Rights Without Remedies: Moratoriums And Real Estate

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If blog postings, law firm memorandums, newspaper articles, televised pundits, and the like were effective medications for COVID-19 infections, this crisis would be over. Without even asking readers, we know that all of you are inundated with reliable [and less than reliable] information and guidance about this virus and how to deal with it. Unfortunately, more and more, it seems like we’re hearing Arthur “Guitar Boogie” Smith and Don Reno performing “Feudin’ Banjos” on their seminal 1955 recording. We don’t play the banjo. Therefore, we won’t be joining the COVID-19 legal advice band today.

 

One thing, however, bothers us more than the many others. We’ve seen a lot of words speculating on what “laws” were needed. Some opinions have been sage. Many have been uninformed. What bothers us is that much of what we are reading ignores or blurs the difference between “rights” and “remedies.” Almost all lawyers know the following; many of our other readers may not. One way to explain what is going on is to use an example that comes right out of our current news. An increasing number of jurisdictions are legislating (or administratively imposing) rent relief for (usually only residential) tenants. [Read more…]

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The COVID-19 Crisis Is Now Over – What Is Next For Retail Real Estate?

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If you are like we are, you’ve been receiving dozens of COVID-19 emails or other messages each DAY. On the “law” side, they discuss and dissect the legal rights and remedies implicated by the current crisis – force majeure, impossibility, impracticality, material adverse changes (effects), foreclosure moratoriums, and on and on. On the “business” side, they opine on holding off the payment under mortgages or leases, or the applicability of insurance coverage, and on and on. The now 94-year old Newton Minow, when last to speak on a panel, is reported to have said something like: “By this time, everything to be said has already been said, but not everyone has had a chance to say it. Now is my turn.” That’s the feeling we are getting about the nearly 200 messages we are receiving weekly.

Some “advice” is well thought out; some is authoritative; some is important; some is trivial; some are well-meaning but dangerous. To us, the common factor is that all (that we have seen) are backward-looking. What about tomorrow? In the words of Bishop T. D. Jakes, “Never make a permanent decision based on a temporary storm. No matter how raging the billows are today, remind yourself: ‘This too shall pass!’” [Read more…]

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It Takes A Village – A Different Approach To The COVID-19 Crisis

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These days, unsurprisingly, there is no shortage of emails, blogs, and other communications about how the COVID-19 crisis impacts on legal rights and duties. We get dozens of such each day. Most focus on “Force Majeure”; some address the doctrines of impossibility and impracticability. Some concern themselves with “insurance,” something that will be of next to no help for this situation. There’s a lot of good thinking on the “legal” side of those issues, but (alas) facts also matter. And, the “facts” change by the minute. “Stay home” orders, mandated closings, moratoriums, ordered closings, etc. pop up each time we open our browsers. The “Shadow” may know what comes next, but Ruminations doesn’t.

We’ve written about force majeure, impossibility, and impracticality in the past. If interested, click HERE and HERE. They explain some concepts and describe some law. We don’t feel the need to update them because the law hasn’t changed (yet); only the specific type of problem has. Using our long-broken crystal ball, we predict that new law will be made in the form of result-oriented court decisions. Those decisions may help the survivors. They won’t help the fallen. [Read more…]

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Today, Hubris And Existentialism, Not “The Missing Comma”

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Hubris (hu·​bris), n. [Gr. Hybris].wanton insolence or arrogance resulting from excessive pride or from passion. That’s what it would be if we were to present today’s blog posting as if our subject matter was important in the current situation. It is also what all of us, unknowingly for sure, have demonstrated in thinking that our agreements could cover every possibility. If any reader had a COVAD-19 provision in their documents before January, we invite you to share it with the rest of us.

Countries have shut down walk-in commerce. In the states and Canada, stores, large and small, are closing “temporarily.” Restaurants, the “saviors” in today’s shop-on-line world, are closing “temporarily.” Hours are being cut back. Rents won’t be paid. Some, mainly marginal, tenants won’t be coming back. Some (pretextually) will use their co-tenancy right to “skinny down” their portfolios. We’ll all fight about the meaning of “force majeure.” We’ll be picking through our leases, open purchase agreements, and loan documents (including loan commitments) in an effort to “get out.” [Read more…]

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Whose Calamity (Risk) Is It?

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The COVID-19 Coronavirus is responsible for millions of words that would never have been written in its absence, even ours today. We have no special understanding of this virus or its impact. So, don’t expect us to add to two clear aspects: general confusion and uncertainty. Instead, we’re going to Ruminate about allocating risk and assigning responsibilities in situations where no party is at fault.

In our leases, we already accept that risk is and can be allocated for events, not in the control of a party. Think about negotiated provisions dealing with a loss of electricity or a temporary roadblock. [Read more…]

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Too Wordy To Be Enforceable?

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There are lessons to be learned by looking outside of our own field of interest. That was our thinking when we saw a decision out of a New Jersey appellate court last Tuesday. It involved how a document was drafted, an arbitration requirement, and more than questionable behavior by one party. Initially, when we saw that the heart of the case was overreaching by a nursing home, we set the decision aside. But, we were troubled. So, we resumed reading the decision and were rewarded with a tidbit of “wisdom.” What drew our attention was the following provision from the disputed agreement, especially its opening 229-word sentence: [Read more…]
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The Law Is Not Always Intuitive; Avoid Learning It At Your Own Peril

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Often, we come across a court decision based on a narrow set of facts and, thus, limited in its effect. The court’s analysis and the case’s result is primarily of interest to the involved parties and a handful of others who might find themselves in the same situation. Sometimes, however, there is a larger lesson to be gleaned, one not even about the narrow subject matter discussed by the court. As we see it, at the very end of January, a Florida District Court of Appeal Court delivered such a decision.

The subject matter before the court was a dispute over the obligation to pay a brokerage commission. Florida law provides that “[i]n the absence of a special contract, a broker is entitled to a commission when that person is the procuring cause of a sale.” We don’t know how many states have a similar law. Our experience is with those whose law requires a written agreement or a specific written substitute for such an agreement. For example, here is the relevant part of New Jersey’s statute [N.J.S.A. 25:1-16]: [Read more…]

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Why Are Obnoxious Holdover Rents Enforceable?

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Is a holdover rent of 200% or even 150% an unenforceable penalty or does it just give the tenant an option: pay it or leave? Earlier this month, a California appellate court answered that question for its jurisdiction, but not without a lengthy analytic dissent.

To get us all on the same page, here are some ground rule definitions. “Holdover” by a tenant means it stays in the space, without its landlord’s consent, after the term of its lease expires. [For a lengthier exposition, click HERE for an earlier blog posting.] As to whether such a cranked-up rent constitutes enforceable, agreed-upon, liquidated damages or an unenforceable penalty, we need to review what constitutes legitimate liquidated damages. That’s because if an agreement, such as a lease, specifies an amount to be paid by a party upon breach of its agreement, that agreed-upon amount needs to be a reasonable estimate, made at the time of agreement, of what the damaged party would lose upon such a breach in a situation where the damages, if calculated at the time of the breach, would definitely exist, but would be very difficult to calculate exactly. [For a lengthier exposition, click HERE for yet another earlier blog posting.] [Read more…]

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