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Opinion

The April 1st Rent Payment Conundrum

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OPINION

By Brad Umansky, President, Progressive Real Estate Partners

It seems that the hottest topic of conversation over the past few days is what to do when a tenant’s business is adversely affected by “the virus”.  Based upon conversations with landlords, tenants and property managers there is no doubt that many tenants and landlords are already thinking about how to handle the April 1st rent payment.  Since we work with both, I’m writing this blog from both perspectives.  Please note that whether you are a tenant or landlord, I encourage you to read the entire blog as there are overlapping ideas in each section.

It is important to recognize that we are in an interdependent economy and that there are many very financially stable tenants as well as some that are struggling and, for those in particular, this crisis will exacerbate the situation.  At the same time there are many well capitalized landlords with the financial capacity to make concessions to help a tenant’s business when warranted, but there may also be less capitalized landlords who are in a similar situation as a struggling tenant.

So hopefully everyone will WORK TOGETHER as fairly as possible to minimize the economic damage that we are all observing and that many are experiencing. With these thoughts in mind, here are my recommendations.

What to Do as a Tenant

  • Be Honest – One problem is that over the past decade many tenants have made it a part of their practice to ask for rent reductions and other concessions just to see if they can extract something from a landlord whether or not the request is warranted resulting in many landlords being skeptical of any request. This “dishonestly” as I see it has damaged the landlord/tenant relationship in many cases. Now is the chance to repair the relationship and honesty is critical so if you really don’t need a concession, don’t ask for one.
  • Be Prepared – If you need a concession, be prepared to provide the landlord with 2019 sales reports and year-to-date 2020 sales so the landlord can review and compare the sales history. Also, if your business is independently owned, be ready to provide personal financial statements. Although your sales may be down, if you are sitting on cash or other liquid assets, you need to be ready to utilize such assets. Understand that having cash doesn’t necessarily mean the landlord won’t work with you. They recognize that you have other obligations, but being forthcoming with all the information will gain significant goodwill with most landlords.
  • Full Disclosure – Be ready to tell the whole story. Is your business currently closed? If so, when did it close? Did you elect to close it or were you mandated to close it? Are you partially open? If so, what are you doing to mitigate your losses? What will a rent concession help you accomplish?
  • Know Your Obligations – Recognize that you signed a binding contract that obligates you to pay a fixed rent whether your business “knocks it out of the park” OR “strikes out”. In my opinion, you should do everything possible to fulfill your contract. That being said, be prepared to be creative. Maybe you have a lease that expires in 2021. It might very well be reasonable to ask for 50% rent relief for the next 6 months if you agree to extend your lease term. Or maybe you can waive certain rights that you have relative to exclusives, rights of first refusal, or prohibiting other uses in the center. Keep in mind, leases are in-depth documents with a lot of provisions. It is not simply the rent and lease term that may be up for negotiation.

What to Do as a Landlord

  • Listen to the Story – Generally speaking I believe that a tenant should pay their rent or leave BUT these are different times. Although I understand that some may be skeptical, there are many hard working independent business owners that are doing everything they can to keep their businesses afloat while also addressing their personal needs. There are also many quality corporate tenants that are simply going to be in a cash flow crunch and are going to need help from numerous parties to get them to the point where their business can recover.
  • Ask for Information – Request 2019 and 2020 monthly sales reports, personal financial statements (if appropriate) and a written description of the status of their business including what they foresee is required to return to normal. For example, they may indicate that the day their business is allowed to re-open, they believe they will be fine OR they may think that even if the world starts to return to normal, it is going to take a while for their business to ramp back up.
  • Request an Offer from the Tenant – Let the tenant tell you what they really need. Is it rent abatement (free rent), a rent concession (discounted rent), or rent deferral (effectively a loan).
  • Communicate – Even if you need some time to think about the tenant’s proposal, make sure you get back to them as quickly as possible. This is a very stressful time and communication will be key. You wouldn’t want a situation where you were about to grant rent relief only to find out that because you waited too long they closed your location and put their resources elsewhere where the ownership was more responsive.
  • Make a Deal – I suggest avoiding giving away anything. If you are going to make a concession, there should be a tradeoff.  Here are some approaches you might take:
    • If you are going to abate the rent or make a rent concession make it contingent upon the tenant fulfilling the balance of their lease term without default. This way they have a greater incentive to stay current once the world improves.
    • In certain circumstances, it might make sense to obtain the right to terminate the tenant’s lease. Make an agreement to allow the tenant a 50% rent discount but you have the right to terminate the lease if you find another user to take their space. This would not be a mutual termination. Only the landlord would have this right. For tenants who could easily relocate to another space if you terminated (i.e. furniture, clothing), this could be a win/win.
    • Defer the rent currently and add it to an extended term. If you gave a tenant a $30,000 concession in 2020, but then increased their rent by $500/month over the 5 years that starts in 2022, this could help you especially if you plan to sell or refinance after 2022 (assuming you believe the tenant will survive).
    • Avoid an agreement that goes too long, but also one that goes too short. It seems pretty obvious that this is not just going to be an April rent problem. It could easily be 4 to 6 months or longer. So instead of going through this dance repeatedly, make a deal that at least covers the next few months so that everyone, including yourself, can plan accordingly. BUT if the tenant asks for concessions for the next 18 months, then I view this as bad faith on their part and negotiating with someone who makes such an ask is usually not someone who warrants a counter offer.
  • Franchisees – If dealing with a franchisee, ask what the franchisor is doing to help. If the franchisor isn’t doing anything, this could tell you that the tenant is bluffing or that the franchisor doesn’t believe in the viability of the tenant either. Also, make sure you get the same sales reports that they send to the franchisor. And, if you agree to provide assistance, make sure the franchisor knows that you helped in case the franchisee just doesn’t survive. In this case, hopefully the franchisor will try and help you find another franchisee since they know you tried to help their brand at your center.

