Once you've narrowed your search to a particular space for your business, you'll want to make sure that it's really appropriate in terms of location, size, rent, applicable zoning laws, and your design needs. If you're renting a small space in an office building, you may be confident that the space (and the prospective landlord) are just right, and you're ready to sign a lease. But for some businesses, especially those renting industrial space in a building where polluting substances such as solvents may have been used, you'll need to do some additional work, such as arranging an environmental inspection, before you sign a lease. Here's why (and when) you should be concerned.
Many powerful federal and state laws (and some local laws) target environmental contamination and hazardous substances, including: petroleum-based products and solvents; natural and synthetic gases; PCBs; asbestos; sewage, garbage, and waste products from health care facilities or offices; lead-based paint; and other biological or chemical toxins.
The federal government prohibits, monitors, and regulates environmental contamination via two hefty pieces of legislation:
Other federal laws that may apply to the property that you are leasing or the operation you intend to run, include the Clean Air Act, the Toxic Substances Control Act, the Occupational Safety and Health Act, and the Federal Water Pollution Control Act. Also, many states (and some localities) have enacted their own environmental statutes and regulations that may be more stringent and far-reaching.
For more information, check out the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) website which includes links to all federal legislation concerning the environment, a small business section that includes frequently asked questions, plus a listing of state and local offices.
Your concern for the environment, your health, and that of customers and employees is certainly motivation enough to check out potential problems. But if that's not sufficient, consider this: If an environmental pollution problem lands on your doorstep, you have a legal problem of significant proportions. Here's why:
Many tenants won't have to worry at all about environmental contamination. Those who rent space in multilevel office buildings, for example, are unlikely to encounter problems with pollutants in the ground. Well-maintained properties, with insulation and paint in good repair, won't usually pose a health risk to employees and customers.
You'll need to be especially aware of possible environmental problems (and liability) in the following situations:
Even if none of these situations affect your rental space, be especially vigilant if you're renting in a building near a school, playground, or recreational area where children spend large amounts of time. Parents and public officials will be quick to respond to any hint of pollution nearby. If the source is traced to your rented premises, the government will be under pressure to make the owner (and possibly the tenants) deal with the problem quickly and effectively.
This article was excerpted from Negotiate the Best Lease for Your Business by Janet Portman.