Can buildings ever be healthy? If so, what should be considered when taking a business lease? The healthy building movement looks like it is here to stay and the Well Building Standard (WELL) is undoubtedly the most globally recognised metric, governing what health driven features need to be included.
Cundall Engineers were the first occupiers to achieve a WELL certification for their premises in Europe, and the International Well Building Institute now confirms there are five buildings certified in the UK and over 30 properties registered for certification here. As the landscape changes, landlords and tenants need to think carefully about what questions should be covered at the due diligence stage, and then what additional obligations need to be imposed in leases. This is a new journey for all concerned.
An Information shortfall
Currently, the existing framework for pre-contract enquiries is set out in the commercial property standard enquiries (CPSEs) endorsed by the BPF and PLC. Where a tenant wants to comply with the WELL Building Standard, then these enquiries would fall considerably short in obtaining the base level of information necessary from the landlord.
The second, more recent, version of the WELL Building Standard has ten categories – air, light, water, thermal comfort, movement, nourishment, sound, materials, community and mind. It is really the first four categories here that are relevant and relate to the physical aspects of the building in question (metrics such as mind, movement and nourishment are more behavioural and relate to a company’s policy once it takes occupation).
Question the detail
If considering a WELL certification, there is a strong case for organising a more detailed specialist survey and inspection before the lease is signed. However, the CPSE’s only reference to “health” in relation to a property is on specific questions around asbestos, EPCs and a vague reference to the health and safety file. It is vital to ask supplementary enquiries of the landlord concerning air quality. These would cover heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems as well as any air filtration systems. These are relevant; not only to the proposed space to be taken, but also in relation to the common parts in the remainder of the building.
The landlord’s processes for cleaning, pesticide management and micro-mould control need to be understood. Questions need to be asked too on paints, sealants, adhesive and flooring particularly after recent works. It is all about understanding the level of Volatile Organic Compounds in the air (VOCs) – which can be harmful to health if they are at high levels in the proposed area to be let and the common parts too of the building with the ability to migrate into the area to be occupied.
Questions about the water quality also need to be addressed at the pre-contract stage. A tenant should not have to itself fund the installation of additional water filters where there is an unusually high level of nickel or other chemical in the water entering a building. Similarly, levels of sound installation may typically be poor and this may also involve a tenant having to spend more money rather than have a dialogue with the landlord at an early stage.
Let there be light
Finally, assessments may need to be undertaken in relation to light, to understand whether there are, in fact, sufficient levels of daylight while at the other end of the spectrum ensuring that there is not too much glare. The size and location of windows can be very relevant here.
Where enhanced due diligence and surveys reveal areas of concern for the tenant, these can be directly addressed in the lease. In event of poor quality water, as well as recording who pays for any filters, a landlord should be placed under an obligation to maintain the requisite water quality entering the building. In relation to air quality of common areas, the landlord should be placed under an obligation to ensure safe cleaning protocol and pest control and to maintain air conditioning ventilation systems to a high standard.
Safeguard your future
There may even need to be an obligation on the landlord to test the air quality of the common parts and maintain it to a high level, in particular being cognizant of safeguarding the main entrance to the building. The tenant should seek a wider obligation on the part of the landlord not to do anything that would compromise the air quality of the tenant’s area.
While a tenant may be satisfied that it has all the necessary obligations in a lease, the landlord may then seek to recover the cost of dealing with certain standards relating to WELL in the common parts through the service charge. The landlord may similarly impose obligations on the tenant not to do anything which might contravene a WELL Standard in the common areas or to in any way affect the air quality in the common parts.
As more landlords and tenants begin to apply the WELL Building Standard, there is likely to be an increase in pre-contract enquiries, inspections and lease obligations. Watch this space!
Stephen Marks is a corporate wellness and healthy buildings expert. He is the Founder of Mind Body Building
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Sophie Barton is our Features Editor. She a journalist and editor with 17 years’ experience in the national media, specialising in wellbeing and lifestyle.