze over whenever I start talking about leases. Suffice to say, it is neither fun nor interesting, but knowing exactly what is in the lease now, instead of being surprised by a huge bill in the future is worth it.

The importance of figuring out exactly what is in a legal document cannot be stressed enough. Be it a lease, an insurance document or release of rights to a piece of art, your signature on that document is, in essence, stating that that you have agreed to the terms and conditions in that legal document. Once you have done that, any legal recourse after something you don’t like has happened becomes a lot more complicated. If you decide to approach a lawyer for representation, you are likely to be turned down because the lawyer will, rightly, tell you that you signed off on it. You may try to state that you did not intend to sign off on the stipulations in the document but, if you were given the document to read and you signed it, the assumption made is that you knew what was in the document and agreed to it. If the terms in the lease are not illegal, you will have very little, if any, recourse.

The ideal thing to do, before signing your name to a legal document, is to find an expert who can help you navigate the document. Do the due diligence beforehand:

  • Don’t take the other party’s word for it that there is nothing untoward in the document.
  • Don’t assume that it is all “standard”. Even if it is “standard” for the industry, do you know what standard for the industry means?
  • Make sure you read and understand every part of the document, including riders and any addenda.
  • Don’t sign the document until all the issues you have with it are resolved. We return to the first part – do not take the other party’s word for it that they will fix things. If it’s not in writing, they don’t have to do it.
  • Make sure that the document that you sign is exactly the document you want to sign. Negotiate the terms before you put pen to paper – that is when you have the power.

You may think that seeking out professional help is a headache that you don’t want to deal with. However, dealing with the headache before anything untoward happens is the smart thing to do. Once disaster strikes, finding professionals to clean up the mess will be more complicated and, most likely, a lot more expensive. That headache will have escalated into a migraine and who wants that?

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