Do You Speak Legalese?

This article was written by Martin A. Schwartz, Partner at the law firm Bilzin Sumberg, and is reprinted here with his permission. His primary area of focus is Real Estate law and he can be reached at 305-350-2367 or mschwartz@bilzin.com


Peter Morris’ comments: As someone who must read, and interpret, leases and purchase and sale documents daily I agree with him. I add the word “interpret” because of the ambiguity in most documents. In some cases, the drafter of the document inserts words specifically so the true meaning of the concept can be read in multiple ways. I call these ‘wiggle words’, and I root these out for my clients whenever possible. Three (3) Cheers for Martin for his clear thoughts on this matter in his article that starts now.


Each profession has its own jargon but most professions rely on modern English as their base. Real estate and other transactional lawyers, those who draft legal documents, seem to be the exception. This is a strange phenomenon since most litigators, those attorneys who write only for fellow lawyers (i.e., judges), seem to have little problem writing in modern English. However, most real estate and other transactional lawyers whose work-product involves nonlawyer parties, usually find it difficult to express their thoughts in modern English. Instead, they rely on a strange language referred to as “legalese” to convey their message.

Merriam-Webster defines “legalese” as follows: “the language used by lawyers that is difficult for most people to understand; legal jargon.”1 The Oxford Guide to Plain English describes it somewhat differently:

“Fog in the law and legal writing is often blamed on the complex topics being tackled. Yet when legal texts are closely examined, their complexity seems to arise far less from this than from unusual language, tortuous sentence construction, and disorder in the arrangement of points. So the complexity is largely linguistic and structural smoke created by poor writing practices.

“Legalese is one of the few social evils that can be eradicated by careful thought and disciplined use of a pen. It is doubly demeaning: first it demeans its writers, who seem to be either deliberately exploiting its power to dominate or are at best careless of its effects; and second it demeans its readers by making them feel powerless and stupid.”2

William Safire, a former op-ed columnist with The New York Times, describes it more humorously: “[L]egalese often has the virtue of eliminating ambiguity, and should be read more as a mathematical equation than as prose, anything herein to the contrary notwithstanding.”3

Legalese is a language that relies on archaic language, poor grammar and sentence structure, repetition, surplus language, and legal jargon. The predicate for use of legalese seems to be that the parties will be represented by attorneys, and their attorneys will understand the documents even if their clients cannot. Although such an assumption may assist in promoting legal employment, it appears no more defensible than having legal documents written in Arabic in reliance on the parties using persons familiar with Arabic to explain the contents of the documents to their clients. Since legal documents will govern the rights and obligations of the parties for whom they are written, it seems only proper that such parties should be able to read and understand them. The use of legalese has been criticized by the courts: “[This is a] document checked full of legalese that can make a Byzantine scholar proud.”4

Some legalisms seem to be going out of vogue. Does anyone use “the party of the first part” and “the party of the second part” to reference the parties to an agreement? Use of these terms allows the drafter to avoid identifying the parties throughout the document, but to an untrained reader, it may be unclear which party is obligated to which obligations under the agreement.

Other terms seem to have survived the transition from the age of the bow and arrow to that of automatic weapons. Many drafters continue to use terms like “witnesseth” and recitals preceded by the term “whereas.” Frequently, last paragraphs in agreements conclude with “In witness whereof.” One may well wonder if such drafters think it is essential their documents look like legal proclamations intended to be admissible in the English courts of the 14th century or be in a form sufficient to be affixed to the nearest tree. And what about title affidavits that conclude with the phrase “further affiant sayeth naught”? This last phrase adds nothing to the affidavit that a period at the end of the preceding sentence would add, but it does perhaps provide the drafter with the comforting feeling that the affidavit is a “legal document.”

Attorneys do not seem to question why is it necessary to use language from the age of Shakespeare to express their thoughts. Such archaic language is nowhere else found in modern writing, and it surely does not improve the readability of the document in which it is contained.

