An attorney who represents an owner of a commercial building with a long term lease should always question the client to find out when they visited the property. If the tenant pays the rent on time and does not cause any obvious problems, most landlords do not take the time to visit the building.
In a high speed technological world, commercial tenants must constantly change to keep up with the competition. Therefore, the business changes and the use that the building was originally intended also changes. It may happen quietly and the tenant will not bother to call the owner.
SEC is the acronym that I use for the potential change of tenant’s use. Does the new use conform to the Sprinklers, Environmental requirements and Codes?
Fire sprinkler requirements change when the use changes. The new materials that the tenant works with may be more hazardous, the stacking height of the products may be reduced due to their flammability and even the distance to the fire station may be in question.
The question of environmental issues may come into play if the tenant utilizes different materials in their business. Again, it is the responsibility of the tenant to verify if the materials are hazardous and are safe. Certain materials that are hazardous should be disclosed to the owner of the property. Hazardous materials can cause irreparable damage to the property, employees, and adjacent properties.
Building codes are constantly changing and the zoning may not be appropriate for the new use. I recently was involved in a case where the tenant was in violation of not maintaining the fire sprinklers. This issue caused me to visit the building department at City Hall and uncover the tenant’s use did not conform to the zoning. They moved out of the building and down the street. Most leases place the responsibility on the tenant to verify the suitability of the property and comply with the ordinance. A vigilant owner of a building might consider a double check with the City and a visit to the building.