We, The Real Estate Professionals, Are Fighting The Last War(s)

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We’re thinking of renaming the Ruminations blog: Incoherencies. Not really, but today’s non-technical posting would sure support such a name change. [We also rejected a change to Ramblings, but only because that would give fuel to all of those who have tried to pin that moniker on us.] Here we go. Fortunately for readers, today’s blog posting will be short (for Ruminations).

The Times They Are A Changin’ – by Robert Zimmerman – has these lyrics:

Come writers and critics

Who prophesize with your pen

And keep your eyes wide

The chance won’t come again [Read more…]

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Who Wrote Your Lease, Loan Agreement, Or Other Document?

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“A committee is a cul-de-sac into which ideas are lured and then quietly strangled” — Sir Barnett Cocks. Much the same can be said about the documents we read and, sadly, write. Sir Cocks didn’t necessarily mean only that ideas were strangled to death. We want to think he also was thinking about damaged survivors, the ones that survived, but with a life-long injury.

Think about the process we follow to create a written agreement, whether that is a lease, an easement, a loan agreement or any of the others we, Ruminators, can list. In most cases, we start with a form written by predecessors. The words in those forms aren’t “ours.” The “voice” isn’t “ours.” In some cases, we cut and paste from a selection of related forms, each with its own voice. Then, we modify this “base” document, adapting it to the deal in front of us. In simple cases, we fill in some blanks, delete some provisions, and add a few. In others, we make significant changes, some to the very core or philosophy of what the form’s original authors had in mind. Our additions might have been written solely from our own thoughts; they are never tabula rasa (def.: an absence of preconceived ideas or predetermined goals); they never are. In fact, our additions often are snippets from something else we or others have written. [Note that we’ve written “authors,” not just author. That’s because our selected foundational document or document very likely was put together in the same way we are describing.] [Read more…]

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Insurance Proceeds: Use Them Or Lose Them

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When it comes to some property insurance proceeds, the tag line is: “Use it or lose it.” Most agreements such as leases and mortgages, even poorly written ones, call for one party or the other (or both) to carry property insurance for “replacement cost.” [By the way, “full replacement cost” isn’t one barleycorn larger than plain, old “replacement cost.” A full quart of milk takes up no more space than a lowly quart of milk. And, it isn’t “replacement value,” it is “replacement cost.”] But, “replacement cost” doesn’t mean that the insurer goes out and writes a check for what is determined to be the damaged property’s replacement cost, even if the property is totally destroyed. The insured only gets paid for the cost of what is actually repaired. Note that we’ve just written “repaired,” not “replaced,” even though the coverage is called “replacement” cost. That’s because “replacement cost” is a limit, not the amount that is going to be written on the check. [Read more…]

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Consent Expressly Given – A New Look

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Sometimes a party has the right to withhold its consent when the other party requires that party’s consent. And, sometimes the right to deny consent is desired to be absolute and unconditional. In such cases, and for a very long time, Ruminations has been using a formulation saying that such consent “may be withheld for any reason or no reason at all.” We just read a June 28, 2019 Supreme Court of Texas decision possibly chastising us for wasting those words. After analyzing a contract provision stating simply that a party could not assign its rights “without the express written consent” of the other, that court wrote that the added words, “for any reason or no reason,” were surplusage. As that court wrote, consent-required provisions with or without the extra words have identical meaning. Accordingly, “the same can be said” as to a provision reading that consent “can be granted or withheld at [a party’s] sole discretion.”

Before every reader starts searching for an eraser to take to their form agreements, there is a caveat. This decision came out of the state of Texas. That’s not going to be the law in every jurisdiction. Also, it was based on the premise that a provision, in an oil and gas “farm-out” agreement saying that one a party could not assign its interest without the other’s consent, is “unambiguous.” [Viewing Wikipedia would tell you that “a farmout agreement is an agreement entered into by the owner of one or more mineral leases, called the ‘farmor,’ and another company who wishes to obtain a percentage of ownership of that lease or leases in exchange for providing services, called the ‘farmee.’”] When a court decides that an agreement’s provision is not ambiguous, it refuses to look outside of the agreement itself to aid in interpreting that provision. It accepts the “plain meaning” of the words. At most, it will refer to a dictionary of its own choice, sometimes, as Ruminations, has noted, one with a definition that supports an already decided conclusion. What a court won’t do is to look at prior discussions or negotiations to aid interpretation. [Read more…]

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Is The Next Landlord Liable For The Brokerage Commission?

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We’ve always been a little murky as to whether a successor landlord always becomes obligated to pay renewal commissions to the original broker responsible for the presence of an existing tenant. After all, there is no actual agreement between that later landlord and the broker whose original commission agreement calls for the payment of a renewal commission. The broker can’t point to where it and the successor landlord “shook hands.”

But, it is pretty common for leases themselves to include provisions such as: [Read more…]

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What Is A “Reasonable Time”?

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What is a “reasonable time” for something to happen or to get done? Do we ask this question of ourselves when we use that phraseology in our leases and other agreements? We can’t avoid using concepts such as “reasonable,” “material,” “promptly,” and the like, but are we being as careful as we should be when sprinkling them around?