Another tenet of legalese involves repeating numbers with Arabic characters and in words. It might not be necessary to provide for “a ten (10) day notice” rather than “a 10-day notice” but a reader seeing both the character and word will appreciate that he or she is reading a legal document. This has been referred to as the “stupid reader syndrome” since it appears to be predicated on the assumption that the reader will not be able to understand a number if it is only mentioned once. A danger, however, of this needless repetition sometimes appears in documents when the character and word do not match, e.g., “ten (15) day period,” which presents an interpretive problem as to which number is correct. This needless repetition is so engrained in the legal vocabulary that a request to a legal secretary to transmit two copies of a survey will appear as “enclosed are two (2) copies of the survey.”

Perhaps the hallmark of a legal document is the inclusion of “h” words. The words “herein,” “hereto,” “hereof,” and “hereinafter” are the staples of drafting in legalease. These words, other than “hereinafter,” defy precision because it is never clear whether they are referencing a particular paragraph, section, or the entire agreement. Typically the use of such language requires the drafter to add a separate definitional section to clarify their meaning because of their latent ambiguity. You will not see these words used in common parlance or even in nonfiction writing except perhaps the use of “hereinafter” referencing an existence beyond the grave. But these words are typically liberally sprinkled throughout a document serving as a beacon to identify the document: “This is a legal document!”

Another frequent device for drafting in legalese is the use of the expression “provided, however, that….” This phrase serves to introduce an exclusion to the immediately previously expressed idea. Although one may substitute a period for this entire phrase and follow with the start of a new sentence with the same effect, the use of this term allows the draftsperson to establish his or her credentials as a lawyer and, as a side benefit, permits drafting run-on sentences galore. One can test the elimination of this phrase by substituting a period before “provided, however, that…” and determine its absence has no effect on the meaning of the paragraph but only serves to increase its readability.

Legalese embraces repetition: one word is good; six words are better. Why refer to the “provisions” or “terms” of an agreement when you can mention the “terms, provisions, covenants, agreements, representations, and warranties” of an agreement? Would anyone without legal “training” think that the terms of an agreement would not include any representations, warranties, or covenants in the agreement? I think not, but verbosity is a preferred drafting technique.

Another form of repetition frequently utilized is couplets: two words used in conjunction when a single word will convey the same message. Frequently used couplets include: “terms and provisions,” “good and valuable,” “covenants and agreements,” “free and clear,” “each and every,” and “any and all.” Many attorneys sprinkle these liberally into their drafting so the reader will understand the document was drafted by a lawyer.

Related to repetition is the inclusion of unnecessary extra language. In referring to exhibits and schedules in a document, the drafter will frequently qualify such exhibits or schedules with the phrase “attached hereto and incorporated herein by reference.” It is not clear whether such a phrase has any legal effect. Would a reader think that an exhibit or schedule appearing at the end of a document and referenced in the document might be a stapling error? That is, it was never intended to be part of the agreement. Or that such documents were merely attached to the document to increase its length?

The use of legalese is perpetuated by reuse of form documents replete with legalese. New lawyers instructed to use form documents are inculcated into the use of archaic language, repetition, and run-on sentences. It has been noted that there is no economic incentive to “clean up” these documents by spending extra time merely for the sake of readability.5 Even lawyers conscious of the use of legalese frequently avoid removing such language in the haste to produce a document for distribution. Will Rodgers famously noted, “If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.”

There is a perception among new lawyers, and even among seasoned lawyers, that writing in plain English dumbs down the language of the instruments. This is surely the case in some consumer forms in substituting “I” and “you” for “buyer” and “seller.” However, in response, it has been noted that:

“[W]riting in plain English need not mean giving up sophisticated use of language and affecting a chatty informality. On the contrary, it requires sophistication to produce documents that are consistently coherent, clear and readable. By contrast, this “specialized tongue” of lawyers, “legalese,” may even be easier to write because it relies on convention instead of thought. At best, however, the result is wordy, pompous, and dull. At worst it is unintelligible.”6

Does legalese really improve the content? As an example of how legalese affects readability, below are two short paragraphs. The first is written in English and the second re-written in legalese.

Jim had the flu and went to see Dr. Jones. The doctor told Jim he would be better in 10 days if Jim stayed home, drank liquids, and slept for eight hours each night. If his condition did not improve by the end of 10 days, the doctor said he would prescribe antibiotics.”

