It Might Be Negligence To Leave Out The Word Negligence (Unless It Isn’t)

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Are there “magic words” or are there not? Once again, we feel compelled to warn readers that “we need to know what we are doing.” A lot of people in this “business” of ours cross over jurisdictional lines whether rightly or not. There is a lot of material out there about the ethics of doing so. That’s a reasonable concern to have, but there is a far less discussed, but more serious, problem. It is called malpractice. That term is not limited to attorneys. It isn’t even limited to professionals. It is hard enough to know the law in a single jurisdiction. Know the “law” in every jurisdiction (e.g., state) is, frankly speaking, impossible.

If we are going to “practice” in the real estate world, we need to practice well, not malpractice. “Mal” is a “combing form,” one that is added to words. It comes from the French “mal,” and that came from the Latin “male” which meant “badly.” [We sure hope the word is pronounced differently than is the gender.] The bottom line, however, is that “malpractice” is practicing in a faulty or improper or inadequate manner. No reader of this blog wants to come within a million miles of anything “mal” in her or his practice. So, we need to know that we don’t know the law everyplace. One example is how various jurisdictions view liability waivers. Today, we write only about one aspect of that question – whether to effectively be released from one’s own negligence, a waiver must expressly say that “negligence” is being waived or whether waiving “all” claims for damage really means “all,” including those claims arising out of negligence. [Read more…]

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Pretext; Equity; Eviction; What Do You Think?

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Today, we write about the use of pretext. We’ll explain. First, here’s a story from a recent California appellate court decision.

A tenant (residential, but for our purposes, that’s of little consequence) only sent its check to cover part of its monthly rent. Its landlord returned the “rent check without cashing it.” [Now, we will digress (surprise). The quoted words come from the decision itself. If you wonder what “without cashing it” adds to the facts, you are not alone. If you read the actual decision, which can be seen by clicking: HERE, you will be able to analyze the court’s writing abilities in greater detail. Likely, you’ll find more of the same as in: “without cashing it.”]

Consistent with California law, the landlord served a three-day notice on its tenant. The notice said that “there was ‘unpaid and delinquent rent’ of $507.61 for June 2107.” It also said that if the tenant didn’t pay the delinquent rent within three days, the landlord “does hereby elect to declare a forfeiture of the subject lease … and will institute legal proceedings for the lawful detainer … to recover possession of the premises ….” After what appears to be a week or so after the end of the 3- day period, the tenant sent its check for the full amount and also included a second check as early payment of July’s rent. By that time, the landlord had sued to evict its tenant.

In what was a surprise to us, there was a jury trial. The jury’s found that the tenant HAD paid the rent. Presumably (according to the appellate court) this was because the jury decided that the landlord had prevented the payment by returning the check. In response to an appeal by the landlord, the appellate court held that the jury had clearly erred. In its view, although the tenant had tendered a deficient rent payment, the landlord had not accepted the check and, consequently, the rent was, in fact, NOT paid. Under the relevant statute, if a tenant is in default in the payment of rent after a three-day notice is served, it may be evicted. [Read more…]

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The Right To Use A Property (Itself) Might, Itself, Be “Tangible Property” (Read On)

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Today’s blog posting will be a slight deviation from our mission to cover real property law and real property law-related issues. We don’t think so. We think its conclusion could be relevant outside of a pure insurance context. Even if some conclude otherwise, certainly today’s’ Ruminating will be of interest to a subset of readers, those who think they know a thing or two about insurance coverage, but would like to test whether what they know is correct. To those readers who are uninterested in how the sausage of insurance law is made, we concede that today’s posting looks like it belongs in an insurance law blog. Though that argument could be made, it hasn’t deterred us because we think the subject is interesting.

Generally, a Commercial General Liability (CGL) Insurance policy will not cover purely economic losses. But, a California court in October of 2018 decided that “generally” does not mean always. [Read more…]

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My Tenant Ruined Its Premises, How Much Does It Owe Me?

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So, the tenant, without the required permission, made significant changes to its space and failed to properly maintain the property as it was required to do. Further, as readers might expect, at the end of the lease’s term, it didn’t return the space to its landlord it the same condition as it was when the lease started. What damages might be available to the landlord?

For one, it can’t recover more than it lost. The underlying principle is that the landlord is entitled to the amount of money that would put it in the same position it would have been had its tenant not “misbehaved.” But, it isn’t open season on the tenant. The losses claimed must be shown to flow from the tenant’s breaches. And, in making that determination, courts look through the eyes of a “reasonable person” viewing proven facts.

