Wednesday
July 23, 2014

Concealed-Carry and Commercial Real Estate

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Concealed-Carry and Commercial Real Estate

Commercial property managers and real estate practitioners have a lot to consider when it comes to balancing building safety and gun-rights advocacy.

Can posting a “No guns allowed” sign on your building put you on a high-risk list? Grass Roots North Carolina says it can.

The nonprofit, all-volunteer organization is determined to defend people with concealed-carry permits who want to be allowed to carry their handguns into all bars and restaurants that serve alcohol—as long as they don’t drink. With the passage of a controversial gun law in the state that took effect on Oct. 1, 2013, the owners of restaurants and bars who don’t want guns in their businesses must post a sign. And those business owners who have posted signs are now listed on Grass Roots North Carolina’s “High Risk Restaurant List.”

“We generate a notice to the merchant that they are being reported and give them a chance to remove signs before their business’ contact information is released to tens of thousands of gun rights supporters,” says Paul Valone, president of the organization. “We don’t want gun owners to patronize these restaurants.”

Businesses such as The Smokin’ Cue and BS Jones Pub and Grill are both on Valone’s list because of their no-weapons signs, and the owners of both establishments say they have no plans to take those signs down. However, Grass Roots North Carolina is taking credit for at least nine other businesses that have taken down their signs after being listed on its website. Those, which include three Buffalo Wild Wings restaurants, have been moved to a new list, titled “Welcome Back.”

Of course, this is just how one group in one state is responding to laws requiring businesses to post signage representing their business stance on guns on the premises. Professionals who work in commercial real estate are approaching the issue from a variety of standpoints.

Concealed-carry is now the law of the land. In District of Columbia v. Heller in 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court confirmed an individual’s right to keep and bear arms in the nation’s capital. Two years later, the court affirmed this ruling at the state level, denying local governments from interfering with an individual’s rights to bear arms. After that point, areas with gun bans in place had to pass legislation that did not come into conflict with the court’s ruling. Illinois was the last state in the nation to pass a concealed-carry law last July. 

Although it’s now a hotly debated issue on the national level, states have been dealing with gun rights issues in local contexts for decades. In 1976, Georgia Governor Zell Miller introduced a concealed-carry law that would become a model for future state laws.

While some states do not require any kind of permit to carry, many other states (such as Colorado and Nebraska) allow people to carry concealed weapons only with a proper permit. Florida has more than 1 million people who have concealed gun permits. However, in all these states, it’s up to a building owner to prohibit concealed guns if they wish. In Missouri and Kansas, for example, most office buildings post signage forbidding firearms.

Commercial building owners and managers are apprehensive about the concealed-carry laws in their various states, according to Ed Lowenbaum, president of Lowenbaum RET Inc., a Chicago-based company that represents businesses in leasing, building, and selling across the United States. “Commercial property owners and property managers believe this is a liability issue. They are concerned about the safety of their employees and themselves, as well as anyone else who enters their property,” he says.

Many of Lowenbaum’s commercial real estate clients are writing rules into their new leases that include barring people from bringing concealed weapons onto their premises. It is then up to the owners of the businesses, especially in multitenant buildings such as office towers, to make sure that this new rule is being enforced.

“By putting this clause in the lease, the building owner is placing the liability back onto the tenants and forcing them to monitor visitors and contractors,” Lowenbaum says. He adds that, for existing tenants, property managers usually have a clause in their current leases that allows them to make additional changes and add rules and regulations.

Lowenbaum says that in Texas, the issue is being addressed before a tenant even rents the space. Building owners are trying to avoid liability, he says; they don’t want to be sued if someone is injured or killed on their property. “Property owners aren’t putting in metal detectors yet,” says Lowenbaum. “But all it takes is one bad situation and everything could change.”

“There are many unknowns at this time because Illinois is working through the permit process and screening the applicants,” says Chicago’s Building Owners and Managers Association Executive Vice President Michael Cornicelli. He notes that in Texas, Ohio, and Illinois, for example, the law allows building owners to post signage—showing a handgun in a circle with a slash through the circle—to notify the public that they cannot bring weapons onto the premises. “If the building owner doesn’t post a sign, anyone can walk in with a concealed weapon as long as he or she has a permit.”  

But what happens if a building has a sign posted stating no concealed weapons, and someone walks in with one anyway? Cornicelli says the situation raises more questions for those in commercial real estate: “If a management employee notices a violation is occurring, what is his obligation? Should the violator be confronted? Should the person notify the police that this violation is occurring? What instructions has the commercial property owner given the management company as to what should be done?”

There are other gun-related issues outside of concealed carry that some commercial practitioners should be aware of. Utah’s House Bill 76, would have allowed any individual to carry a weapon without having to obtain a concealed-carry permit, but it was ultimately vetoed by Gov. Gary Herbert. Meanwhile, Oklahoma instituted a law in 2012 that extends the right of a licensed person to openly carry a handgun, in addition to its concealed-carry law.

Some commercial property owners allow tenants to make up their minds. David Malk, vice president at CRM Properties Group Ltd. in Deerfield, Ill., has not placed signs on any of their properties prohibiting concealed weapons. However, if a tenant wants to post such a sign, he has no objection as long as the signage is in compliance with all sign rules and regulations of the shopping center and the government. To date, none of his tenants have brought their concern about having concealed weapons in any of the shopping centers to his attention.

Regardless of local sentiment, commercial practitioners should make sure that, however they choose to address this issue, they make themselves aware of the state and local laws that apply to their property.

“Currently, there isn’t a national organization that is a repository for concealed weapons information about every state or for what steps each state is doing about concealed-carry guns, Cornicelli says. “Building owners should contact their state police or local police where their building is located if they have any issues or questions about the concealed-carry law in their state.”

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