Jim had the flu (hereinafter referred to as the “Disease”) and went to see Dr. Jones (hereinafter referred to as the “Doctor”) and the Doctor told Jim that Jim would be better in ten (10) days, provided, however, that (i) Jim stayed home, (ii) Jim drank liquids, and (iii) Jim slept eight (8) hours each night (hereinafter collectively referred to as the “Remedial Conditions”) and provided further that if by the expiration of said ten (10) day period and full and complete fulfillment of the Remedial Conditions the Disease was not fully or partially abated to the full and complete satisfaction of the Doctor, in the Doctor’s sole and unfettered discretion, then the Doctor would prescribe antibiotics.

In a survey in 1988 sent to 1,116 Florida judges and lawyers selected at random that contained six phrases written in two different styles without identifying legalese but only a “test of language trends in the legal profession,” the preparer of the survey received 628 responses: 352 came from judges and 279 from lawyers. The judges preferred plain English in 86 percent of their responses and the lawyers in 80 percent.7

The courts have been critical of the use of legalese.8 Is there any downside to use of such language? If ordinary individuals not represented by an attorney are intended to be bound by legal instruments not otherwise decipherable as written in the English language, courts have refused to enforce such agreements to the detriment of the drafters.9

Beyond the issue of enforcement, why is it necessary to draft documents far removed from common English? Why does the poor use of the English language with run-on sentences and unnecessary repetition make a document legal? In surveys of judges and attorneys, the overwhelming percentage of respondents opted for plain English over legalese.10

Any real estate attorney believing use of legalese is benign should be ordered to review and decipher language appearing in many securitized financing documents. There are numerous examples in such documents when one sentence can run an entire page.11 It is frequently impossible to understand the content of any provision with a single reading.

Consumer groups have been struggling for years to require consumer documents to be written in plain English. Since the world outside of the legal profession operates using plain English, it is difficult to justify using a different language to create enforceable legal rights and obligations. In some cases, the reward for using legalese is an unenforceable agreement.12


1 Merriam-Webster’s Learner’s Dictionary, “Legalese.”

2 Martin Cutts, Oxford Guide to Plain English (3d ed. 2009).

3 William Safire, Safire’s Political Dictionary (Rev. ed. 2008).

4 In Re Benninger, 357 B.R. 337 (Bankr. W.D. Pa. 2006). See also Gelinas v. State, 398 S.W. 3d 703 (Tex. Crim. App. 2013) (Cochran concurring opinion) (“These instructions are 100 [percent] legalese. They make no sense.”).

5 See Hills, Why Contracts are Written in “Legalese,” 77 Chicago-Kent Law Rev. 58 (2001).

6 Barbara Child, Language Preferences of Judges and Lawyers: A Florida Survey, 64 Fla. B. J. 32 (Feb. 1990).

7 Id.

8 State of Wisconsin v. Eason, 629 N.W.2d 625 (Wisconsin Sup. Ct. 2001) (dissenting opinion) (“The warrant and affidavit replete with terms normally found in attorney-drafted documents including “whereas,” “curtilage,” “to-wit” and other such similar terms. . . . Indeed law students have been taught for at least the last 50 years to avoid this kind of legalese.”); But see Bo Bingham, Lawyers Speak “Legalese” for a Reason, The Legal Lowdown (Oct. 6, 2015), http://www.thespectrum.com/story/life/features/mesquite/2015/10/06/lawyers-speak-legalese-reason/73460860/ (discussing the virtues of legalese).

9 See In Re Benninger, 357 B.R. 337.

10 See Kimble & Prokop, Jr., Strike Three for Legalese, Michigan B. J. 40 (Mar. 2014); Barbara Child, Language Preferences of Judges and Lawyers: A Florida Survey, 64 Fla. B. J. 32 (Feb. 1990).

