Buying & Selling Businesses

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Commercial/Retail Leases

What is a Lease?

A lease is a legal agreement between a landlord (or ‘lessor’) and tenant (or ‘lessee’) for use of the landlord’s business premises.

When does a lease commence?

A lease generally commences when both parties have signed it. After the lease is signed, neither party can end it without the other’s consent.

However, a lease is valid even if a lease has not been signed if the tenant :

  • takes possession of the premises; or
  •  begins to pay rent

It is good business practice not to pay rent or open for business until the lease has been signed. 

What should be included in a lease?

A lease should include:

  • the start and end date;
  • a description of the premises;
  • how much the rent is;
  • by how much the rent can be changed;
  • the type of business;
  • outgoings the tenant must pay;
  • what bond, security or guarantee is required;
  • who is to repair and maintain the property and equipment;
  • core trading hours (when the premises must be open for business).


What is the Lease Period?

A lease with fair terms and a long lease period is an asset for both parties. 

The lease period is the length of time the tenant rents the premises. It may also an option to renew or extend the period.

Schedule 1 of the Retail Leases Act 1994 (“the Act”) lists categories of businesses to which the Act applies. 

What is Permitted Use?

“Permitted use” is the type of business you can run from the premises.

Before signing the lease, you must ensure that the council permits the premises to be used for the type of business you intend to run. If your intended use of the premises is not permitted, you must seek the landlord’s and the council’s consent.

You should ensure that the description of the permitted use of the premises in the lease and the landlord’s disclosure statement is broad enough to allow you to expand and sell the business.

When buying a business and taking over a lease, you should not rely on the landlord’s verbal assurances that your intended use of the premises is permitted. You should confirm this by making enquiries with the council.  

What is a Shopping Centre Lease?

A ‘shopping centre’ as defined by the Act is a cluster of shops:

  • owned by the same person where at least five shops are used for retail business; and
  • regarded or promoted as a centre, mall, court or arcade.

Issues when commencing a lease in a shopping centre include:

  • you may be required to contribute to the cost of advertising and promoting the shopping centre;
  • you can not be required to promote or advertise their business;
  • you can not be prevented from conducting business outside the centre;
  • the landlord can not change the centre’s core trading hours without the written agreement of a majority of shops.

What are some costs of Leasing?

Lease preparation

The landlord pays for preparation of the lease unless you ask for changes after you have returned the tenant’s disclosure statement to the landlord. 

You pay transfer duty and fees for registering the lease. The Act requires leases with a period of over three years (including an option) to be registered.


The tenant is usually responsible for the cost of installing fixtures and fittings (‘the fitout’). Shopping centres usually specify standards of construction for fitouts.

Tenants may also be responsible for some/all of the landlord’s costs of preparing the shop for the fitout (‘landlord’s works’). The landlord’s disclosure statement must state whether the tenant pays these costs. The tenant must agree in writing to the maximum cost of landlord’s works before commencing the lease.

The tenant should ensure that they:

  • know what expenses they will incur in preparing the shop to trade and
  • follow the fitout standard specified by the lease.

The tenant should:

  • check whether the landlord has nominated them as the principal contractor for any fitout works; and
  • become familiar with their occupational health and safety responsibilities.

Payment of Rent

Rent is one of your biggest ongoing costs and is normally paid monthly in advance.

If the lease says you will keep actively trading in the lease period, during that period you:

  • can not close the business;
  • must use the premises only for the permitted use; and
  • must pay the rent despite any financial problems.

If you do not pay the rent on time, the landlord may lock them out or end the lease without notice.

Changing the Rent

The lease states when and how rent can be changed.

If the lease says that the rent is set at current market value and you and the landlord cannot agree what that is, the Act provides that a specialist retail valuer appointed by the NSW Civil and Administrative Decisions Tribunal (‘NCAT’). determines the rent. You and the landlord equally share payment of the valuer’s costs.  


Outgoings are the landlord’s expenses that you have agreed to pay under the lease.

The Act says that outgoings must be:

  • directly and reasonably related to the premises being leased; and
  • attributable to the operation, maintenance or repair of the building/shopping centre.


The landlord may ask you for security when negotiating the lease, which may be:

  • a cash bond;
  • a third party guarantee (a third party promises to pay the landlord if you break the lease); or
  • a bank guarantee (your bank promises to pay the landlord up to an agreed amount if you break the lease). You must usually give the bank security to obtain a bank guarantee.

Cash Bond

If you agree to pay the landlord a cash bond as security, within 20 business days the landlord must deposit the bond with the NSW Government’s Retail Bond Scheme, which holds it in trust.

The advantages of giving the landlord a cash bond include:

  • it is held by the NSW Government;
  • there are no fees;
  • unlike most third party guarantees, it is for a specified amount,
  • unlike most third party and bank guarantees, it can not without your agreement be called on before the lease ends;
  • there are legal procedures for paying out bond money at the end of the lease and for disputes, which can help minimise your costs.

Landlord’s Intended Works

Before you sign the lease the landlord must tell you in writing whether they intend to do any works that may disrupt your business.

Disclosure statements

The Act requires that you and the landlord give each other a disclosure statement using a specific form.

If you are unsure about the meaning or implications of any aspect of the landlord’s disclosure statement you should consider seeking legal and/or financial advice.

What can we do for you?

We check the landlord’s disclosure statement for:

  • the annual sales of the centre;
  • the turnover for specialty shops of your kind per square metre;
  • the centre traffic count;
  • fitout details;
  • construction standards; and
  • when the leases for major tenants end.

We check that the landlord’s disclosure statement includes:

  • all the agreements reached during negotiation; and
  • any promises made by the landlord

and if necessary request a new disclosure statement.

The tenant’s disclosure statement must say if:

  • you have received the landlord’s disclosure statement;
  • you have a draft lease;
  • you have had professional advice about your lease obligations;
  • you can meet your obligations; and
  • the landlord has made any other agreements or representations to you and if so their details.

The tenant’s disclosure statement should note all the verbal commitments the landlord or their agent made to you. You should therefore tell us and we will write in the tenant’s disclosure statement all verbal commitments the landlord has made to you about the premises, such as:

  • the level of passing trade;
  • the tenancy mix;
  • any works they expect to do that may disrupt your business;
  • your right to be the only retailer selling particular products or services.

We ensure that:

  • you receive a landlord’s disclosure statement at least seven days before you begin a new lease; 
  • the tenant’s disclosure statement is provided to the landlord within seven days after you have received the landlord’s disclosure statement.

If you plan to enter into or assign a retail lease for premises such as a shop, for a reasonable fixed fee for professional costs we will advise and represent you and deal with the landlord on your behalf. This includes:

  • checking whether the type and size of the shop require that the lease complies with the Act;
  • asking the landlord detailed questions about the impact on your business of any expected development of the building/shopping centre if the landlord’s disclosure statement contains insufficient detail;
  • checking that your business is a type permitted in the premises;
  • reviewing and explaining the terms of the proposed lease and associated documents (including opening hours, lessee’s/assignee’s and lessor’s/assignor’s disclosure statements, penalties for breaching terms of the lease, interest rates for late payment of rent, insurance required, whether the landlord requires a bond or a guarantee, the number and length of options, minimum required notice to the lessor if you wish to take up an option etc.).

We negotiate with the landlord as required (e.g. ground rules for rent increases, interest rates, number and period of options, period within which tenant can exercise option), witnessing your signature and facilitating registration of the lease with NSW Land Registry Services.

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