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Allen Buchanan: 5 situations that can make a sublease unmarketable

I recently wrote about the Yin and Yang of subleases wherein I discussed the elements that make a sublease risky and non-beneficial to the owner and occupant of a building – “because subleases are generally unfavorable to the original occupant (sub-landlord) and owner (master landlord), risky, and complicated.”
Also discussed was a definition of a sublease: What is a sublease? When a tenant must relieve himself of a lease obligation prior to the expiration of the lease, the need to sublease occurs.
Today, I embark on an explanation of the five situations which can cause a sublease to be unmarketable.
The term of lease
We toured a space yesterday being marketed for sublease. A decision to vacate prior to the expiration of the lease was made by an occupant whose corporate headquarters are out-of-state. Now 15 months remain on the lease obligation. Akin to a well-shopped clearance rack at Nordstrom, the short term will appeal to very few occupants.
You see, generally, a three- to seven-year term is sought by prospective tenants. A move is expensive, disruptive, and quite inefficient. Most are unwilling to move only to do so again a year later – if extension terms can’t be reached with the owner of the building.
Uncooperative owner
Owners ride the length of their leases through market swings. In the example above, additional years could be tacked onto the 15 months if the owner will play ball. Where we are in a market cycle — up or down trending — can predict how a landlord will react to a request for a longer lease. If our market is improving, he has no incentive to strike today. Storm clouds on the horizon? Yes! Let’s deal.
No concessions
A tenant with remaining years on their lease wants out, as quickly and cheaply as possible. Consequently, requests for changes to the space — at the tenant’s expense — are not typically on the table. Furthermore, most occupants, who have vacated are not interested in investing to refurbish the interior. Therefore, a sad, worn out building greets prospective occupants. Not terribly inviting.
Credit of the occupant
An owner with an Amazon lease will not be terribly interested in accepting anything less. Why should he? He has Amazon on the hook. If Amazon has decided the unit no longer meets their needs and vacates – the owner can be quite selective in backfilling.
An above market rent
Any lease in SoCal originated after 2015 will most likely be above the going rate today. So grouped with your amazing credit, a short term lease, an uncooperative owner, and an unwillingness on your part to paint and carpet, you could be stuck. So what’s the answer? Conduct a fire sale of sorts.
Take a look at what you owe and figure 75 percent of that amount. Now market your sublease at that reduced rate. You might just find that unicorn willing to transact.
Allen C. Buchanan, SIOR, is a principal with Lee & Associates Commercial Real Estate Services in Orange. He can be reached at or 714-564-7104.

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