How Long Do I Have To Wait?

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There’s a song, Hesitation Blues, first recorded in 1916, that begins with this line: “How long do I have to wait?” It is also a question often asked when a lease or other agreement is silent as to a deadline or permissible period. And, almost always, that question is asked when something has gone wrong. That’s evidence it should be asked at the outset when people memorialize their agreement or expectations.

We just looked at an August 12 decision by a New York lower court. In it, the judge wrote what is generally the law: [Read more…]

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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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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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