A Commercial Renter’s Rights in Georgia (Credit: Kristy Borowik, bizfluent)

Residential tenants have more rights than commercial renters in Georgia. Unfortunately the landlord has more rights when it comes to commercial property lease agreements. The key to understanding any tenant’s rights is in the lease agreement, which Georgia recognizes as a legally binding contract. Unless something in the lease is illegal, any tenant’s rights are limited by the language in the lease agreement, so it is crucial for all tenants to understand their lease agreements before signing.

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Before Signing the Lease

The potential commercial tenant has the right to request a subordination, non-disturbance and attornment agreement, which requires a lender to honor a tenant’s lease in the event of foreclosure on the leased property. If the landlord’s lender does not want to sign an SNDA agreement, the tenant might want to find another property to lease.

All potential tenants should inspect the property before leasing and have a lawyer look over the lease agreement before signing.

Privacy Rights

Residential tenants have the right to privacy in the rental property. The landlord must give ample notice before entering the property and enter only at a reasonable time and for a legitimate reason. The same is not true with commercial property. Landlords may enter a commercial property whenever they want, as long as they do not interfere with the commercial tenant’s business.

Insurance

Georgia requires the landlord of a commercial property to insure the property against fire and other basic risks. The commercial tenant has the right to request proof of insurance before paying rent. However, the tenant is responsible for liability insurance.

Unpaid Rent

The landlord may lock out a commercial tenant for not paying rent. This is different with residential tenants, as the landlord may need a court order before locking them out. Commercial tenants do not have the right to the leased property as they would residential property. Further, a landlord may sell the commercial tenant’s property to cover back rent.

Disputes

Georgia does not have a governmental agency that settles dispute between landlords and tenants or that has the power to force either party to behave in a particular manner. If commercial tenants cannot resolve a dispute with a landlord on their own, they must use the courts, either directly or through a lawyer, to enforce their legal rights.

If you have questions regarding commercial landlord/tenant law, let us help!  Thrift & McLemore’s attorneys have assisted numerous companies and individuals in the legal field.   Contact Thrift & McLemore by email at [email protected] or by phone at 678-784-4150 to discuss how we can help you.

Is a Shift to Commercial Real Estate on the Horizon?

A snapshot of the downtown Atlanta skyline reveals a construction boom, flourishing with cranes and even more new high rises.  This is only logical, as the ten year rebound in the real estate market has sharply increased the demand for top end real estate.  According to Collier’s International, commercial vacancies in 2017 were the lowest they’ve been since the recession.  It would seem that these buildings can’t go up fast enough.

The consequence to this seemingly unending demand for commercial space is the equally aggressive prices of rent.  As commercial construction projects typically lag the economic recovery, this pent up demand creates ascendant price fluctuations until new office buildings can come online to alleviate demand.  Indeed, Colliers reports that average rent prices increased by 7% alone last year.  Class A luxury commercial real estate increased 17%.

While it is encouraging to see so much new commercial construction around the city, Colliers again accounts that the majority is in high end markets, signaling that rental prices will only continue to rise.  In a booming market, this can be seen as healthy, but as with residential, every market has its limits.

Douglas Sams, Commercial Real Estate Editor for the Atlanta Business chronicle reported yesterday that while commercial rental activity remains high, consolidations are beginning to take hold which could slow the market.  Mr. Sams breaks that AT&T, with offices in downtown and midtown, expect to vacate three buildings in Atlanta, moving operations into existing offices in an effort to save on outsized rental costs.  Consolidation of such a large Atlanta business brings pause.

Ken Ashley, Executive Director and Cushman and Wakefield, cites shifts in the traditional commercial real estate paradigm as a way that companies are coping with outsized rents.  “City Center” projects outside the perimeter are gaining steam, with projects like The Battery in Smyrna, or Avalon in Alpharetta.  Ashley states this is a good way to maintain urban environments, while taking advantage of more plentiful and affordable land.  Still he says upward price pressure will begin to take its toll, positing that subleases of space will accelerate as the needs of companies are no longer adequately met or are overburdened by the cost of the real estate.

While there are no indications on a hard stall with regards to the Commercial Real Estate market, as the ever increasing price tag for quality office space continues to rise, more and more individuals find them financially stressed and in some cases over leveraged.  For companies facing this situation, it is important to understand their options.

As this unprecedented market boom nears its cyclical end, commercial foreclosures occurrences undoubtedly will find themselves back on the rise.  After so many years of strong growth, some market stagnation is surely expected, and has already been seen on the residential side.  Whether you are a commercial landlord or a commercial tenant, in order to protect your interests you should at the very least have a functioning knowledge of commercial foreclosure.

