November 24, 2020

Volume X, Number 329


November 23, 2020

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Cell Tower Leases Are Gold Mines – Don’t Give Them Away!

Cell tower leases are gold mines. But it’s easy to inadvertently give away the gold mine when you sell the property where the cell tower is located.

Here’s how not to give away the mine. When you sell property that has a cell tower on it (or a building with a cell antenna on the roof), you have three options:

  1. sell the cell lease and future leasing rights before you sell the property or building;

  2. sell the property or building, but keep the lease;

  3. sell the property and the cell lease together.

Only the first two are good options.

The first option is to sell the cell lease and future leasing rights before you sell the property or building. You can probably get a sales price on the order of 17.5 times annual revenues. This will add dollar for dollar to the sales price of the underlying property or building.

Your second option is to sell the property or building but keep the lease – and the future communications antenna leasing rights. For example, first you “sell” the cell lease/future leasing rights to a new LLC you own. Then you sell the building or property. This way you get the full sales price of the property or building, and you get to keep rental income from the cell tower lease. If you decide to sell the lease in the future, you can do so.

The third and not so good option is to sell the property and the cell lease together. This is not a good idea because purchasers will rarely give you full value (17.5 times annual revenues) for the cell lease. They mistakenly think that because the cell company can cancel the lease on short notice it is not worth much. Wrong! The companies that buy cell leases know that leases can’t be canceled because then the cell company would have a hole in its network.

So when you own a gold mine, don’t give it away. Maybe you sell the property, but first sell the gold mine and get full value for it. Maybe you sell the property but keep the gold mine. But don’t sell the property and gold mine together – you’ll get almost nothing for the mine!

© 2020 Varnum LLPNational Law Review, Volume IX, Number 274



About this Author

John W. Pestle, telecommunications attorney, Varnum

John is a member of the firm's Environmental, Energy and Natural Resources Team. Since 1996 he has represented property owners across the country (businesses, developers, schools, churches, municipalities, real estate companies) on the grant, renewal and modification of cell tower leases with companies like Verizon Wireless, AT&T Wireless, T-Mobile and Crown Castle. He has also represented clients on the evaluation or sale of over sixty (60) cell tower leases and future leasing rights to companies like American Tower, Crown Castle, SBA, Wireless Capital Partners,...