Real Estate Law, or Property Law, is the area of law that governs ownership and usage of residential or commercial land. Land, in its general usage, includes not only the face of the earth but everything of a permanent nature over or under it. This includes structures and buildings, which is why we’re going to talk about LEED for real estate attorneys.
Land can be bought or sold, and due to its high value, there are many local laws that ensure real estate transactions are properly performed and recorded. State and local governments have rules concerning the purposes for which land may be used (i.e., adhering to local zoning laws and not damaging the surrounding environment).
Lawyers and attorneys are responsible for assuring that a contract was properly drafted to account for and allocate legal rights and liabilities. This ability to define the respective rights and responsibilities requires that a lawyer or attorney understand where the concerns lie.
When it comes to LEED certification projects, legal professionals play an important role. Many think that LEED is a knowledge base most aligned with architecture and/or engineering; that’s not wrong. Although a lawyer doesn’t perform any hands-on construction work, there is certainly a legal role within the big picture of the project. There is a fundamental need for LEED subject matter expertise with regard to reviewing contracts and keeping tabs on contractors, architects, engineers, and others involved in LEED certification building projects.
Real estate attorneys may be responsible for advising clients on the changing regulations and requirements related to green building and sustainable development. LEED accreditation helps legal professionals assist clients in navigating the intricacies of the LEED certification process.
LEED Certification & Real Estate Law
LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. Professionals in the construction industry follow the LEED standards during the design, construction, and operations phases to ensure that their structure is as energy-efficient and healthy as possible. With more LEED buildings comes more LEED-related litigation.
There is potential for misunderstanding between builders/contractors and their clients as far as what impressive green qualities they can deliver upon. This opens parties up to liability concerns, and a real estate attorney with LEED knowledge will be able to competently provide guidance for the specific issues.
Some potential conflicts in the LEED certification process include:
- Failing to achieve LEED certification in the manner that was planned
- Failing to earn the desired LEED certification rating (Certified, Silver, Gold, or Platinum)
- Losing a LEED certification rating
- Failing to qualify for a tax incentive program with the “green” building
- Inaccurately advertising a building a “green” building
Failing to achieve LEED certification in the manner it was contemplated will likely cause real-world losses for the owner, so the decision to pursue LEED certification or to construct a building with a particular certification level in mind carries with it legal rights and liabilities. It is also important to account for the consequences of not reaching, or losing, the desired certification level.
Some LEED-certified buildings may be eligible for certain tax incentives or other incentives, whether from federal, state, or municipal governments. There have been lawsuits filed where an owner earnestly believed that once the building earned a LEED certification, they’d qualify for all these tax incentives. But mistakes can happen, which can lead to a project not getting certified, so the owner loses out on that incentive that they had depended upon. Without a contract that allocates responsibility for that, you have a lot of questions that aren’t going to be answered, and that has spurred litigation in the past.
Finally, real estate attorneys can also play a role in areas related to deceptive advertising. A “LEED compliant” building may have been built using the LEED guidelines but never actually earned the certification. As this is a technical distinction, consumers may not see the misrepresentation. An informed attorney will be able to identify these greenwashing errors and/or catch the liability early on in the marketing process.
Real estate attorneys must be able to fully provide their client with all the knowledge and services they require. Considering that LEED has only been around for 15 years, there’s still not a lot of precedent out there for these types of projects, so it’s important to have a knowledgeable legal representative to ensure smooth transactions and clear expectations.
How Do Lawyers Benefit from Having a LEED Credential?
If you work in this industry, you know that LEED Certification is a label for buildings and LEED Accreditation is a label for people. There’s a reason why LEED Accreditation exists. Due to the intricacies of constructing a building with LEED Certification in mind, there must be a team of professionals who are knowledgeable about the LEED standards. Although team members are not required to be LEED-accredited professionals, understanding the technical requirements involved in the project is vital.
And again, although lawyers do not offer hands-on assistance with a LEED project, there are still a number of reasons why they should earn a LEED Accreditation.
The benefits of earning a LEED credential include:
- Educating yourself to identify potential pitfalls and liability exposure to builders
- Improving services offered to clients and acquiring a new method for building business
- Showing an innovative and forward-thinking approach that clients will respect and expect for their transactions and litigation
- Showing a life-long commitment to education and a diversity of knowledge
- Showing a commitment to and understanding of the green movement
- Aligning your knowledge with the interests of prospective and current clients
Which LEED Credential Does a Lawyer Need?
Regardless of one’s occupation or education, all candidates must first pass the LEED Green Associate exam. It is the starting point for everyone because this level offers a comprehensive overview of the LEED certification process.
After passing the LEED Green Associate exam, a real estate attorney may choose to advance to a LEED AP with specialty, such Building Design and Construction (BD+C) or Operations and Maintenance (O+M). These particular specialties are valuable because those are the types of building projects that their clients are likely involved in. Thus, being on the same page in LEED terms will allow for more efficient conversations and informed solutions.
To learn more about how YOU can gain LEED knowledge, give us a call at (800) 460-2575 or enroll in our popular LEED Green Associate Exam Prep course.