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You should.  I’m sure you expect that kind of response from a lawyer, but it’s vitally important to not only read, but understand, every document that bears your signature.

This rule is especially important when dealing with commercial leases, which are almost always written in favor of the landlord and have some pretty strict expectations of the tenant.  One client who was facing eviction had signed a personal guarantee for her business lease two years ago and didn’t realize it this year when I reviewed the agreement.  The client was also shocked to hear that she was required to give the landlord six months’ notice to terminate the lease.  We’ve learned very recently that the economic climate can drastically change in six months and this particular client is likely to be bankrupt by the time her six months have elapsed.

When reading a commercial lease before signing, here are some provisions to watch out for:

  • Termination clause: How much notice do you have to give the landlord before you move out?
  • Square footage: How was the square footage of your space calculated?  Ask if you can have an independent company verify the measurements.  Keep in mind square footages are often calculated from the inside center of the wall, so your wall-to-wall calculations are likely to be short.
  • CAMs:  Common Area Maintenance fees provide for things like security, parking lot striping, landscaping, etc.  Because these fees are shared among all tenants, your share of the CAMs will increase if your landlord decides to begin evicting other tenants.  
  • Rent abatement: Some landlords are willing to negotiate an abatement or temporary reduction in rent given the state of the economy.  Make sure any renegotiation of your lease is in a separate amendment and signed by you and the landlord. Of course, you should have your commercial lease, any renewals, and any amendments reviewed by a lawyer before you sign.  But I have to say that.  I’m a lawyer.