Saturday, March 24, 2012

Movin’ On Up

by Jennifer Roberts

I spent a few days this week helping a friend who got into a jam when he moved from one rented commercial space to another. This friend is not a metal clay artisan. He's an artist of a different sort, dealing in bicycles, community events, and community art. He moved out of his last location and heard absolutely no complaints from his former landlord about anything, including a mural placed on the building by agreement as part of a large-scale revitalization project. He heard nothing, that is, until he was served with a lawsuit.

I’ve assisted many artists over the years with their legal woes and this situation is far and away the most common. Two things tend to get in the way of making sure the exit from a former studio or storefront is hassle-free. First, the old space is not the new space. It’s not the exciting prospect of more room or a better location or a shiny new place to live and work. Dealing with the details of leaving isn’t exactly fun. Second, if you aren’t leaving the space exactly as you found it, there may be an element of fear. It’s kind of like not wanting to look at your thumb after you just smashed it to smithereens with a hammer. But like so many things, dealing with a problem up front usually gets far better results.

So, here are some things to remember when you move out of your current space and into the new digs:

1) You have the power of documentation. Clean it up, fix it up, and take date/time stamped pictures. If possible, do a walk-through with your landlord before you leave. Even better, film that walk-thorough.

2) There are likely protections in your lease. It’s a rare lease that doesn’t provide some mechanism by which each party must let the other know of a problem before they can be held accountable for it. This must usually be done in writing and you almost always have time to fix the problem. These sorts of provisions come into play most often in the case of alterations, such as moving a wall, venting your kiln, or putting up a sign. These notice procedures prevent your landlord from saying nothing and then suing later you when you are no longer capable of doing any work on the space yourself.

3) There may be protections in state or local law. In Texas, commercial landlords must return security deposits within 60 days and/or provide a written statement explaining how much was withheld and why. Failure to do so can leave the landlord liable for damages of more than three times the security deposit, plus your attorney’s fees. It may also cause the landlord to lose the ability to sue for “damage” to a space (in our case a mural lately described as "graffiti.") You landlord may be able to withhold some or all of your deposit, but he or she most likely has to tell you why. In writing and on time. Or else.

Thinking about these things before you vacate your old space can be the difference between spending your valuable time and energy on a lawsuit or devoting it to your next beautiful creation.

Disclaimer: The materials available on this blog are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. You should contact your attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular issue or problem. Use of this blog or any of the e-mail links within does not create an attorney-client relationship of any kind.

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