There are good reasons to use what Ruminations has called “weasel words” or “deliberate ambiguity.” [For earlier thoughts on this subject, click: HERE.] Basically, we don’t always know how long something should or will take, even when diligence is observed and proper efforts (whatever those are) are employed. After all, we may know that the time for something to happen may be affected by adverse weather, but we don’t know whether there will be any such weather. We might know that a particular repair, say a roof replacement, might take 30 days from beginning to end in the summer, but not how long it might take in a winter season five years hence. So, we use “reasonable” when setting a time limit for such work to take place. [Read more…]

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Are Waivers Enforceable?

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Are waivers enforceable? It depends. How unsatisfying is that answer? Generally speaking, absent duress or coercion, parties can waive what would otherwise be their right. How does one know if there is (was) coercion? Well, some situations, such as an actual gun to the head, are easy to identify. Others are not so simple. When it comes to agreements between commercial parties, there is a presumption that they are grown-ups, able to protect their own interests. The “bigger” they are, the less likely a cry of “coercion” will rule the day. Representation by an attorney will dull a party’s claim that it was improperly forced to agree to a waiver (or other contract terms). When courts reject a party’s plea that it was coerced, you’ll often see the “deal” as having been between “sophisticated parties that negotiated at arm’s length with apparent care and specificity, and represented by competent counsel.” All of those factors concern themselves with the character of the parties and how they arrived at their agreement. [Read more…]

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It’s A Rule: A Good Rant Is Cathartic

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Can you make a list of the institutions or people who employ “Make ‘em up as you go along” rules? To get the thinking process going, try bank tellers or low-level government employees. E.g.: Teller: “You need to include your middle name in the signature used to endorse that check. It’s a bank rule.” You: “But, that wouldn’t be my signature. I don’t sign my name that way. That’s my rule.” Who wins?

Someplace in the annals of U.S. Supreme Court decisions is a statement to the effect that long after the need for a law has expired, we find a new justification to enforce that law. We know it’s in there, and when we find the actual quote and the Justice who said that, we’ll post our (re)discovery.

So, now we’ll rant. Why do some, perhaps most, commercial lenders employ so many documents? Don’t any of the old ones (the documents, not the lenders) ever die gracefully? We have a notion, completely unsupported by any facts, that the industry suppliers of “stock” loan documents all engage in the following marketing process. They produce a grid listing themselves and three or four competitors across its top. Then, along the side, they list the 20 or so forms in their own offering with a check mark in their own column matching each such form. Their competitors’ columns are populated with a combination of green check marks and red X’s. This, of course, proves that the chart producer has the “best” loan document generating program.

Well, that doesn’t sit well with the X- ladened column holders. So, they add all of the “missing” forms to their own packages, and, for good measure, add a few the others don’t have. This infuriates each of the others, who then declare: “I’ll match that and raise you one form.” You get the idea.

Now, that’s only a start. For example, one of the documents is a “Corporate Consent to Loan” form. It is pre-printed (today, “pre-printed” means computer generated), and is on the loan document checklist. It doesn’t matter that the borrower is a proprietorship or a limited liability company. The bank “officer” MUST get this form executed. Of course, the officer (or closing agent) has no idea what is going on other than, “It’s a rule.”

Now, Ruminations knows this really doesn’t happen. NOT! (There’s our pop culture reference for today).

There are less obvious “checklist” items for which the reason for existence is known only to archeologists. Does a lender really need a copy of the canceled check for an insurance policy paid for eight months earlier even if it has a certificate saying the policy is still in effect? Doesn’t one subsume the other? Oh, yeah, each of us could make up a reason, one that starts with: “But, suppose …” We’d prefer to hear: “Oh, yeah, we don’t really need it.” [Except, it’s on the checklist and we really do need it because: (a) it’s on the checklist; (b) that’s the rule; (c) suppose we get audited: (d) no one else ever objected; (e) for as long as I’ve been here …; (f) etc.]

Isn’t there a rule that rants don’t have to be orderly and organized? So, here’s a related one. Ask, “Why do you need this?” and get this answer: “Because that’s our rule.”

While we are on a tear, is there a rule that once a new form is created, it can neither ever be eliminated nor integrated into another document? There must be.

At a time when a corporate filer was no longer required to stamp or emboss its seal on its federal tax return, the form still had a place for those filers who still wanted to show off their seal. Today, one will still find lenders (and others) who insist upon the placement of a physical seal on documents that don’t otherwise require one. [The word “seal” alone does the job in the limited circumstances where a “seal” has a legal implication.]

Apparently, it is easier (safer) to add than to delete. Do form documents ever get any shorter? Almost always – no. Kudos to those enterprises that periodically step back and revisit theirs, few as those enterprises may be in number.

Well, Ruminations is a rule breaker. Rants are required to be long and rambling. Today, we just rambled but have kept it short (for Ruminations, that is). We only wanted to light some kindling for our readers to benefit from as they throw their own wood on the fire. Join us in today’s rant theme by posting a comment.

Our last thought for today is that making up rules as you go along isn’t all bad. Take “Calvinball” for example. What is that? Click: HERE or HERE to find out.

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