Allow Subleasing For Commercial Tenants

In some office building markets throughout the country, some existing tenants have sought to sublease some or all of their rented space as they shrink operations or eliminate locations. The problem for landlords is whether it is a better strategy to enforce lease restrictions against subleasing or to work with tenants on the theory that the sooner cheap sublease space is filled, the better for all. (In addition, another problem could be whether landlords should insist on sublease restrictions in new leases being negotiated now.)
The Restrictions
If there is no provision against the sublease in the original lease, the tenant has the right to assign or sublease without the owner’s consent or approval. However, most leases do contain this provision. In previous decades, when rents were at high levels, tenants could obtain the landlord’s consent only if no other space was available in the building, and even then, the landlord might have insisted on sharing in any profit realized on the sublease. (In those days, subrent was often higher than the prime rent.)
Tenants are interested in cutting costs of unused space and are often willing to accept current market rents, something landlords are reluctant to do for prime space.
Negotiation and Cooperation
Although the building owner may take the position that no consent will be given to a sublease as long as prime space is available in the building, the tenant may make some good arguments for cooperation.
First, when there is much space available all around, a tenant looking for space can find it easily. A landlord is better off having a tenant in possession, even with a sublease, because the tenant may stay when the sublease expires.
Second, the landlord takes the risk that a prime tenant with much excess space may default under the lease either by being forced out of business or because the tenant is willing to risk a lawsuit to collect unpaid rent. By being cooperative in finding a subtenant, the landlord reduces the risk of a default by the prime tenant and has the additional security of the subtenant’s rent payments (even though the amount may be less than the prime rent).
Perhaps most important, the landlord may gain the reputation for good tenant relationships that can help in the competitive years ahead. Helping the tenant to shed excess space can pay off when the tenant considers renewal of the present lease. Landlords who are known for taking a reasonable approach to tenant problems, both during and after lease negotiations, are bound to have an edge when a tenant must make a choice between very similar rental space in different buildings