11
For example: “‘Certificateholder’: With respect to any Certificate, the Person whose name is registered in the Certificate Register (including, solely for the purposes of distributing reports, statements or other information pursuant to this Agreement, Beneficial Owners or potential transferees of Certificates to the extent the Person distributing such information has been provided with an Investor Certification by or on behalf of such Beneficial Owner or potential transferee); provided, however, that, except to the extent provided in the next proviso, solely for the purpose of giving any consent or taking any action pursuant to this Agreement, any Certificate beneficially owned by the Depositor, the Master Servicer, the Special Servicer, the Trustee, the Certificate Administrator, the Operating Advisor, a manager of a Mortgaged Property, a Mortgagor or any Person known to a Responsible Officer of the Certificate Registrar to be an Affiliate of the Depositor, the Master Servicer, the Special Servicer, the Trustee, the Certificate Administrator, the Operating Advisor, a manager of a Mortgaged Property or a Mortgagor shall be deemed not to be outstanding and the Voting Rights to which it is entitled shall not be taken into account in determining whether the requisite percentage of Voting Rights necessary to effect any such consent or take any such action has been obtained; provided, however, that for purposes of obtaining the consent of Certificateholders to an amendment of this Agreement, any Certificate beneficially owned by the Depositor, the Master Servicer, the Special Servicer, the Trustee, the Certificate Administrator, the Operating Advisor or an Affiliate of the Depositor, the Master Servicer, the Special Servicer, the Trustee, the Certificate Administrator or the Operating Advisor shall be deemed to be outstanding, provided that if such amendment relates to the termination, increase in compensation or material reduction of obligations of the Depositor, the Master Servicer, the Special Servicer, the Trustee, the Certificate Administrator, the Operating Advisor or any of their Affiliates, then such Certificate so owned shall be deemed not to be outstanding; provided, however, if the Master Servicer, the Special Servicer or an Affiliate of the Master Servicer or the Special Servicer is a member of the Controlling Class, it shall be permitted to act in such capacity and exercise all rights under this Agreement bestowed upon the Controlling Class; provided, further, if an Affiliate of the Depositor, the Master Servicer, the Special Servicer, the Trustee, the Certificate Administrator or the Operating Advisor has provided an Investor Certification in which it has certified as to the existence of an Affiliate Ethical Wall between it and the Depositor, the Master Servicer, the Special Servicer, the Trustee, the Certificate Administrator or the Operating Advisor, as applicable, then any Certificates beneficially owned by such Affiliate shall be deemed to be outstanding.”

12 See Paladino v. Avnet Computer Techs, 134 F.3d 1054 (11th Cir. 1988); Nicosia v. Wakefern Food Corp., 136 N.J. 401, 643 A.2d 554 (N.J. 1994).

This article was first published in the April 2017 issue of The Florida Bar Journal, Volume 91, No. 4.

Supreme Court Case Has CRE Implications

NOTE: I am not providing legal advice with this article. Please consult with a lawyer to determine the actions you may wish to take.

This past week the Supreme Court of Canada heard arguments in what is called the Redwater case. It’s expected that the Court will render its decision over the summer. At the heart of the court case is the question of bankruptcy and creditor priority versus the environment and environmental clean up.

Redwater was an insolvent oil company with approximately 70 wells operating throughout the province of Alberta. The primary lender to the company, ATB Financial, and the trustee argued that under Federal bankruptcy law the trustee in bankruptcy could sell the profitable assets and disclaim the well leases that were unproductive. This left the unproductive wells to the Orphan Well Association (OWA), an association funded by the oil industry and charged with decommissioning and cleaning up abandoned wells in Alberta. Part of their argument was Federal bankruptcy laws trump provincial environmental regulations. The lower courts appeared to agree on that point.

On the other side of the table, the provincial government argued that Redwater must clean up environmental hazards and any monies derived from the sale of assets should first and foremost go to the underfunded OWA to expedite the decommissioning of the abandoned wells.

As background to the case it should be noted that these wells are located on third-party agricultural land and the oil company had the right to install these wells so long as they paid a royalty or rental fee to the landowner. In this complicated case the lower courts ruled in favour of the trustee in bankruptcy meaning they could to pay the primary creditor (ATB) first and leave the abandon wells to the OWA to clean up.

Unfortunately, in Alberta there are approximately 1600 abandon wells and another 1500 underperforming wells. This means it could be decades before all the abandoned Redwater wells are decommissioned. This, according to the province and affected farmers, poses environmental, financial and health risks.