Commercial foreclosure operates similarly to residential foreclosure in Georgia.  Georgia law allows non-judicial foreclosure is legal meaning that when the borrower defaults on the mortgage, either by falling behind on payments or failing to abide by the terms of the agreement, the lender can accelerate the loan and commence foreclosure without the intervention of the court.  This can speed up the process of foreclosure and catch many affected off guard.  The need for awareness applies not only to owners of commercial real estate, but tenants’ rights are also affected.

Before allowing your organization to find itself on the wrong end of these proceedings, you absolutely must speak with competent counsel who can educate you with regard to your options.  Thrift & McLemore’s attorneys have made a career in the commercial real estate arena and can help with your exact situation.   Contact Thrift & McLemore by email at [email protected] or by phone at 678-671-4031 to discuss how we can assist you with protecting your rights and keeping your commercial property or rental out of foreclosure today.

Dealing With The Commercial Foreclosure Process (Borrowers and Tenants)

If a commercial borrower (or commercial tenant) falls behind on commercial building payments (or lease payments), the lender or lessor can declare a default and foreclose on the property.  The execution of a mortgage or deed of trust (or lease agreement) creates a security interest in the property that gives the lender the right to start foreclosure proceedings to force a sale of the property (or eviction) upon the borrower’s failure to pay the loan/lease according to terms.  The good news is that lenders don’t like foreclosures because they’re costly and difficult. The bad news is that lenders won’t hesitate to foreclose on past due loans (or leases) if they aren’t given better options.

If you are a commercial property owner facing foreclosure, or a commercial tenant with a landlord in foreclosure, it is important to keep in mind that there are many legal intricacies involved with foreclosures.  It may be beneficial to employ the services of Thrift & McLemore to help you navigate the process and ensure that you fully understand your rights under the law.

Commercial foreclosures are, in most cases, very similar to residential foreclosures.  The foreclosure may be nonjudicial or judicial depending on the state where the property is located and what the loan documents dictate.  With both nonjudicial and judicial commercial foreclosures, the process starts when the borrower defaults on the mortgage.  A default occurs when the borrower falls behind in payments or fails to do something that the loan documents require.  After the default, the lender may accelerate, or call due, the outstanding balance on the loan.  Typically, the lender must first send a breach letter to the borrower that outlines the reason for default and gives a time frame during which the borrower may cure the default and avoid acceleration.  Usually, the amount of time given to cure a default is thirty days, but this can vary depending on the terms of the mortgage.  Once the time period expires, if the borrower has not cured the default, then the lender may commence foreclosure proceedings.

Tenants’ Rights Following a Commercial Foreclosure

The rights of any tenants in a foreclosed commercial property will depend on the terms of the lease and the date on which the lease was signed.  The tenant’s interest could potentially be terminated by a foreclosure due to the legal concept referred to as “first in time, first in right,” which allows the purchaser of a foreclosed property to void a lease if the mortgage was executed before the execution of the lease.

Many commercial leases contain a subordination, non-disturbance, and attornment agreement, or SNDA.  Under the terms of an SNDA, the tenant agrees to subordinate its interest in the lease to any lender making a loan secured by the commercial property; the tenant agrees to attorn to, or recognize, any new owner of the commercial property as its landlord; and any new owner of the commercial property agrees not to disturb the tenant’s possession of the property as long as the tenant pays rent and complies with the terms of the lease.  For tenants, an SNDA provides some assurance that their rights to their premises will be preserved even if the property is foreclosed.

-Options in Dealing with Foreclosures

The chances are that a commercial building loan is only a part of bigger financial problems.  Rather than delaying, a borrower should develop a game plan to deal with the situation immediately.  Options include:
  • Reorganizing, consolidating or even eliminating debts through proceedings that may include bankruptcy
  • Trying to work out a compromise with the lender
  • Selling the building

-Negotiating with the Lender

A lender may be willing to compromise.  Possible options include the following:
  • Different payment terms (lower payments over a longer period of time)
  • Forgiving some late payments now in exchange for a longer period of payment
  • Lower payments in exchange for a higher interest rate over a longer payment period
  • Refinancing at a lower interest rate (to make payments lower)

-Deeds In Lieu of Foreclosure

If a lender is unwilling to compromise, consider offering to convey the property back to the lender voluntarily by a “deed in lieu of foreclosure” (sometimes called “deed in lieu of forfeiture”).  A lender may be hesitant to accept a “deed in lieu” if state law provides a borrower with a right to redeem property for a certain period of time (e.g., up to a year later).

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