Signing a long-term lease for office space is one of the largest commitments you may make as a small-business owner. Once you sign on the dotted line, you are tied to the provisions in the contract and could end up in legal hot water if you violate them.
To lessen the odds that you will want to get out of your lease, find out as much as possible about your new landlord before you sign. Here are three ways to gather some intelligence.
1. Visit the property on your own. The landlord will likely take you to see the office space before you sign the lease. Although thoroughly checking out the site together will give you an idea of the space’s quality and condition, the best way to ascertain how well the landlord maintains the property is to come back and look around on your own. Circle the outside of the building and take note of how well the landscaping is looked after, whether there is garbage strewn around, and any building defects that you can see. If the property is not being maintained properly, it could mean that the landlord either doesn’t have the funds to take care of things or can’t be bothered to. Neither scenario bodes well for a positive landlord-tenant relationship.
2. Research the landlord’s legal history. Any court actions that the landlord has been involved in — whether related to the property or not — will be documented by your state’s district court. The records are public, so you can read them to find out if the landlord has been or is currently involved in legal tangles with former tenants or other people. Many jurisdictions maintain online searchable court records databases. You can simply type in the landlord’s first and last name and all court records will appear. If there isn’t an online database for your city or county, call your district courthouse and ask them to perform a search for you. Any outstanding or ongoing legal troubles (or a long history of disputes) may indicate further problems in the future.
3. Talk to other tenants. If your office space is in a multi-tenant building or if the landlord has other commercial properties, pay a visit to other renters and speak with them about their experiences with the landlord. Ask them how responsive the landlord is to repair requests and about the state of the building in general. If tenants complain about the same problems, it is likely those issues will persist.