There is the argument that the lower courts decisions would give oil companies an ability to organize their affairs so they do not have to take responsibility for their drilling.

It is believed that the Alberta Energy Regulator erred by not requiring oil companies to post bonds or insurance to cover the decommissioning of abandoned wells.

So what does this have to do with commercial real estate?

If the Supreme Court upholds the two Alberta provincial courts decisions then it could have implications beyond the oil patch, and affect any premises or land where pollutants could be deposited.

Therefore, I believe it would be prudent for landowners to ensure their tenants post a bond, or obtain insurance in some form, to pay for the clean up of their operations if the tenant becomes bankrupt. Otherwise, a trustee in bankruptcy could simply disclaim the lease and the landlord would face the costs of cleanup themselves.

All the leases I’ve personally seen assume the environmental obligations pertain to a tenant that is viable and ongoing. They do not foresee what happens if the tenant is bankrupt.

 

Implications for Agents of the new Real Estate Regulations in BC

While the smoke hasn’t cleared on a lot of the intricacies of the new regulations brought about by the Real Estate Superintendent’s office, the direction is clear.

Rightly or wrongly, the new regulations are intended to ensure rigorous standards of ‘agency’ in the truest meaning of the concept. In short, it means that a licensed agent (licensee) must always act solely in the best interests of their client and hold those interests above their own.

Therefore, limited dual agency will no longer be permitted as of March 15, 2018, since it amounts to a conflict of interest. This will mean the break up of full service teams representing both parties to a transaction, including investment sales & lease transaction in commercial real estate.

Licensees will also have to watch out for the interest of unrepresented parties in a transaction by disclosing that the licensee is the agent for one party, that the unrepresented party should seek independent representation and note the pitfalls of not being represented. The licensee then must have the unrepresented party sign what amounts to a waiver, should that party wish to continue discussions while not being represented; or terminate the discussion while the party seeks independent representation.

So what does this mean in practical terms?

Full service teams will cease to exist, as noted earlier.

Licensees must know when they are providing simple “factual information to general questions” when dealing with unrepresented parties. I’ve asked the Real Estate Council to define what is factual information and general questions, but have yet to receive a reply. The issue is that if the licensee inadvertently provides an opinion during the discussion, that could be interpreted as de facto agency with the other party and run afoul of the dual agency prohibition.

Different licensees within the same office may each have agency with either the buyer or seller, in most cases. This is problematic when it comes to small brokerages and may mean that the brokerage itself is prohibited from representing one of the two parties.

In some cases, where the motivations of each party are known to the licensee, the Real Estate Council suggests the agent give up representing both and refer them to two different licensees.

However, if different licensees in the same brokerage can represent both parties there must be a physical and knowledge separation between the licensees. This could mean they are placed in separate parts of the building, a forceful ‘closed door’ policy so conversations cannot be overheard by the other licensee, and separation of databases, CRM contacts and files.  There cannot be shared staff either, such as financial analysts and administrative support to the two licensees. The idea is to create a cone of silence around each licensee. Managing Brokers will be tasked to ensure this separation exists.

During the negotiation, the licensee must take extra care not to relate any information that may detract from their client’s negotiating power. As a result, this may shift the office atmosphere to being more closed and less communicative.

There could be significant impact on the commercial leasing industry, particularly when it comes to entrepreneurial lessees. It is estimated that up to 80% of all lease transactions involving small to medium businesses are conducted between the landlord’s representative and the entrepreneur directly, where a real estate agent does not represent the businessperson.

Landlord representatives, if they are licensed Realtors, will have to make the appropriate disclosures and potentially terminate the lease discussion until the prospective lessee has signed the waiver or obtained representation, just as a residential Realtor would have to do the same at, say, an Open House.

This presents a few practical problems concerning the lease negotiation. The licensee will have to be very careful to know when they are simply providing “factual answers to general questions” and when the negotiation actually starts. It appears the best way to deal with this, is to ask the question of representation up front and get waivers and disclosure documents signed at the very beginning.

