A Tenant’s Exclusive Use Right Can Hurt It

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Some weeks we Ruminate more than others though we freely admit it may be hard to tell the difference. So, here’s more than a clue. This is a big Ruminating week.

We’ve spent a lot of our hours, far too many, negotiating exclusive use provisions. Perhaps we should have written “arguing” about exclusive use provisions. Lately, we’ve been thinking about “why” and wondering how healthy an activity this topic of negotiation really is. One conclusion is that in many cases (granted, not all cases) a tenants’ demand for exclusive use rights is at the level of an idée fixe or a priori right.

[Britannica.com defines “idée fixe” (French: “fixed idea”) as a recurring theme or character trait that serves as the structural foundation of a work. The term was later used in psychology to refer to an irrational obsession that so dominates an individual’s thoughts as to determine his or her actions. The same dictionary defines a “priori” knowledge as knowledge that is independent of all particular experiences, as opposed to a posteriori knowledge, which derives from experience.] [Read more…]

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Keep It Simple Stu…

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Who hasn’t heard this or something like this? “Can we just make it simple and do a lease amendment instead of a whole new lease? We don’t need a new lease and it will save us money.” Often, that’s a hint that there’s going to be a big bill. And, worse, later on, when a question comes up, there will be another bill.

Ruminations isn’t talking about simple changes. For those, an amendment will almost always suffice, especially if it covers only one or two changes. But what about a lease assignment combined with a space reduction, some construction, a change in maintenance responsibilities, a letter of credit instead of the cash security deposit, and you get the idea. [Read more…]

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Just What Is Tangible Property?

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Two days ago, an interesting decision came out of a California Appeals Court. Intriguing enough to us, maybe not to many others, that we put aside this week’s intended blog posting and scribbled this one instead. Though we fear the subject may only appeal to insurance wonks, we’re predicting that the court’s reasoning may leach into non-insurance areas as well.

In a decision that can be seen by clicking: HERE, the California Court of Appeal tells us that a leasehold is “tangible property.” Though the court doesn’t need our blessing, and that’s for sure, Ruminations thinks the court got it right. Before reading this decision, we would have said that “tangible” meant you could touch it.

There’s a little story that will give the context for the court’s decision. By reason of a conditional use permit, a property could be used (and was being) as a nightclub. A third-party security provider failed to screen certain “VIP” patrons for guns while screening others. One unscreened patron shot and killed another. One of the fallouts was that the conditional use permit was canceled and a new one was issued. The new permit eliminated a nightclub as a permitted use and now allowed use of the property as a catering hall. The property owner sued the security company alleging that the security company’s failure reduced the value of the property by a little more than $900,000 and got a judgment in that amount. Then, to collect on the judgment, it sued the security company’s liability insurance carrier. As readers might have guessed, the carrier responded that there was no coverage under the policy. Its specific defense was that loss of the right to use the property for the more valuable use, that of a nightclub, was neither bodily injury nor property damage; thus the security company’s policy did not cover such a claim. [Read more…]

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Wear And Tear Are Not Boilerplate Words

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Leases commonly assign maintenance, repair, and replacement liabilities to one party or the other, as they should. Just as commonly, as to items for which the landlord takes responsibility, leases deal with the consequences of a repair or replacement needed because of something the tenant has done wrong. In some cases, the responsibility for doing the work shifts to the tenant; in others, the landlord still has to do the work, but the tenant has to pay for that work.

This is a good place to make a few points about the relatively simple observations made thus far. So, before proceeding further, here are some thoughts. First, a key point that a lease needs to cover are these three responsibilities: maintenance, repair, and replacement. They do not have to be assigned as if they were co-joined obligations. A party can be responsible for doing one, two, or all three. Second, the party that does the work doesn’t have to be the party that pays for the work. Simply stated, “who does the work” and “who pays for the work” are separate concepts and must both be described in the lease. [Here is an old blog posting that expands on that thought: CLICK HERE:] Third, there are some kinds of work, usually major things, that a landlord should always do even if necessitated by misuse of the property by the tenant. By example, when it comes to a roof repair or replacement or a structural repair, the landlord has a greater interest in how the work is done than does a tenant without an investment interest in the property. Of course, there are some exceptions, such as where the tenant is sophisticated, technically competent, and generally reliable. Fourth, a lease should establish what “the tenant did something wrong” means. [Read more…]

