Monday, November 28, 2011

Camping Restrictions in Leases

Here is some video I recently shot of the Occupy Seattle protest that has taken up residence on the campus of Seattle Central Community College.  Located in the Capitol Hill area of Seattle, this neighborhood on Broadway and Pine Street is heavily commercial.  Local businesses are not happy with the Seattle encampment, echoing the same opinions from other cities.

The protesters chose this location after being evicted from Westlake Center Park because the college administration had no legal rights to evict campers from the campus.  Apparently, no school official or member of the Board of Trustees that regulates such educational institutions had ever thought of adding a "No Camping" restriction to the usual public protests that are drawn to universities.  An emergency vote of the SCCC Board needed to be taken just to get the legal right to file an eviction proceeding in district court.

The administration has legally moved to evict the Occupy Seattle protesters but the tents and debris are still on the campus tonight.

This example, along with the highly negative occupation experience of Brookfield Office Properties and their privately owned Zuccotti Park in Manhattan where the Occupy movement began, should encourage every property owner to check their commercial and residential leases for express NO CAMPING clauses.

If I was writing such a lease, I'd draft not just the words ("No Camping or Outdoor Sleeping Overnight") but also ban all the indicia of camping, like tents, sleeping bags, portable stoves, generators, and the like.

Despite the chantings of the 99%, this review of commercial leases should prove a financial windfall to the 1% who are the partners in the law firms that do this work.  If I ran a commercial real estate practice, I'd be sending out friendly "Dear Client, I just checked your lease agreement and guess what I found?" letters to every lessor I knew---here, near, and far.

But what if you are a small real estate property owner with apartment buildings or even single family homes?  YOU NEED TO CHECK YOUR LEASES MOST OF ALL.  Brookfield Properties can afford high legal bills to evict tenants but many small owners obviously cannot.

My reading of some residential leases over the last few days have very weak provisions with respect to camping in yards, in courtyards, even parking lots.  No one really has given this need or provision a great deal of thought.  The bottom line, however, is simple.

If you give a tenant use of a public space, you need to carefully regulate the use of that space.

For example, if you let your tenants use the backyard of your apartment building for reading and even cooking (assume a BBQ pit), what stops one of them from inviting some friends to live in his backyard? You might say the lease has been breached, but how?  You gave the tenant use but did not regulate what use is permissible.  One lease I saw said spaces could be used 24/7 so long as the use was "quiet and not bothersome to others."  So if someone is sleeping in the backyard and not making noise is there a breach of the lease?

Check those leases now before you need to check them later.  Ask Seattle Central Community College and its Board of Trustees.