WL Commercial Real Estate Blog

Commercial Leasing in New York: A Legal Perspective on Termination, Buyouts, and Market Uncertainties for Tenants and Property Owners

By James Woods
Managing Partner

As forecasts hint at a potential real estate recession looming in late 2023, the question arises: How flexible are the terms of your commercial lease contract? For tenants of professional offices or retail spaces in New York, the details of such agreements often appear rigid and unyielding, yet the changing economic climate may prompt a closer examination of options for early termination.

The path to breaking your commercial lease is seldom without its complexities. More often than not, exercising this option is accompanied by penalties and fees. However, the legal landscape is not entirely devoid of exceptions. In some instances, these additional costs can be negotiated and outlined in an early termination lease clause. Even in the absence of pre-existing rights to early termination, tenants are not entirely without recourse. With proper legal guidance, they may be able to negotiate a lease buyout, navigating the legal intricacies in a manner that aligns with their business needs. Conversely, property owners should have full awareness of the rights and legal parameters afforded to their tenants, ensuring they can protect their assets when approached by the tenant with an offer to terminate a lease.

windows of a nyc commercial building

In light of the uncertain economic forecast, the wisdom of negotiating an early termination clause into your agreement becomes even more apparent. While many commercial lease agreements may not initially include pre-negotiated early termination rights as an “exit strategy,” savvy tenants recognize the importance of such a provision, especially when entering a long-term commercial lease. 

The Real Estate practice at Woods Lonergan has been advising commercial property owners and tenants in New York for over three decades. Our attorneys advance deal-critical guidance on complex real estate negotiations and transactions, representing both commercial tenants and landlords. We offer balanced and insightful guidance tailored to the unique needs and interests of each party in lease negotiations and agreements.

In the event, you wish to negotiate an early lease termination clause with your commercial landlord, we advise the following legal strategies:

  • Initiate Your Request Early: Incorporate specific early termination rights within the initial Request for Proposal and Letter of Intent. This legal foresight sets the stage for transparent negotiations.
  • Establish Notice Requirements: Legally stipulate the minimum notice required for termination, typically 90 to 180 days prior. This ensures compliance with contractual obligations and provides a clear timeline.
  • Detail Unamortized Costs: Outline the landlord’s unamortized costs associated with early termination. A precise legal understanding of these costs can facilitate a smoother negotiation process.

These considerations, when handled with careful planning and strategic insight, can ensure that your commercial lease aligns with both your current business needs and potential uncertainties in the real estate market.

Retail Lease Termination Clauses: Bailout, Co-Tenancy, and Other Legal Avenues

In New York’s commercial leasing market, particularly for retail centers, specific clauses can be negotiated that allow tenants to authorize the early termination of the contract without incurring penalties. These clauses play a crucial role in safeguarding a tenant’s interests.

  • Bailout Clause: This provides a safety net for retail tenants, allowing exit from the lease if sales fall below a set threshold.
  • Co-Tenancy Clause: This protects tenants by enabling legal lease termination if an anchor tenant leaves or occupancy drops below a specified level.

From Retail to Office Spaces: Understanding Early Termination and Buyout Options 

group of business people in conference room clapping

In the world of commercial leasing, tenants often find themselves facing multifaceted agreements that may seem rigid. However, beyond the standard clauses, there exist legal avenues that may permit a tenant to terminate a lease early without penalty. Here’s a closer look:

  • Landlord’s Willingness in a Popular Area: Should your leased space be in a high-demand area, the landlord might be inclined to negotiate early termination. The potential to re-lease the space quickly, possibly at a more favorable rate, may make this a viable option. It’s a matter that requires careful consideration and legal insight.
  • Breach of Lease by Landlord: If the landlord fails to uphold essential provisions of the lease, such as proper maintenance, it may constitute a legal breach. This could provide grounds for termination, but it necessitates a thorough legal analysis to ensure compliance with New York law.
  • Bankruptcy: The complex legal landscape of bankruptcy may provide a path to lease termination. Specific legal provisions under New York law govern this process, and professional legal guidance is essential to navigate it correctly.
  • Deed of Surrender: This is a negotiated agreement between tenant and landlord that can explicitly release you from all lease obligations. Crafting such an agreement demands legal expertise to ensure that all parties’ rights and responsibilities are clearly delineated.
  • Permitted Transfer: Depending on the specific terms of your lease, you may be able to assign it to a related entity. This process must be executed in strict accordance with the lease’s provisions and New York’s commercial leasing laws.
  • Lease Buyout Option: A lease buyout is a negotiated agreement where the tenant pays a lump sum to the landlord to terminate the lease early, releasing them from future obligations under the lease. This option may be suitable for tenants seeking a clean break from the lease, especially if other early termination options are not available or desirable. The negotiation of a lease buyout requires careful consideration of various factors, including the remaining term on the lease, current market conditions, and the landlord’s willingness to accept a buyout.