There is also a competitiveness issue. While licensees are required to counsel unrepresented parties about the potential pitfalls of self-representation and have them sign a waiver, the same requirements are not imposed on unlicensed, in-house leasing agents for large landlords and developers.

There is a cascading effect to the new regulations that must also be carefully managed. For example, if a licensee represents the purchaser of a commercial property, the licensee may become aware of the new owners motivations and interests. To uphold the concept of agency that licensee may provide representation to the new owner in lease transactions but would be forever barred from representing lessees while that owner owned the property. The reason is that the licensee now has inside knowledge of the landlord. That prohibition would end once the property was sold again – unless the license was involved in the new transaction; or the licensee has ‘inside’ information about the new owner’s motivations and interests from working for the purchaser in another transaction (past or present). Anything gleaned from the general marketplace and research is fair game however.

On the plus side, while up to 80% of small to medium sized business owners lease without representation currently; the new disclosure requirements suggesting the party obtain licensed representation should mean more lessees will engage a licensed agent to assist them. This should translate into more business for commercial licensees.

Copyright 2018 P.D. Morris

How to Handle the Recovery of Corporate Costs in Triple Net Leases

The generally accepted rule of thumb concerning the concept of Triple Net Operating Costs is that the landlord can and should recover all costs associated with operating the common facilities of the property. These costs would include all those costs to manage, operate, secure, repair and maintain the facilities, with the exception of structural costs in most instances.

Conversely, costs associated with the landlord generating income and profit should be borne out of the basic, or minimum, rent. For example, costs associated with the process of leasing space should not be recovered from the tenants.

While it may appear that this is a simple concept, it rarely is straightforward. As an example, some people feel that any costs borne by the landlord, at a level above costs incurred at the property itself, should not be included in Operating Cost Recoveries. But what if it is more efficient to have centralized services such as accounts payable, IT and HR or regionally based maintenance services? Should these be included as recoverable Operating Costs and borne by the tenants? If so, to what extent should they be included and does the market use any standardized guiding principles?

These were the questions I recently discussed with an experienced commercial real estate lawyer and an accountant who specializes in CRE at an international accountancy.

We had combined CRE experience of over 100 years between the three of us and we agreed there was no accepted single standard in answering this question, except one person’s apt response that it is whatever the landlord can do, and the market will bear. We all agreed that seems to be the sentiment. But let’s look at these questions in more detail.

First, should regional and corporate costs incurred for the benefit of the common facilities be included as recoverable Operating Costs?

The feeling is yes, they should; if those costs are aligned to the benefit of the common facilities and not for the landlord generating profit. For example, it may be impractical from a cost and governance perspective to have all the accounts payable performed at each property in a portfolio.

Likewise, it may be more practical and cost beneficial to have roaming maintenance staff rather than staff dedicated to each property, particularly when dealing with skilled trades. Those costs – with certain caveats concerning competitive pricing – should rightly be recovered from each property served.

The second question of what extent should they be recovered can’t be answered until we tackle the issue of common guiding practices, as the two are intertwined.

Let’s look at accounts payable as an example. The invoice is received, reviewed, approved, entered into the accounting system, and a cheque is issued, in a typical accounts payable process. The cheque is then mailed and the bank reconciled once the vendor has cashed the cheque, and it is cancelled and returned.

Several people may ‘touch’ the process, from the person opening and sorting the mail to the person handling the bank reconciliation. Additionally, there are costs associated with the hardware & software used, IT support, space to house the staff, desks, communications equipment, stationary, mailing costs, etc.

Estimates to completely process one invoice range up to $21.00; while the average is $7.00 and as low as $3.41 if using a state of the art AP system, and depending on the number of invoices processed.

The question then becomes: “What method is acceptable to allocate the costs?”

In this case, is it on a per invoice basis? A proportionate share of the total costs? Some other method?

Again, we found there is no singular answer. So perhaps the pundit was correct when he said, “it is whatever the landlord can do, and the market will bear.”