Remember that you can only help those that want to help themselves. Some tenants are simply going to take actions like closing their store and moving their inventory out and then possibly threatening you to make a deal of their liking or they will never reopen. If a tenant does this, you should probably hire an attorney. There is likely not going to be a way to salvage this relationship. You are going to have to pick and choose your battles.

A Few Other Items

  • Insurance – we have discussed with a very knowledgeable advisor whether property or liability insurance held by either the tenant or landlord may be beneficial in this situation. He indicates that with all likelihood it will not be and that most policies have language that “specifically exclude loss caused by virus or bacteria or exclude loss caused by communicable disease.”
  • Federal Programs – there may be some federal and state grant and loan programs that tenants can apply for. The following is a link to the Small Business Administration’s website that provides a lot of guidance regarding Federal programs that are available. This may be helpful to both tenants and landlords. https://www.sba.gov/page/coronavirus-covid-19-small-business-guidance-loan-resources
  • Other Resources – Here is a page that provides resources in California and Los Angeles County https://laedc.org/coronavirus/

I truly hope that this blog is a valuable resource to both tenants and property owners. If we work together in good faith versus as adversaries, I am confident that good relationships, goodwill and positive outcomes will result from this very challenging situation.

The Inland Empire Business Journal (IEBJ) is the official business news publication of Southern California’s Inland Empire region - covering San Bernardino & Riverside Counties.

Opinion

Supply Chain Delays and Strains to Continue through 2022

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OPINION

By Hema Dey, IEBJ Content Contributor

Managing Price Increases

From the start of the pandemic in 2020, businesses have been absorbing ongoing shocks that impacted operations and the bottom line. The supply chain delays and strains everybody hoped would resolve in 2021 seem set to continue through 2022; while the backlog of ships waiting for berths at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach fell to a low of 43 mid-March, experts expect a new surge of goods shipped from Asia after the Lunar New Year to drive those numbers up again. After that, the situation is unclear—the latest lockdowns in Shenzhen threaten to cut off supplies of parts and products when U.S. businesses are already starved from ongoing shortages.

At the same time, the war in Ukraine and sanctions on Russian oil are driving already-high fuel prices even higher around the world. While experts disagree on whether we can expect gas prices to keep climbing or that they’re near their peak, it’s clear significant relief is unlikely soon. That additional expense is unwelcome news for businesses of all kinds.

Knowing the current difficulties will be part of the landscape for the foreseeable future has brought many companies to the unavoidable conclusion that they have to raise their prices to stay in business. If you’ve delayed making changes in the hope that things would pass, you’re certainly not alone—but if you’re coming to the realization that you can’t wait to adjust your prices to reality anymore, then you’re not alone there either.

The Right Way to Handle Raising Prices

When raising your prices is a necessity, how you approach it can make a significant impact on minimizing any negative fallout. Your customers are naturally not going to be happy about seeing their costs go up. Anticipating such dissatisfaction is one reason why businesses put off making price adjustments much longer than they should. However, postponing the inevitable can harm your business and won’t change the factors that make an increase necessary. Here’s what you should be doing to manage price increases wisely.

The first thing to remember is that price increases don’t happen in a vacuum. Beyond simply considering the pressures on your business in terms of your growing costs, you need to know what your competitors are doing, and you need to find out fast. If your proposed price increases are wildly out of line with what the rest of your competition is doing, you could easily lose market share. We can assist in getting an up-to-date view on the moves your competitors are making to help you factor in this critical angle.

