Keller cries foul: Brokerage sues CBRE over WeWork lease deal

In a lawsuit, Keller Williams says its rival owes it $1M for reneging on a contract

CBRE CEO Robert E. Sulentic, and Keller Williams Founder Gary Williams with the Lantana property
CBRE CEO Robert E. Sulentic, and Keller Williams founder Gary Williams with the Lantana property

Early last year, CBRE netted a $2 million commission when it brokered WeWork’s 116,000-square-foot lease at the Lantana office complex in Santa Monica.

But Keller Williams claims it is owed half that amount, alleging CBRE disregarded a contract the two brokerages negotiated in July 2017 with WeWork’s then head of global real estate. At the time, the high-flying WeWork was ramping up its Los Angeles presence.

In a lawsuit filed Dec. 23, Keller alleges that CBRE took advantage of a key personnel change at WeWork in the fall of 2018 — well before its implosion in late September — to ignore the commission split deal. CBRE then snagged the entire $2 million fee on the Lantana lease, according to the suit.

In its filing in L.A. County Superior Court, Keller’s Brentwood affiliate alleges its leasing agent Theodore Brenneman was approached in April 2017 by Mark Lapidus, then WeWork’s global head of real estate.

WeWork was looking to significantly expand its Los Angeles presence, and Lapidus wanted Brenneman to take the lead in hunting for co-working spaces, according to the complaint. Brenneman reached out to CBRE broker Jim Schoolfeld, and three months later, the firms entered into a contract where they would share any commissions related to WeWork’s purchase or lease of property in L.A., the suit alleges.

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But Lapidus left WeWork in October 2018, and later CBRE went behind Brenneman’s back to broker the Lantana deal, according to the lawsuit.

Keller is suing to recover its alleged $1 million share of the commission, plus damages and attorney fees. An attorney for Keller did not immediately respond to a call for comment.

A CBRE spokesperson said the lawsuit was “without merit, and we will challenge it vigorously.”

As of June 2019, WeWork had 1.6 million square feet in the city. In October, it opened its 20th location in the L.A. area, according to Curbed.

The Lantana property — at 3000 West Olympic Boulevard — changed hands in March, with Skydance Media co-founder David Ellison buying the four buildings for $350 million from Artisan Realty Advisors and Brightstone Capital Partners. The current and previous building owners are not named in the lawsuit.