From Site Selection magazine, September 1999
A U T O     E X E C

The issue everyone wishes would just go away will not. Y2K, also known as the millennium bug, has many disguises, many of which directly impact corporate real estate.


b y     M A R K     A R E N D

If only the Y2K bug could be gotten rid of as easily as its counterparts in the natural world. It cannot, of course, and there is a palpable sense of foreboding surrounding the run-up to Jan. 1, 2000, when non-Y2K-compliant computers will assume itís 1900.

There is an even stronger sense in some circles that if an industry or player in an industry hasnít figured out how to eradicate the bug by now, then they deserve what they get. That may be true, but all professions, corporate real estate included, must be cognizant of the repercussions associated with lapses in compliance, even in seemingly unrelated areas.

"While many government and industry officials -- especially those in the financial services sector -- have been quite forthcoming in discussing the Y2K bug, the commercial real estate sector has been something of an anomaly," writes Nitin Manchanda, a manager at PricewaterhouseCoopers, New York, in the Spring 1999 edition of that firmís Global Real Estate publication. "This is particularly true in key areas such as property and facilities management, where some industry experts believe technological problems may have their most significant impact."

The reason, says Manchanda, is that most property and facility managers rely on manufacturersí systems, which may or may not be fixed or replaced, depending on the manufacturer. Consider the systems involved, which make desktop PC compliance seem trivial: security systems, boilers and air chillers, thermostats, utilities, lighting, elevators, environmental and energy management systems, power generators and smoke detectors, among others.

If anyone actually benefits ... Scenarios involving non-compliance of any of these systems can affect building owners and their tenants, opening the door to a flood of litigation.

"An owner thatís not prepared [for Y2K compliance] may not be in a good position to remedy problems if they are undercapitalized or insolvent," says Valerie Dunbar, an attorney with Pollina Corporate Real Estate, Park Ridge, Ill., which primarily represents tenants. "If those are the reasons for non-compliance, there may be limited recourse for the tenants, she adds."

Whether building owners or tenants, real estate executives by now should have dealt with a Year 2000 Readiness Disclosure Statement, which building owners can make to tenants and other interested parties. Legislation enacted in 1998 now protects owners from the statementís use in subsequent litigation, says Dunbar. The legislation was meant to encourage dissemination of information surrounding Y2K preparedness.

Litigatorsí Dream Come True

If anyone actually benefits from Y2K, it will be the legal community. According to a Pollina Corporate Report article on Y2K co-authored by Dunbar (3rd Quarter 1998; Vol. 9, No. 3), "The legal implications of the Y2K problem are staggering.

Gartner Group, an information technology consulting firm, has estimated the cost of remediation to be from US$300 billion to $600 billion and predicts that the costs will put many companies out of business. Government sources estimate a 2 percent impact on the gross national product, a figure some analysts consider to be conservative. Commentators predict the private litigation costs in excess of $1 trillion."

Even the process of getting ready for the year 2000 can cause problems, Dunbar cautions. Tests meant to ensure compliance could backfire, causing loss of business functions or other consequences, and that can and has led to litigation, she observes. "The more severe the business interruption or problem is, or the more egregious the non- compliance, the more likely there is to be litigation."

Valerie Dunbar Dunbar also anticipates problems related to sorting out liability among, for example, landlords and utilities in cases involving power disruptions, as well as other service provider types. "A question I would look to answer is whether the landlord is still responsible for vendor, subcontractor and utility failures, she points out."

Some corporations have implemented data gathering programs as part of their lease-renewal procedure. Parties are asked to furnish Y2K readiness information to keep companies apprised of progress in this area. "My concern is the quality of the information that comes back, if anything comes back at all," says Dunbar. "I would urge people to not make that just a pro forma-type exercise, but rather to actually analyze and pay attention to that information and to consider how damaging it might be if there were a problem with a property."

Above right: Valerie Dunbar, Pollina Corporate Real Estate, Park RIdge, III
Software Is Ground Zero

The other key area in which the Y2K bug may make its presence known is in the software programs that automate so many commercial real estate business functions. Experts urge users of such programs to leave no stone unturned in the search for code that is non-compliant.

Leading vendors are confident in their systemsí readiness for Y2K and have been for some time. The only time we ever bump into Y2K problems is when clients have created their own in-house system; nearly half the time, we are replacing in-house systems, says David Nelson, director of consulting services at Westmark Harris Advisors, Santa Monica, Calif. "Thatís something we look for during data conversion." Westmark Harris markets a lease management system called Strategen.

Nevertheless, it would be naÔve to assume that all compliance wrinkles have been ironed out in the industryís software-supplier product lines. Y2K conversion is a massive undertaking for many technology providers, and much as they would like to, few can guarantee a smooth transition.     SS

On the WWWeb: Web Site Describes the Reach of the Y2K Bug

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