I Surrender! Here’s Your Property Back: As-Is. Sue Me

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We are no fan of a particular type of “surrender” clause commonly found in leases, the “style” that calls for a tenant to “leave the property in as good condition as when it moved in, save normal wear and tear.” These clauses come in a variety of flavors, none of which Ruminations will offer today. In 2014, we shared some thoughts on this same topic in a posting that can be seen by clicking: HERE. We’ve also said (too) much about “wear and tear.” For those Ruminations of ours, search the blog site for (what else?) “wear and tear.” For the most part, our earlier writings have focused on the downside to tenants of this type of lease clause. Today, we’ll introduce a court decision that illustrates a giant shortcoming of the “same or better” condition requirement, one that should make landlords leery. Even readers who take a different approach to the condition of the leased property when its tenant departs will be interested in what the same court had to say about a property’s “move-in” condition and the implication for provisions dealing with the “move-out” condition. [Read more…]

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Experience Matters: Words Have Meanings (And An Insurance Pointer)

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Last week, we wrote about the need for competence when it comes to crafting deal documents such as a lease. Among the over 400 Ruminations prior blog postings are more than a dozen dealing with insurance. This week, we get to combine the two subjects thanks to a December 5, 2018 unpublished ruling from a New Jersey appeals court resolving an insurance dispute. The facts are mundane, but provide a roadmap for us today.

A tenant’s employee “injured himself using a freight elevator inside the leased premises.” He sued the landlord for negligence. [The workers compensation law barred him from suing his employer, the tenant.] Relying on the lease’s indemnification provision, the landlord claimed back against the tenant. It also demanded that the tenant’s insurer honor the landlord’s status as an additional insured under the tenant’s liability policy. As will be seen, the appellate court made the landlord unhappy. To understand why we’ll start with the lease’s indemnification clause. It read as follows: [Read more…]

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Don’t Know How To Do It? Then, Don’t!

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Some concepts are so simple that we never think that we’d have to point them out. But, today, one of those concepts occurred to us, and we’d like to share it with our readers. Here it is:

If you are going to craft documents, be they leases, purchase agreements or ‘whatever,’ you should know what you are doing.

Experience can be a good teacher, if your experience is good. Bad experiences could be a good teacher as well if you learn (quickly and correctly) and especially if they were someone else’s bad experiences.

Today’s blog posting was triggered by a nearly year-old Maryland court decision. The particular problem pointed out by the court, however, is something we’ve seen played out more than several times over the years. In this version, it involved a right and option provision amended into an existing lease. The relevant text read as follows: [Read more…]

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How Humpty Dumpty Interprets The Words We Use

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New York State has a law, New York General Business Law Section 518. It deals with how a merchant may post a pricing sign when there are two prices for the same goods – one if paying with cash, and one when paying with a credit (debit) card. This law raised a First Amendment issue, one that worked its way up to the United States Supreme Court and back to New York State courts. So, why will it be discussed on a real property blog site? It is because Ruminations is fascinated, some might say obsessed, with how a literal reading of text doesn’t always turn out to be its applicable meaning. So, it doesn’t matter whether the issue comes up in a contract or a law. Courts don’t have two sets of rules. Yes, some rules may not apply when looking at one category or the other, such as the use of “legislative history” when looking at a law. But, the analogous rule for interpreting words in an agreement is the parties’ “course of conduct” or “negotiation history.” In every case, the goal is the same: find the intent behind the text. [Read more…]

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Maybe A Word Doesn’t Mean What It Unambiguously Means

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Let’s get out in the world. Let’s leave our silos. Let’s break through the real estate bubble. What is Ruminations babbling about? Real property law is not an island unto itself. It is part of the entire body of law. Yet, even those few of us who search for “real” law don’t often look at what courts say in other areas. There are things that can be learned by leaving the real estate tent to see how the rest of the (law) world lives. Today’s blog posting could show why we need to take such strolls. It describes a court decision about how to interpret a seemingly unambiguous trust document. There’s a story behind it and here it is.

As part of her estate plan, a grandmother left her estate’s assets to a trust that paid its income to her surviving husband. She specified that whatever was left upon his death was to go to her surviving grandchildren. Biologically, she had six. Two of her three children insisted that when she wrote “grandchildren,” she only considered four of those six as such. The woman suffered from no mental deficiencies. She was fully competent right up until her death. She could count. She could name all six. Yet, a court agreed that when she said the trust’s assets were to go to her grandchildren, she might have meant only four of them. [It didn’t reach that conclusion. It ordered a lower court to hold a trial to determine what the word “grandchildren” meant to her – what was her “personal” definition.] [Read more…]

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Writing That One Must Arbitrate May Not Be Enough To Require Arbitration

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We’ve written about arbitration a few times and made reference to this alternate dispute resolution process in several blog postings over the years. [For example, click: HERE or HERE.] Those who read our Ruminations may remember that we are somewhat ambivalent about its general use and a little more inclined toward its use for specific, discrete disputes, such as battles over operating expenses.

Today, for the benefit of those who like the concept and who use provisions such as: “All disputes hereunder will be resolved by arbitration,” we have a new warning. [Perhaps, we should write, “alert.”] When we first heard about an Appellate Division ruling from a New Jersey Court, one that threw out a contract’s “must arbitrate” that read as follows:

Any and all claims or controversies arising out of or relating to [plaintiff’s] employment, the termination thereof, or otherwise arising between [plaintiff] and [defendant] shall, in lieu of a jury or other civil trial, be settled by final and binding arbitration. This agreement to arbitrate includes all claims whether arising in tort or contract and whether arising under statute or common law including, but not limited to, any claim of breach of contract, discrimination or harassment of any kind.

we said (to ourselves), “That must be wrong.” After all, doesn’t the quoted provision clearly and unequivocally say that any and all claims have to be arbitrated? But, after reading the decision itself, we switched sides. That’s not to say that New Jersey’s Supreme Court won’t reverse the ruling, because it might. After all, courts just seem to “love” arbitration and seem to bend over backward to validate every agreement to arbitrate. On the side agreeing with the Appellate Division, however, is a (previously unknown to us) 2009 Mississippi Supreme Court decision eerily similar to this month’s New Jersey decision. [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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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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