Negotiating Exclusive Use Clauses (With Sample)

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It is the rare retail project that is unencumbered by exclusive use rights granted by a landlord to one or more tenants.  While that may not have been as true in the distant past, this is now the “rule of the game.”  What is more, this concept has begun to spill over into the office leasing environment.

Large space tenants have the bargaining power to demand protection against competition within the project.  Conceptually, such protection is not unreasonable.  Think about it.  A large (often specialty) retailer draws customers to its store by dint of its reputation and expensive advertising.  Uncurbed, competing businesses would locate “next door” and draw business away just as a parasite would feed on a host.  In the office context, there are tenants who don’t want employees and invitees of competing businesses to be present in the lobbies, elevators, and lunchrooms. [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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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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