City Wide Building Services

Commercial Building Maintenance – Who is Responsible for What?

Commercial building maintenance is a contentious issue and a gray area for both tenants and property owners. It seems everyone’s happy until something breaks or snaps and someone has to perform repairs. Sometimes, the tenants think the landlord is liable for certain repairs while the owner expects the tenant to handle maintenance. Who’s supposed to what? Where do you draw the line?

Commercial Leases

Nearly all commercial leases have obligations for landlords and tenants regarding damages or dilapidations. It’s essential that both parties know from the start who is supposed to perform the repairs. If a lease doesn’t say who’s responsible for repairing or maintaining the premises, including any equipment and infrastructure, it’s common sense for the landlord to be liable.

After all, they own the building. If the tenant has no contractual obligation under the lease, why would the tenants shoulder the costs? In some states like Florida, the tenant is responsible for such costs if the lease is silent on who does the repairs.

Repair Obligations For Landlords

Most commercial leases say the landlord is responsible for structural repairs and elements. The general interpretation of structural elements is sections or parts that hold the building together such as roofs, exterior walls, flooring structure, and the foundation. If multiple tenants occupy a building, the landlord will take responsibility for cleaning and maintaining shared areas and the property’s structural integrity.

Repair Obligations For Tenants

For retail tenants, the rule has always been “you break it, you fix it.”  All the duties and responsibilities pertaining to the maintenance or repairs of building elements such as partition walls, windows, stairways, or decorative features fall to the tenant. Non-structural maintenance issues such as plumbing and heating are also the tenants’ obligations.

However, the tenant is exempt from liability under “reasonable wear and tear.” What this means is that they won’t pay for building components or systems that fail or wear out due to reasonable use. If further damage is likely to arise from wear and tear, the tenant will have to perform repairs to stop further dilapidation.

Avoiding Disputes

The best way to avoid legal tussles or disputes is to have a comprehensive commercial lease. This document should stipulate who’s responsible for servicing or repairing various sections of rented premises. So the tenant and landlord know what’s expected of them. Any unusual or substantial repair obligations in the lease must be expressly stated before the lease is signed. Ask your lawyer to help you draft the commercial lease for your building if you intend to rent out different parts to separate tenants.

A well-written lease outlines maintenance standards for tenants occupying the building and prescribes the frequency of specific maintenance tasks. It’s advisable to include reference to industry standards for heating and ventilation, operation manuals, and direct tenants to adhere to the contractor’s recommendations.

Lease Termination

If the tenant fails to perform their maintenance or repair obligations, the landlord will have to issue a notice of default. Leases usually give a window to the tenant to cure the default. Failure to do so gives the landlord the option of terminating the lease or stepping in to fulfill those obligations.

Anytime the landlord performs the obligations of the tenant, they will have the right to recover the repair costs from the tenant. The best thing for the landlord is to perform routine inspections of the commercial building and enforce the necessary maintenance and repairs before the situation gets complicated.

Tenants are usually concerned about cost control and will hesitate to perform more repair and maintenance that is stipulated under the lease. Setting clear obligations, proper standards, and documenting conditions at the onset of the tenancy and every renewal will help both the landlord and tenant avoid misunderstandings and tussles later on.

Unless the case is compelling, the landlord needs to tread carefully, as the courts often grant tenants relief from forfeiture. Some courts may award damages if a lease is terminated without proper cause.