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In other words, you cannot abandon your commercial space - you must occupy your premises, or face the consequences of lease default. Leaving prior to the natural expiry of the lease is typically referred to as a going dark clause.
[update: have you abandoned your commercial space due to the Corona virus? Here is our new post on your lease in a COVID-19 world]
It is typically a retail lease clause in which a landlord is concerned about the image of the property.
The landlord's concern is that they want to show that they are vibrant, thriving retail community and it's simply not good for business if there are too many stores that have their lights off and it is deemed that they are going out of business.
Not only does it look bad for the general public, but it tends to put more leverage in the hands of tenants and prospective tenants when negotiating leases (empty stores = lower offering rents from tenants).
Typically the tenant's lack of a right to abandon their space shows up in the Events of Default section of their lease.
If a tenant has vacated their lease they will be in default and then the default penalty kicks in - in most cases it is 3 months' rent immediately due and payable. In more extreme cases, the entire remaining rental balance of the lease is due.
Keep in mind that going dark is a moot point if your business goes out of business - you are not paying rent anyway.
But what if you are simply moving to a better location before the end of your lease? What if business is booming and you need more space and the landlord does not have expansion space for you? What if you acquire another company or are acquired and you need a larger premises?
Let's say you have 6 months left on your lease and find a much better location. Since you have a trailing obligation, the new landlord offers you 6 months of free rent to offset your existing rental commitment.
Except that you may have to pay the last 6 months of rent immediately. Moreover, if you have this clause and are an office or industrial tenant there is no walk-by traffic and you are not really violating the spirit of the clause in the first place - keeping up appearances.
This should be more clearly outlined in the lease. Thirty (30) consecutive days is a normal threshold. It can get complicated if the business owner takes long vacations or is a seasonal business.
The challenge for a landlord in determining abandonment is in presumed abandonment vs actual abandonment.
In the case of office space, it is nearly impossible for a landlord to know if or when a tenant vacated, but as long as the rent is being paid in that case, most office landlords should not care.
Most landlords may not.
As long as they are getting their rent there may not be any issues. But if you are exiting your business relationship with your current landlord they may have sour grapes and may flex as much muscle as the lease allows for.
When negotiating your next commercial lease, look at the tenant default section. Strike out the lack of ability to abandon the premises.
If you have any questions about your going dark clause, let us know. Here is a video that describes our process for evaluating your doing dark clause (warning - it's super duper serious).