Next, you shouldn’t delay price increases, but you should also keep them realistic. Deferring the inevitable will weaken your business’s financial position and increase the pressure to put even higher prices in place when you finally do act. At the same time, you must keep in mind that your customers are almost certainly experiencing the effects of increased fuel costs and higher shipping rates just like you are. When clients feel like a business is taking advantage of a general atmosphere of inflation to boost their own profits at the expense of their customer base, they’re rarely quiet about it. Stick to doing what you have to do to keep your business healthy, and don’t be tempted to pad it.

Finally, this is absolutely the time to revisit your marketing strategy. When prices go up, buyer behavior changes. Review all your keyword searches to understand how these fluctuations may be affecting traffic to your website. Repositioning your business accordingly can help avoid unexpected hits to your sales and leads, and may even lead to new opportunities. 

Seeking Guidance

Trying to adjust to the current economic challenges can feel overwhelming for business owners. You don’t have to go it alone when you’re contemplating significant changes like raising your prices—calling in an expert consultant can give you confidence that you’re taking the right steps for the long-term good of your company and your customers. If you need benchmarking assistance, contact Iffel International here. We can help you take the right steps down a difficult road.

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Banking & Financial Services

Q&A Session with Black Cooperative Investment Fund Executive Director—Kaine Nicholas

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Q&A with Kaine Nicholas, Executive Director of Black Cooperative Investment Fund

By Josaline Cuesta, Small Business Majority, Senior California Program Manager, and IEBJ Contributor

Why is financial literacy important for small business owners? What are the pillars of financial literacy?

Financial literacy is the comfort level one may have with topics related to money and its management. Financial literacy is critical to success, and it’s where everything begins for small business owners.  

At the beginning of a business venture, an entrepreneur can be cash-challenged and relatively inexperienced in practical business versus theory. It is important that while learning the business terrain, entrepreneurs have at the very least, a baseline of financial literacy to question documents and do calculations or have support to negotiate effective business terms. Any terms that are negotiated at the beginning of a venture can significantly affect the projections or the valuation of a business. These effects can vary widely, depending on the comfort level of financial literacy. 

The pillars of financial literacy are banking, budgeting, saving, credit, debt, and investing. What matters most to small business owners is budgeting, banking, and credit, and we recommend focusing on that order for small business owners. Understanding the numbers, having the assets with banking partners that can offer solutions, and building business and personal credit are all imperative to small business owners. BCIF and its trusted partner, AmPac Business Capital can help everyone gain a firm awareness of these pillars.

What’s needed to create a strong financial plan?

What is needed to make a strong financial plan is the actions that happen alongside writing the actual financial plan. While one may be uncertain of the “hockey stick” or optimistic revenue, what people can control is the cost. Know those costs and how they change in a good, better, or best scenario to keep you prepared.  

No one likes surprises. There is security and comfort in knowing that costs are consistent and predictable. Spend time conducting the research and use due diligence so that you and the financial partners understand the financial plan and financial statements. 

What’s in a business plan, and why is having one essential for a small business owner? 

A business plan is a document that, at its most basic level, can help small business owners navigate the who, what, where, why, and how to generate income with a product or service. The business plan tells the reader that this “document” is your prototype on paper. The business plan also helps readers understand the basic valuation of your business. 

If your business plan is on paper, does it articulate the vision, or is it a requirement for a loan program? The business plan is important because it represents as the creator of the business. Thinking business out on paper can reduce mistakes in real-world execution.  

What’s the best way to document and share major changes to a business plan with your financial advisor and employees, such as becoming a corporation or expanding to another state? 

Ensure the establishment of company meetings and hold them routinely, preferably with quarterly updates. This allows stakeholders to receive firm-wide public information and establishes communication between leadership, management, and employees. 

What are some tips for thinking strategically about cash flow?  

One tip is to understand what is in the pipeline and/or accounts receivables and monitor subscriber trends to your products or solutions. When I ask business owners how their business is doing, they usually respond with, “it’s going well.”  And I always ask myself, what does that really mean, and is the owner aware of the items that support healthy cash flow?

Is a personal credit score relevant to small business success? What defines a “good credit score” and how can you maintain one?

Personal credit is relevant to businesses at the earlier stages of a business. If used correctly, one should leverage good credit and create business credit as soon as possible. Personal credit and business credit are created differently and operate differently. That difference can be critical to accessing capital. Unfortunately, a “good credit score” is not universal. We recommend owners investigate the potential creditor by asking what numerical score and credit history on the credit report will produce a favorable outcome. A credit score and credit report are two components that contribute to a sizable credit decision. With that information, the small business owners have a credit “road map.” What is most important is that the business owner is proactive in the credit conversation. One can maintain and learn more with one of BCIF’s trusted partners, AmPac Business Capital.  

