Fighting The Last War

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In 1934, Edward P. Warner, writing about the implementation of the National Recovery Act (N.R.A.), expressed the following: “There is a saying that is rather common among the critics of the military profession that ‘soldiers are always preparing to fight the last war.’ Business must not incur the rebuke that it is devoting itself to preparing to sell goods under the conditions of the last economic cycle.”

The language is a little “1934” stiff, but the message remains relevant. We shouldn’t be structuring deals for the future as if the future will be unchanged from the past. That’s not to say we should fashion every deal tabula rasa (as if on a blank slate). Of course, much of what has worked in the past remains valid today. But, “much” falls short of “everything.” The trick is knowing what to save and what to discard. Until a genuine “crystal ball” is invented, we’ll need to divine the future unaided by a magical device. Instead, what we all need to do is to pay attention to early trends, some of which have been in front of our eyes for years, even decades. [Read more…]

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Is “Display” A Verb Or A Noun; More About Exclusives

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If exclusive use rights are so important to some tenants and if landlords almost always resist granting such rights, why is it that, when agreement (compromise) is reached, the parties keep making the same mistakes? We’ve written before about the generality of “exclusives” and also about some specific approaches. For the benefit of new readers and to remind others, Ruminations holds that the presence or absence of an exclusive use right (and the scope of that right) is purely a function of bargaining power. Basically, how much does each party want the lease? That having been said, here are more of our thoughts.

To the extent that an exclusive use right is justifiable, tenants should be entitled to protection for their primary business, not for items of tertiary importance. A pizzeria sells pizza. If a pizzeria couldn’t sell pizza, then it isn’t one. Selling pizza is its “primary” use. So, to the extent that the presence of a second pizzeria at a particular property would seriously cannibalize sales at the first one, it is entirely appropriate for a landlord to be barred from allowing that second one. But, a tenant that holds itself out to be a pizzeria shouldn’t be entitled to keep others (such as a health food store) from selling frozen pizzas or to keep others from selling “Italian-style” sandwiches. If a pizzeria can’t co-exist with a sandwich shop, then it is a sandwich shop, not a pizzeria. Of course, defining a tenant’s primary business may not be as easy as looking at the tenant’s name, but we all get the idea (provided we are willing to step out of our uniforms – landlord or tenant – and look at the entire picture). [Read more…]

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Personal Or General Misfortunes

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We’ve stolen our title from an article (or possibly it is a blog piece) dealing with the same concept but in a completely different field of endeavor. It wasn’t even about anything objective. But, its title and subject matter got us thinking about just what its author was discussing: that is “who should bear the risk?” We wrote about this a long time ago and, at the time, thought we had written a definitive piece on the subject. Now, we know we had not. Neither will be today’s posting. [For those intent on visiting the past, here’s a link to our 2013 rambling: LINK.]

Who deserves to lose when uncontrollable events present such an opportunity? We think few would argue that a tenant whose business goes south at all or most of its locations shouldn’t blame itself and should not blame any particular landlord. Similarly, if the neighborhood turns for the worst, and rental values fall, individual tenants are blameless when it comes to the landlord’s investment loss. But those examples aren’t entirely correct. [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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A Tenant’s Exclusive Use Right Can Hurt It

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Some weeks we Ruminate more than others though we freely admit it may be hard to tell the difference. So, here’s more than a clue. This is a big Ruminating week.

We’ve spent a lot of our hours, far too many, negotiating exclusive use provisions. Perhaps we should have written “arguing” about exclusive use provisions. Lately, we’ve been thinking about “why” and wondering how healthy an activity this topic of negotiation really is. One conclusion is that in many cases (granted, not all cases) a tenants’ demand for exclusive use rights is at the level of an idée fixe or a priori right.

[Britannica.com defines “idée fixe” (French: “fixed idea”) as a recurring theme or character trait that serves as the structural foundation of a work. The term was later used in psychology to refer to an irrational obsession that so dominates an individual’s thoughts as to determine his or her actions. The same dictionary defines a “priori” knowledge as knowledge that is independent of all particular experiences, as opposed to a posteriori knowledge, which derives from experience.] [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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As Set Forth On Exhibit A (Not Actually) Attached Hereto

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As we were reading a very recent decision issued by the Supreme Court of Alabama, we once again were preparing to write how wasteful it was for the parties to litigate the issues raised. This urge happens often enough that Ruminations has considered preparing “boilerplate” language to be inserted at the end of many blog postings. Then we got to the concurring opinion. It could apply to many of the “manufactured” disputes created by one party or the other and supported by their advocates. Though the following words by that concurring justice give away part of the story we are going to tell, its content and tone resonate with Ruminations. We suggest that we all step back each time issues like these arise and reconsider our thoughts about litigating them.

[Read more…]

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Does The Broker Get Paid? Efficient Producing Cause And The Facts

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Last week, we set the background for understanding what it means for a broker to be the “efficient producing cause” behind a lease or sale. The background was in the form of a story from a 2012 unpublished New Jersey court decision. The long version can be seen by clicking: HERE. For those who missed last week’s blog posting, here is a precis.

An individual property owner and a real estate broker executed a commission agreement. Then the owner transferred the property to a newly formed limited liability company. A drugstore lease, requiring the owner to construct the store, was signed. The drug store’s parent company guaranteed the lease. Construction (likely “non-construction”) took years. The tenant hung on. To get the project moving, the property was transferred to a joint venture, with the new 75% owner taking over operational responsibility. Under the joint venture agreement, the new entity agreed to be responsible under the original brokerage agreement. Two days after the joint venture agreement was signed, the owner terminated the brokerage agreement. More than two years after that, the original drug store lease was terminated and a new lease was signed. The new lease was between the joint venture and the original tenant’s successor by merger. Again, the drug store parent company signed a guaranty. All of the documents signed by each of the original and new drug store were signed by the same person who signed the guaranties. The business terms of the new lease differed in rent amount and lease term from the original lease. The store opened. [Read more…]

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