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Retail owners must be proactive in working with tenants that have been shutdown due to social distancing restrictions—but they also need to be nimble, according to real estate attorney Chris Rizza. As more information is learned about the COVID-19 virus, plans and procedures must be regularly updated.

Information is still being gathered about COVID-19, so responses to it have been fluid at best—with guidelines and best practices requiring constant updates," Rizza, an attorney at Crosbie Gliner Schiffman Southard & Swanson, tells "The duties and obligations of a landlord or property manager regarding limiting tenants' and guests' risk of exposure to the virus depends on what stores and services the landlord or property manager provides at the property."

Today, owners should be implementing best practices and working with tenants facing challenges. "Landlords and property managers should start by applying best practices for communications and health and safety—and carefully assess contractual obligations of all types with legal counsel," says Rizza. "When negotiating leases, provisions to consider include force majeure, occupancy and tenancy requirements, gross sales kick-out/termination rights, rental loss insurance and business interruption insurance requirements, liability issues, and rent relief considerations."

In addition, companies must be practicing strict health and safety protocols within the office and shopping center. "One thing is for certain: if a tenant or employee is tested positive for COVID-19, immediately report this to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and your county public health officials and follow all CDC/health official guidelines," says Rizza.

All cases must be properly reported, while also protecting privacy information. "Inform all building tenants of a confirmed case in the facility but do not disclose the patient's personal information as is required by the Americans with Disabilities Act. Clearly communicate to the affected tenant that they must follow the CDC guidelines with regard to sick employees."

Owners are actually well positioned to be part of the fight against the virus. "Transparency and education are a key weapon in the fight against COVID-19—and landlords and property managers can play a major role in preventing the contamination of a building," says Rizza. "A landlord has both a legal and societal obligation to act reasonably to protect the health and safety of its tenants and to avoid actions that are either negligent or reckless with regard to the health and safety of those tenants."

Lastly, Rizza recommends owners appoint a contact for tenants to call and funnel questions. "Consider appointing a point of contact for distributing information to tenants relating to the novel coronavirus," says Rizza. "Always refer tenants to appropriate channels such as the CDC and the World Health Organization's website."


Kelsi Maree Borland

Kelsi Maree Borland is a freelance journalist and magazine writer based in Los Angeles, California. For more than 5 years, she has extensively reported on the commercial real estate industry, covering major deals across all commercial asset classes, investment strategy and capital markets trends, market commentary, economic trends and new technologies disrupting and revolutionizing the industry. Her work appears daily on and regularly in Real Estate Forum Magazine. As a magazine writer, she covers lifestyle and travel trends. Her work has appeared in Angeleno, Los Angeles Magazine, Travel and Leisure and more.