Retail Real Estate Law

“And, If Not” – The Question Left Unasked: Crafting A Lease Requires Thoughtfulness

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The court opinion we wrote about last week continues to bother us. It wasn’t only about the court decision’s primary question of whether an “election,” once made, can be revoked. There is a second aspect that bothers us, one that we will get to about 300 words from now. First, we’ll summarize what bothered us about how the lease didn’t “do the right thing,” “didn’t keep the question out of a court.” And, if the parties went to court, the lease didn’t give the court a rule or even guidance.

As to whether a notice, once given, can be revoked, we know that the parties crafting an agreement should cover that in their agreement. We also know that if the non-electing party reasonably incurs damages when relying on such an election notice, it should be made whole. If they don’t, then what should the rule be? Last week, we saw a court look at a lease that was silent on the question as to whether a landlord that sent a 12-month notice requiring a tenant to temporarily vacate its premises could change its mind two months before the required move-out date. It ruled that the election made by the landlord requiring such a move-out could not be rescinded. What the court failed to do was to adequately explain why it ruled that way. [Read more…]

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Exercising An Option – Can You Change Your Mind?

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We agree with most judicial decisions, though there are a very few we think are misguided (read that as “wrong”). But, it isn’t very often at all when we’re not sure what we think. Today, we’ll present one of those, a “slip opinion” about whether a landlord could “withdraw” a notice when the lease didn’t say so – either way.

The lease included a reasonably comprehensive set of provisions designed to allow a landlord to redevelop a multi-tenanted building, one with high-end retailers (and possibly others). The redevelopment, if implemented, would take up to three years before the building could be re-tenanted. The building had to be empty during the redevelopment.

Basically, the lease gave the landlord the right to “suspend” it for up to three years. During the “suspension,” it would be as if there was no lease. When the redevelopment was completed, the lease would spring back into effect, essentially as if time had stopped while the redevelopment was taking place. [Read more…]

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Bargaining Power – Will The Tables Be Turned?

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We could have made today’s posting our shortest ever by posting only its title. But, that wouldn’t be Ruminations.

Traditionally, though bargaining power has been very site/situation-specific, larger enterprises always had a head start. And, though that meant large, mostly national, tenants with “brand” names, more often it meant the “landlord.” Owners of multi-tenant projects usually had the upper hand over most tenants and prospective tenants – the small ones who populate and support our shopping centers. While large tenants could easily negotiate for exclusive use rights, even if their market power made those rights mere surplusage, small tenants desiring protection for their core businesses found themselves whistling in the wind. Large tenants got to use their own, tenant-focused leases forms, while small tenants were offered a Hobson’s choice – take it or leave it. [Read more…]

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What Can A Tenant Take When It Leaves?

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We’ve traveled this road before, though not very recently. What can a tenant remove from its leased space when it leaves the space? There is some “common law,” modifiable by the terms of a lease. Most leases cover the subject. All should.

We’ll start today by presenting what a landlord asserted its lease said about whether its departing tenant could remove display cabinets, television monitors, and a large outdoor air conditioning unit. Don’t get too excited. The Washington Court of Appeals also didn’t think it answered the question:

Lessee shall not make any alterations, additions or improvements to said Premises without the consent of Lessor in writing first had and obtained, and all alterations, additions and improvements which shall be made at the sole cost and expense of Lessee, and shall become the Premises of the Lessor, and shall remain in and be surrendered with the Premises as a part thereof at the termination of this Lease, without disturbance, molestation or injury.

[Read more…]

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Liquidated Damages: How Much Is Too Much?

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Imagine a landlord delivers promised space 84 days beyond the target delivery date, and the tenant gets 755 days of rent credit. That’s a little over two years’ of free rent for a delay of a little less than three months. Is that appropriate? Is it lawful? Is it a proper measure of damages? Is it a penalty imposed on the landlord? At the end of March, a federal judge in Pennsylvania, applying New Mexico law, answered the legal questions. She ruled that the 755-day rent credit was an acceptable approximation of damages and was not an unenforceable penalty. Ruminations has no argument with the court because, when it comes to whether an agreed-upon damages provision in a lease is enforceable, the unvarying answer is: “It depends.” [Read more…]

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What Permanent Changes Do YOU See For Retail Leases?

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Today Ruminations’ blog posting, our 480th, will be different from all that have come before. We’re making it our readers’ blog posting.

Since March 11, we’ve seen only the supermarket (with our laundry-dry cleaning, and mail drop concessionaire), the same hardware store (twice), an outdoor herb nursery (once), and a warehouse store (once). We picked up an order from a fishmonger, giving us a glimpse (from outdoors) of its back office. That’s two months – five retailers at most. No take-out, though we admit to a lot of on-line shopping from a behemoth seller-selling platform.

So, we have no idea as to what is really happening on the “retail” ground. Reading about the retail marketplace is unhelpful. Some would say that press coverage is filtered through political pathways. That must be true, but we think the bigger filter is that for media outlets to survive, “news” has to be interesting. Certainly, adding a dose of “politics” can make it so, but far, far more often it is a lot simpler than that. “Dog bites man” isn’t very interesting. “Man bites dog,” now, that’s a story. Translated to today’s subject, media reports focus on the unusual, not the humdrum, ordinary. [Read more…]

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How Gross Are “Gross” Sales? And More.

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A few weeks ago, we wrote about the distinction between “rights” and “remedies,” but in somewhat theoretical or even esoteric terms. Today, we’ll present a situation that demonstrates a practical intersection of the two. Our story comes from an April 24, 2020 decision from the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of New York. [That’s New York’s name for its intermediate appellate court.]

Imagine a mall with approximately 150 tenants. One of those tenants (and possibly others) was listed as a “Named Retail Tenant” or as a “Suitable or Successor Replacement Anchor Store,” a “Required Tenant” or “Upscale Tenant” in the “co-tenancy” provisions within the leases of many other tenants at the mall. Basically, if this “Named Retail Tenant” left the mall, dominos could fall. [Read more…]

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A Sneaky Attempt At Amending A Lease Fails – Lessons To Be Learned

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A little more than eight years ago, we wrote: “[I]t seems like a fair number of lenders think the “A” in “SNDA” stands for “Amendment,” i.e., an amendment of the lease.” [Click HERE for more about that.] Today, we look at an Estoppel Letter and see whether the initial “E” stands for “Emendation.” [We found a website explaining the following: “Amend is to change something, usually a document or personal behavior, to make it better. Emend is to correct something, usually in a text, to fix an error.”] Either way, SNDA or Estoppel Letter, let’s stop trying to use those documents to amend or emend a lease.

In an April 15, 2020 published decision, a United States Court of Appeals court looked at the history of a lease and other lease-related documents for a single-tenant office complex. The validity of the lease and five subsequent amendments was not at issue even if there was some dispute over their meaning. All were signed by both the landlord and tenant. On the other hand, the court was presented with two other documents – one was a letter from the landlord to its tenant (signed only by the landlord), and the other an estoppel letter (seemingly) signed only by the tenant and given to the property’s buyer. The estoppel letter, in its recitals, referred to the landlord’s letter as one of the lease’s amending documents. [Read more…]

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