Making Your Lease Self-Cleaning
I recently read that Frances Gabe, one of the country’s more eccentric inventors, and creator of the self-cleaning house, passed away at the age of 101.
Yes, you heard that right, a self-cleaning house. I could use a self-cleaning desk, let alone an entire house.
It took ten years of work, but Ms. Gabe built a cinder-block bungalow in rural Oregon that was described by one newspaper as “basically a gigantic dishwasher.”
She could, in each room, and naturally under her umbrella, press a button that activated a sprinkler system sending sudsy water over walls and floors with a second spray to rinse everything and jets of warm air for drying, along with drains picking up the water from imperceptibly sloping floors (the runoff went out through the doghouse washing the dog all in one motion!).
She even had contraptions to wash dishes in cupboards on mesh shelves, clean her sink, toilet and bathtub, and clean laundry on hangers (which hangers could then be pulled by a chain into her closet). Floors, furniture and pictures were either coated with varnish, made with waterproof fabric or enclosed in plastic.
Okay, maybe this would not be an ideal solution for my desk.
Ms. Gabe certainly had an issue with cleaning, something that makes her quite similar to commercial tenants.
Although, for commercial tenants, the issue is actually not doing the cleaning, but rather making the respective roles of tenant and landlord clear.
Ms. Gabe would be confused, but you should not be (at least any more than you usually are reading this newsletter), because cleaning is often included as part of the fixed rent under an office lease, leading to negotiation with the landlord as to the quality and pricing of such service, what is included and excluded, and the parties’ relative responsibilities (retail tenants generally do their own cleaning).
Landlords also usually require that tenants use the building’s cleaning company for “extra” cleaning which, as you might expect, is for an extra cost.
In addition, the cleaning company is often owned by the landlord or its affiliates; a conflict of interest and profit center for ownership that all sounds a bit dirty to me.
Scrub away any problems with your office lease’s cleaning provision by following the following eight suggestions:
Negotiate scope. Most leases include detailed cleaning specifications. Carefully review these specifications to make sure that they are adequate for your needs and work with your broker to determine the industry standard in your area for similar buildings.
Define extras based on location. It is reasonable for your landlord to expect additional compensation to clean private lavatories and space which is below grade, outdoors (e.g., a terrace) or used for food preparation, but these location-based extras need to be clearly defined.
Some tenants require a “secure area” within their premises that allows for greater limitations on landlord access (e.g., a financial or media company that needs the utmost precautions with its proprietary information). The tradeoff for this right is that your landlord will not be able to provide cleaning within this secure area.
Define extras based on tenant actions. Landlords generally charge additional costs for unusually messy or misused space, space for particular functions (e.g., document production or pantries), unusual finishes that require additional care and excessive need for trash removal or pest control. Again, all sounds reasonable, but this needs to be quantified in your lease and you need to make sure that you are charged only to the extent extra care is actually required.
Your landlord may require additional charges for an unusual quantity of interior glass. Negotiate the parameters up-front so that you are not surprised later on.
Beware common control. Leases often require the tenant’s acknowledgement that the cleaning contractor is under common control with the landlord, i.e., your landlord will have every incentive for your costs to be higher rather than lower.
Require that the quality of the service provided by such landlord’s contractor is similar to that provided by contractors doing comparable work in comparable buildings.
Require that your landlord’s contractor perform its services at competitive rates (this matters not just for cleaning your space, but also for common area cleaning costs that can be passed to tenants as operating expenses).
Do it yourself. Ideally, all tenants should be able to choose to either use the landlord’s cleaning service or to perform their own cleaning.
If you are a large tenant with sufficient leverage, you may be able to negotiate the right to use your own contractor, reasonably acceptable to your landlord (provided it does not cause labor trouble within the building).
Even if you are unable to choose the cleaning contractor, you may also be able to negotiate the right to substitute your own contractor for a landlord cleaning company if the services provided do not meet an agreed upon industry standard.
If you are able to use your own contractor, (a) you should try to receive a credit against fixed rent equal to the actual reduction in cost to your landlord for not having to provide such services itself and (b) make sure that your lease allows your contractor to use the same elevators and loading dock as the building cleaning service and to use locker facilities in the building.
Allow direct cleaning. Always maintain the right to utilize your own cleaning staff or “day porters” (i.e., your employees) to perform special cleaning not handled by the landlord’s standard cleaning specifications. This will be particularly necessary if you have a cafeteria or other food preparation area within your premises.
Address garbage collection. In most office leases, the fixed rent will also include the removal of refuse, but landlords will charge extra for garbage not contained within standard waste receptacles and for the removal of “wet garbage” unless otherwise negotiated.
Limit access. Your lease should require that your landlord provide cleaning services after business hours (especially important to push out the commencement of nightly cleaning for businesses that regularly work past normal business hours, such as law firms)
Joan Rivers once said “I hate housework. You make the beds, you wash the dishes and six months later you have to start all over again.” I think she may have run a commercial landlord’s cleaning service. Follow the eight suggestions above, and you can make your lease’s cleaning provisions sparkle.