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

Print

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…]

Print

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

Print

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…]

Print

Today, Hubris And Existentialism, Not “The Missing Comma”

Print

Hubris (hu·​bris), n. [Gr. Hybris].wanton insolence or arrogance resulting from excessive pride or from passion. That’s what it would be if we were to present today’s blog posting as if our subject matter was important in the current situation. It is also what all of us, unknowingly for sure, have demonstrated in thinking that our agreements could cover every possibility. If any reader had a COVAD-19 provision in their documents before January, we invite you to share it with the rest of us.

Countries have shut down walk-in commerce. In the states and Canada, stores, large and small, are closing “temporarily.” Restaurants, the “saviors” in today’s shop-on-line world, are closing “temporarily.” Hours are being cut back. Rents won’t be paid. Some, mainly marginal, tenants won’t be coming back. Some (pretextually) will use their co-tenancy right to “skinny down” their portfolios. We’ll all fight about the meaning of “force majeure.” We’ll be picking through our leases, open purchase agreements, and loan documents (including loan commitments) in an effort to “get out.” [Read more…]

Print

I Just Got A Tax Or CAM Bill Three Years Late

Print

A common question we get (or see) has to do with very, very late billings for taxes or common area charges. Though one would think that a landlord would be anxious to send timely, periodic bills, for some reason, some don’t. If any reader can explain the advantage a landlord gets by sending a bill for three years of charges in one fell swoop, please do so. Otherwise, we’ll continue to think it’s crazy. If nothing else, tenants and leases turn over. Go chase a tenant whose store or even whose business closed years earlier. [Read more…]

Print

Don’t Believe What I Told You Clauses

Print

Here’s a story with a few different lessons. One aspect of it won’t be of great utility to our readers, so we’ll get it out of the way right now. The tenant in this story appeared to sign a lease without counsel and without fully reading it. We don’t think that aspect casts any shade on the lessons we’ll be covering, but keep the tenant’s approach in mind as you read the rest of today’s blog posting.

The owner of a successful chain of quick-service, ethnic restaurants developed a new concept – a mall restaurant that would sell gourmet hot dogs. W.C. Fields might have called those “Gourmet Tube Steaks,” but that’s for another industry’s blogs. He honed in on a large mall, one that only had three remaining spaces in what appeared to be its food court (though the court never explicitly identified it as such). One of the existing tenants in that food court was a well-known, national, premium hamburger quick-service restaurant. No, it wasn’t the one with the golden arches. Although that hamburger restaurant sold hot dogs, they were only a sideline. So, this was of no concern to the owner’s gourmet hot dog plans. [Read more…]

Print

Exculpation Lost On Assignment?

Print

We’ve written about “exculpatory” clauses before. The on-line version of Black’s Law Dictionary explains such clauses as follows: “An agreed-to condition (1) preventing blame or liability on one party due to the improper behavior of the other party; (2) preventing liability on one party due to not meeting all of the contractual performance expectations.”

In past blog postings, we’ve pronounced such clauses as overwhelmingly common in leases and almost always included to protect landlord-parties. We’ve suggested tenant-oriented versions. And, we’ve suggested tenant-protective modifications to this ubiquitous landlord-tilted lease provision. If interested, click HERE to read our thoughts.

We thought we had shot our load (an expression more acceptable than its more unsavory version, one that originated with early rifles) – until about a month ago when we saw a decision out of a California Court of Appeals, one that can be seen by clicking: HERE. The facts may be unusual, but the lesson is unsettling. Ruminations may not agree with the outcome, but denial, in this case, seems to be a big river in Egypt and not an effective legal strategy. [Read more…]

Print

Are Waivers Enforceable?

Print

Are waivers enforceable? It depends. How unsatisfying is that answer? Generally speaking, absent duress or coercion, parties can waive what would otherwise be their right. How does one know if there is (was) coercion? Well, some situations, such as an actual gun to the head, are easy to identify. Others are not so simple. When it comes to agreements between commercial parties, there is a presumption that they are grown-ups, able to protect their own interests. The “bigger” they are, the less likely a cry of “coercion” will rule the day. Representation by an attorney will dull a party’s claim that it was improperly forced to agree to a waiver (or other contract terms). When courts reject a party’s plea that it was coerced, you’ll often see the “deal” as having been between “sophisticated parties that negotiated at arm’s length with apparent care and specificity, and represented by competent counsel.” All of those factors concern themselves with the character of the parties and how they arrived at their agreement. [Read more…]

Print

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

Print

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…]

Print