When negotiating a lease buyout, a comprehensive approach is essential to ensure that both parties’ interests are considered. Start by evaluating the current real estate market’s supply and demand, and conducting a comparative financial analysis to understand the potential savings and costs involved. If an early termination right exists in your lease, it may provide a formula for termination, simplifying the process. Understanding the landlord’s motivations and the broader market environment can inform your negotiation strategy. Finally, calculating the lease buyout penalty requires careful consideration of various factors, including the present value of the remaining rent, unamortized lease-up costs, the value of the lease compared to current market conditions, and the projected costs for the landlord to secure a new tenant.

In the contentious world of commercial real estate in New York, disputes are not uncommon, and the nuanced nature of commercial leasing requires experienced lawyers who can negotiate cost-effective outcomes. At Woods Lonergan, we offer the depth of experience found in larger law firms but with rates that are more beneficial to our clients. Whether through the negotiations, the Alternative Dispute Resolution Process, (ADR), or at trial, we stand ready to represent you aggressively if necessary, ensuring that your interests in commercial leasing matters are expertly and efficiently safeguarded.

Book a call with our Real Estate practice group to inquire how we can provide legal assistance tailored to your situation.

While our team at Woods Lonergan is equipped to guide you through the complexities of commercial leasing, it’s essential to recognize that the decision to break a commercial lease is not one to be taken lightly, as it carries with it specific consequences that warrant careful consideration.

Consequences of Breaking a Commercial Lease

Breaking a commercial lease can have significant financial and legal repercussions for the tenant, while also posing challenges for commercial property owners seeking to protect their interests, including the following:

  • Loss of Security Deposit: If the lessee has provided a security deposit, the lessor may use it to cover any outstanding rent or damages caused by the lessee.
  • Financial Liabilities: A lessee who breaks their commercial lease agreement may be mandated to settle the rent for the remaining lease period and any other expenses associated with finding a new lessee, such as advertising or brokerage expenditures.
  • Legal Action: The owner may take legal action against the lessee to enforce the commercial lease agreement or to recover any monetary losses incurred by the lessee’s early termination.
  • Difficulty Finding Future Commercial Rental Space: A lessee who has broken a commercial lease may have difficulty finding a new one, as lessors may view them as high-risk tenants.
  • Negative Credit Effect: Breaking a commercial lease can adversely affect the tenant’s credit score, making it more challenging to get future loans or lease deals.
commercial building by nyc harbor

Whether considering early termination options, negotiating lease buyouts, or understanding the potential consequences of breaking a lease, both tenants and commercial property owners must approach these matters with caution and expertise.

Whether you’re facing a high-stakes legal battle or simply need guidance on a particular matter, we’re here to provide you with the support and guidance you need to succeed. Our litigators have a well-deserved reputation for business-minded and client-centric approaches to litigation. Our client’s objectives drive our strategy, whether the objective is immediate injunctive relief, timely resolution of a business dispute, private arbitration, or victory at trial or on appeal. Our attorneys have a wealth of experience in handling complex legal matters, and we’re dedicated to helping our clients achieve their goals. As you contemplate your commercial leasing decisions in the face of potential market uncertainties, we stand ready to provide balanced, insightful guidance tailored to your unique business needs and goals.

 Book a call with our Real Estate practice group to inquire about our legal needs

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About the Author

James Woods, Managing Partner of Woods Lonergan, holds more than 25 years of experience in corporate, real estate, and business legal matters. His expertise in handling negotiations, litigation, jury trials, and all forms of alternative dispute resolution spans multiple areas, including corporate, real estate, and commercial litigation. James actively represents dozens of Cooperative and Condominium Boards and serves as counsel to many Corporate Boards. Prior to founding the firm, James proudly served as an Assistant District Attorney for Nassau County and handled both jury and bench trials. With experience that also covers sophisticated transactions and complex acquisitions, James also serves as counsel to several domestic companies in a range of industries and commercial arenas, including real estate, insurance, banking, transportation, and construction. If you have any questions about this article you can contact attorney James Woods through his biography page.

Disclaimer: The information in this article and blog post (“post”) is provided for informational purposes only, and may not reflect the current law(s) in every jurisdiction. No information contained in this post should be construed as legal advice from Woods Lonergan PLLC or the individual author(s), nor is it intended to be a substitute for legal counsel on any subject matter. Nothing herein shall be construed to create an attorney-client relationship with Woods Lonergan PLLC. No reader of this post should act or refrain from acting on the basis of any information included in, or accessible through, this Post without seeking the appropriate legal or other professional advice on the particular facts and circumstances at issue from an attorney licensed in the recipient’s jurisdiction. This post is attorney advertising.
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