Rights, Powers, And Forgiveness – Let’s Loosen Up

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Today, we’re going to engage in some pure Ruminating. Most of the time, we (and others who are deeply engaged in this side of the “business”) focus on the “documents.” We think about how they are drafted and often mis-drafted. We read articles and (in “olden” times”) participate in programs focused on how better to do our “job.” But, there are some “rules” that get short shrift. These are rules that regularly have more force than do laws.

One is that there is a difference between having the “right” to do something that is required (or to abstain from doing something) and the “power” to do that thing (or not). Another comes in two versions: It’s easier to ask forgiveness than to get permission; and it’s easier to apologize than to get permission.

The success of either approach might be related to another aphorism: Might makes right. Each reveals two deficiencies found even in the best-crafted agreements. There aren’t enough trees in the world (proverbially speaking) to create enough paper to contain all of the words needed to regulate every possible permutation of conducts or situations. And, much of what we write (and agree-upon) just plain isn’t important; the provisions aren’t really needed. [Read more…]

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How Can One Enforce A Continuous Operation Lease Provision? Not Easily.

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Rarely will a court enforce a continuous operation obligation by ordering a tenant to stay in business at its leased space. Yet, from time to time a landlord will seek an injunction to force a tenant to keep its store open. A simplistic explanation as to why courts don’t issue such orders is because landlords need to show an irreparable injury, and if a landlord can be compensated by the payment of money, its injury isn’t irreparable.

Landlords confronted with a tenant bound by a covenant to be “open and operating,” but on the verge of breaching that obligation by closing its store, usually plead the “domino effect,” expressed by Benjamin Franklin thusly: [Read more…]

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Can You Evict A Tenant For Failure To Carry Required Insurance?

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Ruminations hasn’t researched commercial eviction law as it exists in every state, but wherever it has, one principle stands out. Eviction is an equitable, not a legal, remedy. Courts don’t have to evict a tenant and won’t do so for minor defaults. This approach is a subset of a legal “equitable” maxim: “Equity abhors a forfeiture.” A tenant’s “leasehold estate” is a property interest, and taking away a valuable property over a triviality is not what courts are supposed to do. Volumes have been written about this (and other) legal maxims. Not here; not today.

As to evictions, what varies from court to court, even in the same jurisdiction, is what judges consider to be “minor.” We’ll illustrate that today using “failure to maintain lease-required insurance coverages” as an example. [Read more…]

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Notwithstanding What We Write Today, Little Will Change

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“Notwithstanding,” is the draftsperson’s blanket cure to gaps or deficiencies in a document. It is an efficient, fast way to deal with an exception to a generality. As such, sentences beginning with this magic word are useful. They enable us to employ overbroad clauses because “notwithstanding” pulls our language back for the exceptions we have thought about. In other words, carefully written, they achieve the desired purpose.

The ubiquitousness of the “notwithstanding” sentence, however, has a downside – its presence is easily forgiven. Another issue is how we employ this device. Do we write: “Notwithstanding anything to the contrary in the paragraph” or is it: “Notwithstanding anything to the contrary in this document”? Experienced or thoughtful readers know where we are going here. The more limited this caveat’s coverage, the safer it is to use. We only need to focus on a single paragraph or section in a document if our “notwithstanding” carve-out is limited to those words. But, when we encounter the broader statement, that the carve-out affects an entire document, we expose ourselves and others to greater danger. Have we reviewed every other word in the document to see if that word will be modified by our “notwithstanding” language? Ruminations will go out on a limb and venture: “No.” [Read more…]

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Apocalypse Now For Shopping Malls?

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We had a posting teed up for this week, ready to click the “publish button” today. Then we read an on-line article last night, one about the most visible retail real estate we have – shopping malls. So, for the first time in nearly 500 Ruminations blog postings, we are scrapping (actually delaying) our planned posting, one focused on the danger of just plopping in new text at the last minute without reading all of the “notwithstanding” provisions already in that document. Basically, we interrupt your regularly scheduled blog posting to bring you this important message, one written today.

The article appears in today’s New York Times under the headline: “With Department Stores Disappearing, Malls Could Be Next.” In another first for Ruminations, click HERE for a link to the article. We’ve never before linked to another publication. Though this is a newspaper article written from the transitory point of view of one author, she spoke with the largest operators in the United States. We don’t want to substitute our summary for the actual article. Two of the printed quotations should be enough to give our readers the “flavor.” [Read more…]

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More Thoughts About Force Majeure Provisions

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Last week, we wrote about a court decision interpreting a lease’s poorly written force majeure clause. If you missed it, click: HERE to see it. Following that blog’s posting, we engaged in some “off-line” discussions with old friends about the scope of force majeure provisions. Basically, our back-and-forths concerned their scope: “Should they be broad or narrow?” Today’s posting is an outgrowth of those discussions.

Our position last week was that these provisions are “catch-alls,” i.e., they usually cover situations beyond the control of the parties. These clauses usually begin with: “If A, B, C, …, Z,” examples being labor strikes, meteorite crashes, etc. Then the clauses end with: “or other events beyond the reasonable control of a party.” The keyword is “other.” That tells us that A, B, C, and so forth are examples of things beyond the reasonable control of a party. They (A, B, C, etc.) don’t have to be listed. That is if people would agree that they are such. [Read more…]

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Is A Poorly Written Force Majeure Clause Worth The Ink?

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We’ve all seen, or perhaps been assaulted by, a surfeit of articles about force majeure clauses and how all of our agreements should include one. Other pundits have gotten way ahead of this one by explaining how we will have a better world if the advice to include such clauses would be taken by all. They’ve noted that very few agreements with a force majeure provision have covered the kind of closures we have experienced and are still experiencing. But, what we’ve not seen is much understanding that there is nothing special about a “force majeure” clause: it is no more than another risk-shifting device. What differentiates these provisions from co-tenancy or fire damage provisions is that force majeure clauses don’t know in advance how a particular risk will manifest itself. Even though some speak of “labor disputes,” “acts of G-d,” “public enemies,” etc., they invariably end with: “or other events beyond the control of a party” or some such. Without getting into the rules of contract interpretation, we’ll simply note that this teaches that these clauses are intended to relieve one party or the other of an obligation if something beyond the control of the obligated party prevents performance. [Read more…]

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“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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