What are the top three easy-to-navigate business loans for a startup business? Do the types of loans that are needed change in your 2nd or 3rd year of business?

The top and the easiest loan is a zero-interest loan based on an alternative way of evaluating personal credit and traditional risk models. If one can find a small business loan that targets a certain demographic or type of business, that should be extremely helpful. Third, look for a small business loan that can be forgiven. 

The types of loans that could change in your second or third year of business can be tricky. Business success and loan/funding gaps require careful consideration, but most important, predictability. 

How will I know that a financial literacy resource is proven and credible?

Financial literacy is a journey. One way to affirm credibility is to compare it to your financial situation. Always have a backup resource for validation.

How can the average entrepreneur improve their financial literacy?

This is an important and critical question that I will answer in an alternative, more direct way. I strongly recommend these three words as ways to improve personal and business financial literacy:

  • Curiosity
  • Humility
  • Discipline

Start with opening your mail and being curious about the words that you do not understand in your statements. Call the service number and ask the person to explain what these words mean regarding your account. It sounds simple, but it truly is a free lesson that benefits your personal or professional situation. The information is memorable because the asker is learning even when configuring the question. (Do not forget your tax person or accountant.   They are your resources).

Humility helps your behavior when you ask a question, and you partially know the answer, but you ask questions to attain mastery.  

Lastly, you must be disciplined and determined when you call the service line or account representative when you do not fully understand a financial term. Do not feel like you are wasting their time asking basic questions. If they have chosen to do business, service your needs, or hold your money, you are only using your mutual rights within the relationship. 

What is the best way to stay abreast of COVID relief funds and resources in the Inland Empire area?

Contact the Black Cooperative Investment Fund (BCIF) at www.bcifund.org, 310-904-6336, reach out to our partner, AmPac Business Capital at www.ampac.com, or visit Venturize: https://venturize.org/—Small Business Majority’s free online resource hub for small business owners who need help accessing tools and resources to grow their businesses.

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Opinion

City of Ontario adopts updated Housing Element to help address housing – and affordability – crisis across Southern California

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The Ontario City Council Tuesday night adopted an aggressive plan that would position the City to lead the Inland Empire in addressing the housing crisis.

Ontario’s updated Housing Element lays out a series of planning and zoning changes that would allow the building of more than 20,000 housing units over an eight-year period ending in October 2029, including nearly 9,000 units for low-income and very low-income residents.

Those numbers represent Ontario’s allocation under the state-mandated Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) – a process governed by the state Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) and updated every eight years to address the housing shortage across California.

No Inland Empire city had a higher RHNA allocation than Ontario – testament to the City’s standing as one of the most dynamic economic and population centers in Southern California. Across the six-county SoCal region, in fact, only three cities – Los Angeles, Long Beach and Irvine – had higher allocations.

“Our updated Housing Element reflects the City Council’s commitment to Ontario as a complete community and a destination for individuals and families looking for a better quality of life,” said Mayor Paul S. Leon.

Under state guidelines, Housing Elements do not require a city to build their allocated number of housing units. That is ultimately determined by market forces, point-in-time demand and the ability of homebuilders themselves to meet those needs at the appropriate price points.

What HCD does require is that cities establish a framework that would allow that level of production if those other factors were met.

The updated Housing Element approved by Ontario’s City Council was built around several priorities:

  • Addressing the needs of existing Ontario residents for quality and affordable housing at all income levels.
  • Ensuring that the city’s housing stock matches the type, price and tenure needed by Ontario’s residents and workforce.
  • Creating, preserving and (where needed) improving the quality and identity of Ontario’s distinct neighborhoods.
  • Assisting residents of all ages and backgrounds to allow them to live, work and enjoy themselves and their families in Ontario.
  • Obtaining financing for affordable housing as tax credits become more competitive and make it more difficult to obtain financing for affordable housing.

The plan also takes into account job growth and the City’s commitment to supporting business and employment opportunities. During Tuesday’s meeting, the Council certified the Environmental Impact Report for the South Ontario Logistics Center, which will create hundreds of new jobs on more than 200 acres of commercial and industrial space.

Other major economic development efforts in the City include the Downtown Renaissance, which, when completed, will include nearly 600 new residential units, 13,000 square feet of commercial space, a 450-space parking structure, breweries and tasting rooms, and college satellite campuses.

“The vision and leadership of our Council and City staff have made Ontario a model for business growth, career opportunities and livability. The future has never been brighter,” said Mayor pro Tem Alan D. Wapner.

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