Three Gems (Or So We Think)

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We’ve been doing Ruminations since 2011 and yet this is the first time we’ve deliberately done a multi-topic blog posting. Generally, when we choose a topic (400+ thus far) we dig in and treat(?) our readers to several pages of our ramblings. That approach has precluded our covering simple or easily contained topics, ones undeserving of deep drilling down. So, today, for the first time (but, perhaps not the last), we present a little of this and a little of that.

Overnight Delivery. In New York, service of lawsuit papers upon an attorney in a pending matter may be accomplished in a number of ways, including: [Read more…]

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You don’t have a tenant; you have a guest. Tenants pay rent; guests raid your refrigerator

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If your days are spent on behalf of a landlord with (internally or externally) professionally managed properties, then think of a topic you’d like to read about and search for it through Ruminations’ back library of over 400 blog postings. If, however, you have a relationship (even in a mirror) with the owner of a property or two, read on.

Too many times over too many years, our phone has rung with this question: “I have a tenant who is now five months behind, what should I do?” Self-help, even where “lawful,” is illusory. The risk of “doing it wrong” is pretty great and the damages a tenant can rightly claim aren’t pretty. So, we never advise “lock ‘em out.” We get pretty uncomfortable when asked, “Can I cut off the water or the electricity?” If your answer would be “Yes,” stop reading now.

Before we give advice, our reply is: “Have you spoken to your tenant? Is this a case of ‘won’t pay’ or is it ‘can’t pay’?” Far too often, what we hear back is: “No, I haven’t.” In such cases, our advice begins with: “Talk to your tenant.” [Read more…]

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Primary And Noncontributory – What’s The Scoop?

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Last week we wrote about a lease seemingly written by an inexperienced draftsperson. Though our point was to highlight the danger of inexperience, the court-reported situation we described also dealt with a missing insurance concept, that of calling (or not calling) for “primary” coverage. As a result, we got a few inquiries about the meaning or implication of that insurance term” and also about its sibling term, “non-contributory,” such as in: “The required coverage must be “primary and non-contributory.” So, here’s the scoop.

“Primary(ness)” (as does “noncontributory”) has to do with the priority of payment and only involves a situation where one party, named as an additional insured on the other’s liability insurance policy, also has its own insurance. When one of those two insurance policies is “primary,” and the other is not, the one that is primary will pay out until its policy limit is exhausted. At that point, if more needs to be paid, the other policy will cover the “excess.” [As to “noncontributory, we’ll get to it.] [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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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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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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Just What Is Tangible Property?

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Two days ago, an interesting decision came out of a California Appeals Court. Intriguing enough to us, maybe not to many others, that we put aside this week’s intended blog posting and scribbled this one instead. Though we fear the subject may only appeal to insurance wonks, we’re predicting that the court’s reasoning may leach into non-insurance areas as well.

In a decision that can be seen by clicking: HERE, the California Court of Appeal tells us that a leasehold is “tangible property.” Though the court doesn’t need our blessing, and that’s for sure, Ruminations thinks the court got it right. Before reading this decision, we would have said that “tangible” meant you could touch it.

There’s a little story that will give the context for the court’s decision. By reason of a conditional use permit, a property could be used (and was being) as a nightclub. A third-party security provider failed to screen certain “VIP” patrons for guns while screening others. One unscreened patron shot and killed another. One of the fallouts was that the conditional use permit was canceled and a new one was issued. The new permit eliminated a nightclub as a permitted use and now allowed use of the property as a catering hall. The property owner sued the security company alleging that the security company’s failure reduced the value of the property by a little more than $900,000 and got a judgment in that amount. Then, to collect on the judgment, it sued the security company’s liability insurance carrier. As readers might have guessed, the carrier responded that there was no coverage under the policy. Its specific defense was that loss of the right to use the property for the more valuable use, that of a nightclub, was neither bodily injury nor property damage; thus the security company’s policy did not cover such a claim. [Read more…]

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