In our ongoing series of blog posts, we examine key negotiating points for tenants in triple net health care leases. We also offer suggestions for certain lease provisions that will protect tenants from overreaching and unfair expenses, overly burdensome obligations, and ambiguous terms with respect to the rights and responsibilities of the parties. These suggestions are intended to result in efficient lease negotiations and favorable lease terms from a tenant’s perspective. In our first two blog posts, we considered the importance of negotiating initial terms and renewal terms and operating expense provisions. This latest blog post in our series focuses on negotiating assignment and subletting provisions.

It is imperative for a commercial tenant, particularly a private equity-owned health care tenant, to include provisions in a lease which allow the tenant the flexibility to assign and sublease the commercial space without the necessity of having to obtain the landlord’s consent and/or to meet burdensome landlord conditions.

Most leases prohibit transfers by assignment and subletting or require landlord’s prior written consent subject to meeting certain burdensome conditions. In addition, landlords often include a “change of control” provision which provides that sale of a controlling interest is deemed a transfer requiring landlord consent.  A health care tenant looking for flexibility for reorganization or internal transfer subject to private equity control will want to push back on change of control provisions and will want to ensure that their lease allows for certain permitted transfers that do not require landlord consent. Carving out “permitted transfers” customarily includes transfers to: (i) an affiliate of the named tenant under the lease (meaning, any entity, directly or indirectly, which controls, is controlled by or is under common control with tenant); (ii) a successor entity created by merger, consolidation or reorganization of tenant; or (iii) an entity which shall purchase all or substantially all of the assets or a controlling interest in the stock or membership of tenant. If the tenant is a management services organization (MSO), the lease should also include explicit landlord permission for a sublease between the MSO and the provider that will occupy the leased premises.

Landlords may accept the concept of permitted transfers but often seek to impose certain conditions to allowing such transfers. Certain conditions on permitted transfers are reasonable, such as requirements for advance notice, that the proposed permitted transferee assume all obligations under the lease, that the permitted transferee operate only for the permitted use set forth in the lease, and that a copy of the transfer document be provided to landlord. However, other conditions, such as requiring a net worth test for the assignee or financial reporting requirements, can be burdensome and serve to undermine the concept of permitted transfers without landlord consent. We advise our clients in these instances to push back or limit these conditions as much as possible.  

Other common assignment and subletting provisions should expressly not apply to permitted transfers. These include recapture provisions which allow a landlord to terminate the lease and recapture the space, excess profit provisions which provide that any excess profits realized as the result of a transfer will be shared between landlord and tenant, and administrative fees and reimbursements to landlord which are often charged to tenants in connection with an assignment or subletting request.  Restrictions on transfers should not apply to guarantor entities. Often with private equity, the guarantor is the parent entity and cannot be restricted by a landlord as to transfer, restructuring or reorganization at the top of its organization.

In the case of transfers that do not fall within the definition of “permitted transfers” and require landlord consent, a tenant will want to include language that landlord will not unreasonably withhold, condition, or delay such consent. Other tenant protections should also be considered, including a cap on administrative and review fees reimbursable by tenant to landlord, a reasonably short time period for landlord to approve or disapprove a request (i.e., 30 days) or be deemed to have approved, a reasonably short time period for landlord to exercise recapture rights or be deemed to have approved, and a provision that excess profits will be shared equally rather than all belonging to landlord.

Negotiation of assignment and subletting terms is critical for tenants, particularly with respect to private equity-owned health care tenants. The goal for tenants in negotiating these points is to provide flexibility for addressing future financial and operational needs. As with other highly negotiated lease terms, we recommend addressing assignment and subletting provisions in detail in advance in the letter of intent. This makes expectations of the parties clear, saves time and money by avoiding protracted negotiations, and results in an overall efficient lease negotiation process.

In our next post, we will cover the importance of negotiating maintenance and repair terms and will offer suggestions for limiting a tenant’s exposure.

Allison Zangrilli and Zlata Fayer are Senior Counsel in Epstein Becker Green, P.C.’s Health Care and Life Sciences Group. Allison and Zlata have extensive experience drafting and negotiating commercial leases for clients in a wide variety of industries, including health care, hospitality, real estate and professional services. They focus on leases in medical office, retail and warehouse spaces. They are also experienced in all aspects of real estate matters, including purchases and dispositions, title matters, diligence, and financing.

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