August 23, 2019
If international co-working giant WeWork were to hit trouble, hundreds of landlords would be exposed to more than $47 billion of rental commitments with little recourse if the company fails to pay.
More than 270 landlords have leased space to WeWork in the United States and United Kingdom, according to real estate data firm CoStar. The co-working company is currently the largest office tenant in both Manhattan and London. WeWork has 527,000 members across 528 locations in 111 cities globally.
Among the largest U.S. landlords to WeWork are TIAA-CREF, Boston Properties, Beacon Capital Partners and Moinian Group.
WeWork currently says it has $4 billion in committed revenue from its customers and $2.5 billion in cash, half of which is unrestricted, according to its recent pre-IPO filing.
WeWorksublets space to businesses that range from large corporations to start-up companies, all on a short-term basis. The short-term sublets as compared to the longer-term rental commitments by WeWork are seen by industry professionals as a possible weakness in its model in the event of a recession.
“There are so many WeWork leases in town, and I think there are a lot of landlords who are very cautious, not about the quality of service but about the financial model. I’m one of them,” a London-based landlord told the Financial Times in a recent report.
Were a recession to hit, there are limits to what landlords can do to enforce rental commitments. WeWork, as well as a number of other companies in the co-working sector, create special purpose vehicles in its leases that prevent landlords from having direct recourse in the case of failure to pay rent.
To counter concerns, WeWork has guaranteed a portion of its rental payments. Around $4.5 billion of rent payments are backed by corporate guarantees, and another $1.1 billion by bank guarantees, according to WeWork’s recent filing. As a further form of insurance, the company has paid more than $268.3 million in cash deposits to landlords.
Landlords have also paid almost $455 million in cash to WeWork in the form of “tenant improvement allowances,” which are upfront payments that enable to group to transform buildings into its signature style.
WeWork is not the first co-working company to face headwinds heading into a recession. Regus filed for bankruptcy in 2003, following the dot-com crash, leaving the company with empty space. Regus renegotiated leases with landlords and minimized expenses, which allowed it to emerge from the 2008 financial crisis as a profitable company.
For comments, questions or concerns, please contact David Cohen