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Eviction, Nails, Horseshoes, And Kingdoms

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In a contract dispute, once a court finds that a party is liable and then determines the amount of damages incurred by the other one, the rest is automatic. The court awards those damages and the liable party becomes obligated to pay. There is no ‘but that’s too much.” There is no “it isn’t fair.” The ratio of the amount to be paid to the damages caused is one to one.

That’s not the case with evicting a tenant. Courts don’t have to evict a defaulting tenant. In legal parlance, courts act in equity. They ask “what is the ratio of the cost to the tenant to the harm caused to the landlord?” Basically, they pay heed to what is attributed to Benjamin Franklin: [Read more…]

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What Do You Mean When You Write: “Subject To”?

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The augurs of ancient Rome prognosticated by inspecting the entrails of birds. Similarly, courts divine meaning by interpreting the detritus of our documents. When we don’t leave a clear message behind, those who follow get to tell us what the words we used meant. Sometimes they are right; sometimes not.

Ruminations now rushes in where fools fear to tread. We’re going to extract some lessons from a Supreme Court of Texas decision about mineral rights and royalties. Bless those who labor in that world. If we get something wrong in this world of oil and gas and other things extracted, we’re sure to hear from those whose world we are about to invade.

When a married couple purchased a certain 55-acre property, their seller “reserved” a 1/4 mineral interest (actually an NPRI – a non-participating royalty interest) in the property. That means the original owner would continue to get 1/4 of the benefits from all oil, gas, and minerals extracted from beneath the property.

Property ownership involves what is likened to a “bundle of sticks.” That means there are many rights embodied within the concept of ownership. These rights can be separated and different owners can own different rights in the same property. So, in the “mineral rights” concept, one party can own the property’s surface and another can own the subsurface portion. Similarly, one can own all of a property’s land right down to the earth’s core, excluding the minerals in that “dirt,” and those can be owned by another. Just like a “total” property can have multiple owners, so can those minerals. So, here, the married couple had a 3/4 interest in the property’s minerals and their seller kept a 1/4 interest. So far, so good. [Read more…]

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Tenant Escapes Eviction Based On Pre-Sale Unpaid Rent (And Possibly Ever Paying That Delinquent Rent)

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Can a new landlord sue a tenant for unpaid rent from before closing? Can it evict the tenant based on that unpaid, pre-closing rent? An Illinois appellate court says “No” to each question. And, it awarded attorneys’ fees to the delinquent tenant.

[By the time you reach the end of today’s posting, you’ll want to read the court’s decision yourself. You can do so by clicking: HERE.]

The facts are simple. Readers could even write the following themselves, but we won’t let them. A radio station leased commercial space. It had a guarantor. At the time its original landlord sold the property, the tenant was delinquent in an amount of more than $72,000. Its lease had the usual “no waiver” and rent is due “come heck or high water” provisions. The new landlord filed a collection action and sued to evict the tenant. The tenant’s basic response was: “we don’t owe you the money; if we owe any money, it would be to the old landlord and the old landlord can’t assign its claim to you.” [Read more…]

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Where Can I Sue You?

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Is your forum selection provision mandatory or permissive? What’s a forum selection provision? That’s the one your agreement says where you can file suit to enforce your agreement. What is often confused with a forum selection provision? That would be a choice of law provision. That’s where the parties agree as to which state’s law will apply to their agreement. Once you are properly in any state’s courts, those courts can apply whatever law you’ve agreed should be used. It doesn’t have to be the law of that state. [Yes, there are exceptions, but that’s the overriding principle.]

This isn’t going to be a treatise over whether a court will accept jurisdiction over an out-of-state dispute. One reason is that it varies from state to state. Some states don’t want to get involved, but others “almost” solicit the business. For example, New York’s General Obligations Law (GOL) says that, with certain commercially irrelevant exceptions: [Read more…]

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