Before you sign a lease on a space, you will want to make sure that you are not violating any environmental regulations and potentially even get an environmental inspection of the space. Here are some things to consider about environmental laws, the consequences for violating them, and what types of businesses should be concerned, as outlined in the article “Environmental Issues in Commercial Spaces”:
There are laws at the federal, state, and local level that combat contamination by hazardous waste and other byproducts created by companies. Here are a few pieces of legislation your business should be familiar with if you handle anything that could qualify as hazardous:
- The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976
- Clean Air Act
- Toxic Substances Control Act
- Occupational Safety and Health Act
- Federal Water Pollution Control Act
These laws deal with chemical contamination of various kinds, including from underground tanks and other storage containers, as well as air pollution and the safety of employees when handling dangerous substances. You might want to look into local laws that are instituted only in your area as well.
Consequences of Violating Environmental Laws
Here are a few potential consequences to consider:
- Safety and Lawsuits – The most obvious reason to be concerned about environmental contamination is because it directly affects your health, your employees’ health, the health of your customers, and the health of your community. An environmental disaster could be both personally and legally devastating to deal with, particularly if employees, customers or community members decide to sue your business.
- Clean-up Costs – You might have to pay the bill for the clean up of any sort of contamination, even if you were only partially responsible for it. For instance, if you had a leak from storage tanks that other tenants had been using for years, the responsibility will be fully on you. Government agencies are capable of demanding payment solely from you, bypassing your landlord or other tenants who might have been the original source of the problem.
- “Compliance with all laws” clause – Most leases include this clause, which holds you responsible for any contamination issues that may arise during your lease term, regardless of whether or not you were aware of the problem, or if the leak began before you moved into the space.
Types of Businesses With Potential Contamination Problems
A lot of businesses will never have to worry about these issues, but businesses in the following situations need to be extra aware:
- Businesses that work with potentially toxic substances – remember that even if you only make a small contribution to a larger problem, you could still be held financially responsible.
- Spaces near gas stations or former gas stations, where underground tanks could potentially leak into surrounding soil.
- Businesses considering large remodeling projects that involve digging – i.e. paving a parking lot or building an addition to a building.
- Spaces where prior neightbors or tenants worked with toxic materials – i.e. mechanics or dry cleaners.
- Properties on or near a marsh or wetland – these areas are usually carefully watched by the EPA
- Buildings with already existing problems that could continue to deteriorate, such as asbestos or bad paint.
Even if your business does not work directly with toxic substances, it is still good to be vigilant about other scenarios that could lead to environmental problems, such as former tenants, any storage in the ground around you, or just a poorly maintained property. Environmental issues tend to generate heated responses from the public and government officials, so do your best to prevent anything from happening on your watch.