There are two approaches to quantifying what a tenant should pay to put its landlord in the same financial position it would have been. They are either the amount by which the fair market value of the damaged property falls below the value of the same property without the damage caused by the tenant. The other is the amount it would take to repair or otherwise restore the property to the condition in which it should have been. [Read more…]

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Who Should Write Settlement Agreements? The Courts?

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Today’s Ruminations is triggered by a court decision that may not have reached the “correct” result. If that suspicion is correct, then why do we promulgate its holding? There’s a simple answer. Had more talent been employed in negotiating the agreement dissected by the court, there would have been no court involvement. There would also be a different blog posting today.

The facts appear to be somewhat simple. They might be simpler had the court shown more of the actual agreement in its written decision. Instead, it gave us its characterization. Normally, when courts do so, they do it in a way that tilts the “story” to support its decision. So, we’ll assume that the characterization is the strongest the court could write to support the outcome. Enough with the mystery – here’s the story.

A fitness center leased space. The lease was subsequently amended, at which time the tenant’s owner signed a personal guaranty. The document was denominated as a limited guaranty, but the only “limitation” was its dollar amount cap. Otherwise, it appears to have been what we call a “come heck or high water” obligation. [Some would give it a different, but similar nickname.] The guaranty expressly said that the guarantor’s liability was “co-extensive with that of” the tenant. [Read more…]

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Can A Tenant Just Pay-Up And Close Its Store In Violation Of A Continuous Operating Covenant?

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Continuous operation lease provisions are contentious. The ability of a landlord to impose such an obligation within a particular lease is determined by the relative bargaining power of the parties. All bargaining power, like all politics, is local. If a tenant doesn’t really “need” to be at a particular property and the landlord really “needs” that (or any) tenant, then it’s unlikely that any resulting lease will include one. At least, in a rational world, that’s the way it would be.

Today, Ruminations will describe two unusual court decisions with the caveat that the fat lady hasn’t yet sung. Each are at the “preliminary injunction” stage, actually at the stage where two courts, in geographically distant jurisdictions, have ordered two different tenants, with different landlords, to keep their stores open. That’s where the similarity ends, as today’s blog posting will tell.

[As to the two cases, each being in the preliminary injunction stage, no final decision has been reached. All the separate courts have ruled is that what the tenants were “doing yesterday,” i.e., operating a store, they need to do “today,” i.e., keep operating that store (at least until a final decision is reached). That means not all the facts and legal arguments are yet on the table. For that reason, Ruminations won’t be analyzing the living daylights out of either case. We’ll be waiting for a final “call” as to one of those cases (the Indiana one) before going down that road.] [Read more…]

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To A Hammer Everything Looks Like A Nail

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Knowing what you don’t know is a good thing. A practical application of that statement comes when you are trying to figure out how a particular jurisdiction will treat a particular agreement such as a lease. There are some legal principles that suffuse state law throughout the United States. The law of damages is NOT one of those principles. Yes, the generality of “damages” is pretty much the same all over, but the details are not. Here’s an example from a just-decided Colorado case from its Supreme Court.

The question that court considered was whether a seller could really make the choice of remedies provided-for in the following contract clause: [Read more…]

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What Can Humpty Dumpty Recover If His Wall Wasn’t Finished On Time?

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Today, we return to the topic of “damages.” Our context will be “waiving” them. That way, we won’t feel as if we are duplicating postings of long ago such as the ones you can review by clicking: HERE or HERE or HERE.

The core “damages” one can expect to collect are designed to give the injured party “the benefit of its bargain.” That’s not the same as being made “whole.” Those core damages, ones that probably should never be “waived” are designed to give a party the money necessary to get what it “bought” in the first place. So, if the buyer was promised a car with a spare tire and the trunk turned out to be empty, the measure of its damages would be the cost of a spare tire. If a tenant was supposed to get trash removal “included” and the full container is surrounded by overflowing trash bags, the tenant is entitled to enough money to get the trash hauled away. If a builder contracted to put up a building and didn’t finish it, the customer would be entitled to the quantum of money that would pay to finish the building.

But, what about the cost of going out to buy that tire? What about the lost business from customers who ran from the store because of the “stink”? What about the cost to rent alternate space because the building was not completed by the contracted-for time? [Read more…]

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