We did agree that certain regional and corporate expenses should be considered for full or partial recovery. These include costs associated with:

-staffing relative to the management, operation, security and R&M of the property;

– technology costs including hardware, software and IT support staff;

– tools and equipment used for the maintenance and repair of the property;

– occupational health and safety expenses, including training;

– certain marketing costs, as permitted under the leases;

– insurance and risk management costs;

– daily banking costs pertaining to Operating Cost AP;

– services that support the above, such as HR, accounts payable, etc.; and

– costs to house and equip centralized and regional services noted above.

We also agreed that the extent of the recovery would be limited by what the market would bear. And that is a far more difficult question to answer because it is also subjective. The landlord may not optimize the recovery, or open themselves up to arguments from tenants (and their lease auditors) concerning the allocations depending on the formula used to calculate and allocate the costs.

For example, consider the issue of two same-sized buildings in different parts of the same market where the competitive operating costs recoveries in those submarkets are different. Think about the implications of attempting to come to a universal cost allocation across different asset classes. Industrial properties have lower operating costs than office buildings, and can’t bear the same per square foot allocation (if done that way), for example.

The combinations and permutations become mindboggling.

We also tackled the inevitable retort from tenant representatives and corporate real estate executives who would argue that the management fee is intended to cover the centralized costs.

Our feeling was that the management or administration fee is in addition to all the costs associated with operating the common facilities. As a result, it is not to replace any of those costs; which is the effective argument of the tenant representative.

Stated differently, the landlord is assuming the management of the common areas so the tenants don’t have to manage all those functions themselves, collectively; and the administration fee is akin to compensating the landlord for overhead costs not directly associated with the property operation.

Did we come to a definitive conclusion? Not really, but the discussion prompted further research, contemplation and discussion, I’m sure.

What are your thoughts?

© 2017 Peter D. Morris

www.GreensteadCG.com

The End of Commercial Real Estate Teams in British Columbia?

The Office of the Superintendent of Real Estate in British Columbia (OSRE BC) has issued several new regulations governing real estate transactions that will come into effect on March 15, 2018. These new regulations affect licensees trading in either residential or commercial transactions.

One change in particular will have a significant outcome on those involved in commercial real estate transactions including leasing and investment sales. That is the elimination of Limited Dual Agency, except in very remote areas of the province.

Limited Dual Agency permitted the licensee to represent both the seller and buyer or multiple buyers in a transaction, with the consent of the parties. The same applies when acting for both lessors and lessees.

As of March 15, 2018 the licensee will only be able to act on behalf of either the seller/lessor or buyer/lessee and not multiple parties. The licensee will be the Designated Agent for the party they represent. The OSRE BC has placed the onus on the brokerage to ensure that their licensees do not act as Limited Dual Agents.

According to the official summary of the OSRE BC public outreach for comments, the OSRE BC has also taken the following position: “A team will not be able to engage in dual agency to represent both a buyer and a seller, or multiple competing buyers, in a transaction as the team is considered collectively to be the designated agent of a client [NB: the bold emphasis is mine]. While teams may be a convenient business model to facilitate a real estate transaction, a licensee’s responsibility to fulfill their fiduciary duties takes precedence over the ease and timeliness of completing a transaction. Teams wishing to represent both buyers and sellers in a single transaction could consider licensing as a brokerage in order to continue to provide this service.”

Therefore, a team may not have both a buyer’s representative and a seller’s representative, for example. The OSRE BC’s proposed solution would be to create separate brokerages, which may not be feasible or desired.

In speaking with a Realtor® about this, he said his managing broker said that to ensure the licensees representing one party are independent of the other party in an instance where the brokerage represents both the seller/lessor and the buyer/lessee he believed there would need to be a physical separation at a bare minimum, such as walls. Keep in mind, that the new regulation is intended to avoid potential conflicts of interest and reinforce the fiduciary duties of agency. Therefore, my point of view is that the separation would also include information about the other party, their motivations, data, CRM information, and computer files, etc.

What does this mean to full service teams, or teams that work in a specialized niche market that is so small, or the team’s expertise is widely known and accepted by the industry players? Those teams will surely need to break up.

Additionally, brokerages will incur extra expense creating all the separation required.

I’d be interested in knowing your thoughts on this topic. I’ll also be providing information and my point of view on some of the other new regulations in other posts.