Who’s the Boss? The Tenant or the Landlord?

Sometimes, as architects, we’re called in to work on behalf of the landlord. Other times we are hired by the tenant directly. And then there are those projects for which you have to walk the fine line of assisting both. It’s then that the question arises … who’s the boss?

When it comes to landlords and tenants, quite often they each have their own views and interests in mind. In spite of different frames of reference, there are similarities between the two and, of course, they have the same ultimate goal: a happily occupied office space. It’s up to a third party—such as the architect—to be a positive buffer and help them find that common ground, pointing out where their interests intersect.

Often, the relationship starts off on one side. We begin working with a tenant, for instance, after competing for, and being awarded, a project. As part of the tenant’s team, we assist him in finding a home. It could be as small as 10,000 square feet or as large as a 70,000-square-foot headquarters. As the search goes on, we do all we are supposed to do to support the effort. Then we come across a space that appears to be the perfect fit for our client. We’re there with the broker, the tenant and his decision-making team, and of course the landlord when the conversation arises: “Hey, we could do this as a turnkey for you.” The client turns to us for a translation. We explain that a turnkey solution is essentially an all-in-one method of moving into a previously occupied office.

How does it work? The landlord typically takes on the coordination role—contracting and overseeing the design, building and construction needs of the tenant for one bundled price—eliminating the tenant’s responsibility for shopping around for an engineer, an expediter and other tradespeople. The tenant, with the exception of any requested upgrades, knows exactly what finishes and materials they will get.

While the cost to the tenant is likely the same over the course of the lease, the up-front expenses and time investment are typically less. As the name implies, the tenant needs to do little more than just turn the key and move on in.

Turnkey projects are a classic example of the shift in the dynamic I’m referring to. As the landlord does the heavy lifting of getting the space tenant-ready, it is confronted with a choice—keeping us on and continuing the relationship or using its own building architect. If the transition is made, we enter into the more complex situation of having two bosses. While our initial client is still the tenant, clearly we must be loyal to the landlord as well. That’s where project managers, designers and the support team come in. They are what I call the “positive politicians” on the job—negotiating that middle ground and drawing lines in the sand for all to see.

Being on the side of the tenant while supporting facility managers, directors and landlords is a delicate balancing act, but one that can be achieved with a little finesse. As the trusted advocate, an architect can assist a tenant from before a deal is done right on through occupancy, while serving the landlord equally well.

With a bit of objectivity, neither party will need to question who the boss is—they’ll be too busy celebrating their mutual success.

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