WYSIWYG – Commercial Property

Those who are used to using computers will have come across the acronym WYSIWYG (/WIZ-ee-wig) or ‘what you see is what you get.’ The image you have on the screen will, in theory, be what comes out of your printer; what you see is what you get. I’ve been recently reminded that, with the change of a word, WISYWIG can also remind us that What You Sign Is What you Get.

Last week I met another leaseholder of a retail unit, who I will refer to as Mr Retail, who after spending many years building up a successful business, is approaching the end of his building lease and looking to retire to enjoy the West Country sunshine. However, like the West Country sunshine, this plan may not be so reliable.

Many years previously a lease was signed taking on the unit, agreeing that Mr Retail would keep the building in a good state of repair. Unfortunately for him, the list I prepared on behalf of the landlord, setting out the repairs required to put the premises into  ‘the condition required by the lease’ (dilapidations), amounted to a significant five figure sum which may well scupper those comfortable retirement plans.

The response to the list of works from Mr Retail was familiar: “but the building was in poor order when we moved in.” I pointed out the tenant’s responsibilities in the lease Mr Retail had signed; which required the premises to be repaired, regardless of their condition when the lease was taken on; WYSIWYG. I hope Mr Retail’s retirement plans work out albeit on a reduced budget.

At a recent seminar I attended, the speaker outlined a legal case from last year. Owners of 71 holiday chalets in Wales had signed 99 year leases each agreeing to a £90 service charge, with a £10 per £100 increase per annum. The tenants had come to realise that, with a strict interpretation, this could mean each chalet owner at the end of 99 years could be paying a service charge of over £1m per annum. Faced with service charges outstriping inflation, the tenants protested. But the court decided the lease clauses were correctly interpreted as the natural and ordinary meaning of the words. WYSIWYG.

So, we started with the moral of the story, that what you sign is what you get. Be aware of what you sign, and be ready for what you have committed to. It is not all bad news though. Leases and contracts are there to set out an agreement. As long as you are aware of what you have agreed to you can be certain of what you get.

Whether it is exiting from a lease, entering into a lease or setting out on a building project, know what you have signed up to and plan for the future. Even if you have signed a document you regret, you can know what your costs will be and those costs you may be able to avoid.

Matthew Williams MRICS IMaPS BSc(Hons) Building Surveying, is a Chartered Building Surveyor with Stratton Creber Commercial, specialising in providing Building Consultancy Advice, Building Surveys and managing building projects on South West Commercial Property. Matthew can be contacted on 07834996419