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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No One Is At Fault: It’s Time To Rethink Our Leases And Loan Documents

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A few weeks ago when COVID-19 kidnapped our blog postings, we wrote about recognizing the differences between individual catastrophes and community catastrophes. As further evidence that Ruminations has little if any influence on our industry, it seems to us that we stand almost alone in the way we are analyzing the current situation. While newspapers, other media, law firms, industry gurus, and general analysis sources are predicting the future from a global perspective – i.e., what will the “new normal” look like; will this coronavirus rear its head again, over and over; will it morph and be with us for a long time to come – the industry blog postings and law firm memorandums we are reading (by the hundreds) seem to focus on weaponization. Yes, how can one of the three: landlords, lenders, and tenants, defend or protect themselves against the others?

Articles about “force majeure” are an example. Those that look backward analyze how clauses written without any thought of a pandemic can be retroactively reinterpreted to provide rent relief. Those that look forward seem to be encouraging that tenants (in their leases) and landlords (in their loans) insist on a provision giving relief either for a pandemic or, in essence, for any situation not anticipated at the time the binding documents are executed. We’ve seen “advice” from respected sources suggesting that, in situations such as what we are all facing today, payment modifications or workouts be treated just like “we always did,” beginning with a review of the payor’s financial statements, business plans, financeability, etc. [Read more…]

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Rights Without Remedies: Moratoriums And Real Estate

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If blog postings, law firm memorandums, newspaper articles, televised pundits, and the like were effective medications for COVID-19 infections, this crisis would be over. Without even asking readers, we know that all of you are inundated with reliable [and less than reliable] information and guidance about this virus and how to deal with it. Unfortunately, more and more, it seems like we’re hearing Arthur “Guitar Boogie” Smith and Don Reno performing “Feudin’ Banjos” on their seminal 1955 recording. We don’t play the banjo. Therefore, we won’t be joining the COVID-19 legal advice band today.

 

One thing, however, bothers us more than the many others. We’ve seen a lot of words speculating on what “laws” were needed. Some opinions have been sage. Many have been uninformed. What bothers us is that much of what we are reading ignores or blurs the difference between “rights” and “remedies.” Almost all lawyers know the following; many of our other readers may not. One way to explain what is going on is to use an example that comes right out of our current news. An increasing number of jurisdictions are legislating (or administratively imposing) rent relief for (usually only residential) tenants. [Read more…]

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The COVID-19 Crisis Is Now Over – What Is Next For Retail Real Estate?

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If you are like we are, you’ve been receiving dozens of COVID-19 emails or other messages each DAY. On the “law” side, they discuss and dissect the legal rights and remedies implicated by the current crisis – force majeure, impossibility, impracticality, material adverse changes (effects), foreclosure moratoriums, and on and on. On the “business” side, they opine on holding off the payment under mortgages or leases, or the applicability of insurance coverage, and on and on. The now 94-year old Newton Minow, when last to speak on a panel, is reported to have said something like: “By this time, everything to be said has already been said, but not everyone has had a chance to say it. Now is my turn.” That’s the feeling we are getting about the nearly 200 messages we are receiving weekly.

Some “advice” is well thought out; some is authoritative; some is important; some is trivial; some are well-meaning but dangerous. To us, the common factor is that all (that we have seen) are backward-looking. What about tomorrow? In the words of Bishop T. D. Jakes, “Never make a permanent decision based on a temporary storm. No matter how raging the billows are today, remind yourself: ‘This too shall pass!’” [Read more…]

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It Takes A Village – A Different Approach To The COVID-19 Crisis

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These days, unsurprisingly, there is no shortage of emails, blogs, and other communications about how the COVID-19 crisis impacts on legal rights and duties. We get dozens of such each day. Most focus on “Force Majeure”; some address the doctrines of impossibility and impracticability. Some concern themselves with “insurance,” something that will be of next to no help for this situation. There’s a lot of good thinking on the “legal” side of those issues, but (alas) facts also matter. And, the “facts” change by the minute. “Stay home” orders, mandated closings, moratoriums, ordered closings, etc. pop up each time we open our browsers. The “Shadow” may know what comes next, but Ruminations doesn’t.

We’ve written about force majeure, impossibility, and impracticality in the past. If interested, click HERE and HERE. They explain some concepts and describe some law. We don’t feel the need to update them because the law hasn’t changed (yet); only the specific type of problem has. Using our long-broken crystal ball, we predict that new law will be made in the form of result-oriented court decisions. Those decisions may help the survivors. They won’t help the fallen. [Read more…]

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