A Tenant’s Fundamental Business Checklist for Retail Leasing

May 30, 2017

By: Craig T. Watrouscraig.jpg

Retail leasing presents a unique variety of business issues for tenants to consider. Due to the nature of a store’s operations, a tenant’s use of retail space can require unique tenant build-outs, special use considerations, ADA compliance, and the reliance on other neighboring tenants to generate business. Because of the up-front costs, retail leases often last between 3 to 7 years, and even up to 10 years. The result is a game of risk and cost shifting between the landlord and the tenant. For tenants, the terms of their lease can affect the profit margins, growth potential, and overall success of their storefront and possibly even their brand. For these reasons, retail leases should be carefully and thoughtfully negotiated with the landlord. This article attempts to summarize some of the key business issues tenants should review when entering into and negotiating their retail leases.

images.pngThe Premises

            The condition of the premises (i.e. the space) prior to commencement of the lease will largely determine the amount of tenant build-out (construction) required to get the space ready for the store. In addition to the tenant build-out, the tenant and landlord will need to determine what representations and warranties are going to be made regarding the space’s condition.

  • Who is going to pay for the tenant build-out?  Will the landlord give the tenant an allowance?
  • What happens to the improvements/build-out at the end of the lease?
  • Can the tenant leave them in place or does it need to remove everything and/or pay for demo work?
  • Has the tenant ensured that it can remove its trade fixtures at the end of the lease?
  • Who are the other tenants are in the center/shopping area/strip mall?
  • Who is next door? 
  • Who are the (other) anchor tenants?
  • Will the landlord divulge how much time is remaining on their leases? Keep in mind, many stores rely on the foot traffic of their neighbors to generate additional business. 

images.pngUse of the Space

            Has your use of the space been accurately defined in the lease? Are there any specific limitations on your use?  Do you want to negotiate an exclusivity provision into the lease? For example, do you want to make sure your business is the only one of its kind in the center/shopping area/strip mall? Double check the hours of operation that the landlord is requiring and make sure these align with your intended use. What are the hours of operation of the neighboring businesses? 

images.pngCommon Areas

            What are the common areas associated with your space?  Meaning, what other areas in the center/strip mall/shopping mall do you have the right to use and share with the other tenants?  This often includes restrooms, parking, hallways, entrances, security, etc. 

  • What are your limitations on the use of these spaces?
  • When are they opened and closed?
  • How are you being charged for the common areas? This is often called CAM, which stands for common area maintenance. 
  • Are you able to review the landlord’s records related to the CAM charges? 
  • What items are included and what items are specifically excluded? 

images.pngTerm, Commencement Date, Rent Rate and Renewal Options

            When the term of the lease actually starts and when the obligation to start paying rent begins should be tied in with the construction and completion of the tenant’s improvements. Often it depends on whether or not the landlord or the tenant is responsible for finishing the tenant’s improvements, as that party has more direct control over when the premises are actually available for use. The parties may determine a fixed date, or it may start on the day the tenant commences its retail operations in the space. There might be penalties for delays. If the landlord is constructing the tenant improvements and significant delays occur, does the tenant have the right to terminate the lease or to seek damages?

Retail leases often have terms between 3 to 7 years, and in some cases up to 10 years. For landlords, because significant cost may be put into the space prior to the lease which is often unique to the tenant, a longer term helps to recapture some of the upfront costs. For tenants, the main concerns are often its location and a space that suits the store in the present and near future. If that location works, the tenant will want a longer term and lease extensions to lock it in. When things are going well, both parties will want the lease to continue, but considerations should be put in place regarding not only the initial term but also renewals and extensions.

  • Are lease renewals included in the lease?
  • How will rent be determined for the renewal periods? 
  • Do you as the tenant have any rights to get out of the lease?
  • Can you assign it?
  • Can you sublet?


            What is the minimum rent?  Is this a percentage rent? Meaning, is the landlord charging a base rent and then taking a portion of store’s actual sales/revenue?  If so, be careful to read through how revenues, sales, profits, and other similar terms are calculated. 

  • Have you included provisions to cover for returns?
  • Gift card sales?
  • Bad checks?
  • Transfers of merchandise to other store locations?


            The parking is often overlooked in retail leases but it can be vital to the tenant’s business success. If customers can’t find parking, they are likely to go somewhere else. However, it’s not just the parking for the store’s customers that needs to be considered but also parking for the tenant’s employees.

  • How much parking is available?
  • Does the store want/need reserved spaces?
  • Does the landlord want to require that the tenant’s employees park off site?
  • What is the expected use of the parking lot by other tenants likely to be?
  • When will the parking lot(s) be most and least busy?
  • Security issues: are there parking attendants, lights, guards?


            Does the landlord have the ability to relocate the store to another location in the center/strip mall?  Try to avoid this if at all possible. If it’s unavoidable, then who has to pay for the move? Will the landlord cover related marketing costs (like changes to websites, stationary, directories, business cards, etc.)? Will the landlord provide the same upgrades to the new space? How much notice does the landlord have to give prior to the relocation?

images.png Insurance Requirements

            Find out now what insurance policies and amounts the landlord is requiring. Speak with your insurance agent to figure out what these costs are likely to look like. 

These are just a few of the business items a tenant should consider when entering into a retail lease. Keep in mind there are other equally important legal terms that should be negotiated, like casualty provisions, eminent domain, termination rights and remedies, default provisions, and the always overlooked “boilerplate”, to name a few. Ambiguities in leases lead to disputes, and disputes can lead to lawsuits.  A standard, off-the-shelf form likely won’t address the particular needs and concerns of the retail owner. It’s worthwhile for the retail owner to spend extra time upfront negotiating lease terms and putting the details in writing. We hope this article has been helpful.

Related Posts:

Office Leasing Negotiations: Key Issues for Landlords and Tenants to Consider

Ten Commercial Lease Terms for Review: The Business Tenant has More Negotiating Power Than it Thinks

(Mallon Lonnquist Morris & Watrous, PLLC, is a business, employment, real estate, and litigation law firm. Craig T. Watrous is a Colorado real estate
mlmw_mark_MD_Transparent.jpgattorney and partner at MLMW, based in Denver, Colorado. Craig regularly represents clients on both sides of retail leases both in contracting and disputes. Craig can be reached at
cwatrous@mlmw-law.com and (303) 722-2165.)



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