Articles Posted in Landlord-Tenant Disputes

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In your commercial lease dispute, your case may involve numerous pieces of evidence. Some of that proof may only emerge at the last minute. While a court may consider certain types of last-minute proof, the other side is not allowed to sandbag you. There are procedural rules available to protect you, but employing them to their maximum effect (and your maximum benefit) is something that often requires the deft touch of experience, so make sure you have a skilled South Florida commercial landlord-tenant lawyer on your side.

Here’s an example. The landlord was a Boca Raton-based corporation with a property in Miami-Dade County. The tenant, a major national pharmacy chain, sued the landlord for breach of contract. The landlord fought back by suing for eviction.

The court held a hearing. After all of the evidence had been presented and all of the arguments had been made, the judge announced that he was prepared to grant summary judgment to the tenant on the landlord’s eviction claim, and stated the reasons for granting that judgment. At that moment, the landlord informed the court that a “pivotal” page of the parties’ lease agreement was missing.

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Almost regardless of the question, the answer you get from your knowledgeable South Florida landlord-tenant attorney is probably going to be “it depends” most of the time. Very few things in the law are always “yes or no;” most require a deep dive into the unique facts of the case.

That, however, isn’t always true. The law can be very strict sometimes. The key, whether you are a commercial landlord or a tenant in Florida, is understanding what your obligations are and what leeway you do (or don’t) have on fulfilling those obligations. This is one of the vital areas where your experienced attorney will be able to help greatly.

The issue of “extenuating circumstances” and what difference they will (or won’t) make when it comes to your commercial eviction case is more important than ever here in this time of COVID-19. As we all know, for a significant period of time during the previous year, almost everything — even the courthouse and the court clerk’s office — was shut down to slow the spread of the virus. So, what happens if you (or your tenant) are under an obligation to pay money into the court registry on a certain date during a time of emergency… be it a natural disaster or a viral pandemic?

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When you are the owner of commercial rental properties, the right South Florida commercial litigation attorney can help in many different ways. One of these ways is by “spotting” all the legal issues your case presents and then identifying all your legal options, including ones that you otherwise might never have known that you had.

Take, for example, this Broward County landlord’s eviction litigation. The trial court held a hearing and determined that “(1) rent due from August 14, 2018, through August 13, 2019, was $6,695 per month; (2) rent from August 14, 2019, to August 13, 2020, was $6,895.85 per month; and (3) rent for August 2019 was $6,808.84.”

Subsequently, the landlord moved for an entry of default and an order giving it immediate possession. The landlord’s legal team recognized that the tenant timely paid only $6,695 for August 2019 and $6,695 for September 2019 and that these shortcomings entitled the landlord to a default and writ of possession.

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Getting the right legal representation when you’re preparing to enter a commercial lease is important in many ways. Your knowledgeable South Florida landlord-tenant attorney can, of course, help you negotiate your lease. In addition, however, your attorney can help you obtain a clear understanding of what rights and responsibilities you do – and don’t – have under your lease, and provide effective advocacy to ensure that you are not held to a higher standard (or more obligations) than what the lease agreement actually prescribes.

A federal case that originated here in South Florida is a good example. The lessee was a major “big box” home improvement store. The lease agreement, signed in 2006, established an initial 20-year term. The lease gave the lessee the option to “construct and operate a retail building.” If the lessee didn’t exercise that option, then that failure to exercise the option gave the landlord the right to increase rent or terminate the lease.

Two years into the lease, the tenant had constructed and opened one of its stores on the property. Five years after that, misfortune struck. A suspected arson fire did significant damage to the building. The local government inspected and determined that the building needed to be repaired or demolished. The tenant opted to do the latter, and also decided not to rebuild.

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A Broward County business that was a party to a commercial lease agreement found out the hard way recently one of the many ways that such an agreement can go wrong and leave you with no recourse in the courts. That problem, in the Broward business’s situation, was an imperfectly drafted lease agreement. Don’t let that pitfall ensnare you. Be sure that the commercial lease agreement you sign will protect your business interests fully and be recognized as enforceable by the courts. To be sure you are executing the right commercial lease agreement, start by retaining the services of a skilled South Florida commercial lease attorney.

Z.C. was the owner of that Broward County business, which rented wave runners, parasails and scuba diving equipment. In 2007, the rental business inked a lease with a hotel’s owner that allowed the business to operate on a beach adjacent to the hotel. The lease agreement stated that the term of the lease was from September 18, 2007 until “the demolition of the property.” The parties worded the contract that way because the owner allegedly desired to allow the equipment rental business to stay as long as he operated a hotel there. (The owner allegedly was considering demolishing the hotel and converting the property into condominiums and, if that happened, then the equipment rental business would be expected to leave.)

Three years after the parties signed the lease, the owner sold the property rather than converting it into condos. Several months after the transaction, the new owner and operator of the hotel terminated the lease. The rental business sued the new hotel owner for breaching the lease, but the hotel owner emerged successful from the lawsuit.

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As of 11:59 p.m. on March 24, 2020, the City of Miami was under a “shelter in place” order due the COVID-19, or novel coronavirus, pandemic. The announcement stated that the order would remain in effect “until further notice.” These unprecedented conditions may have many businesses asking themselves… what will happen if I don’t perform as required under my lease (such as failing to pay rent)? If my landlord sues my business for breach of the lease, is there any way I can mount a successful defense? The answers to those questions are: it depends and… it depends. Each situation is unique depending on exactly how the terms of your lease agreement were worded. To get the customized advice you need for your specific situation, be sure to get in touch with an experienced South Florida commercial lease attorney.

Clients may consider substantial parts of their leases to be just “form language,” but skillful commercial attorneys know that many things the client writes off as perfunctory actually aren’t, and actually require close attention — needing to be carefully negotiated and skillfully drafted.

Take, for example, the clause in your commercial lease agreement that excuses your performance. Commercial tenants in Florida are probably a bit more aware of these clauses than many businesses elsewhere. That’s because one of these valid excuses often is “acts of God,” which refers to natural disasters like hurricanes and tropical storms.

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The COVID-19 pandemic has affected almost all business sectors in South Florida. Commercial rental property is no exception. The shutdown of non-essential businesses in Miami-Dade and Broward Counties has left many commercial tenants severely restricted or completely unable to generate revenue. The current circumstances have also placed great financial pressures on commercial landlords, as well. For tenants and landlords facing major issues, there may be alternatives to eviction. These may include things like workouts or lease restructuring, among other possibilities. To discuss your options and what makes the most business sense for you, be sure you are working with an experienced South Florida commercial real estate attorney.

As therealdeal.com reported, several South Florida commercial landlords are working with their tenants to keep those tenants out of the eviction process and in the spaces they currently occupy. Two South Florida-based landlords offered their tenants options including rent deferments, rent forbearances and partial rent payments, according to the report.

Landlords have several options if they have tenants impacted by COVID-19-related restrictions that are having difficulties paying rent. A landlord may declare a tenant in default and immediately begin pursuing legal action against the tenant and any guarantors, the landlord can declare a tenant in default but hold off on taking any enforcement action or the landlord can negotiate an amendment to the tenant’s lease.

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A summary judgment can be an important tool and a huge benefit in your commercial litigation case. A summary judgment on liability, for example, means that the court can decide the issue of liability without even having to have a full trial on that. A summary judgment in your favor, if you’re the plaintiff, means that, in addition to your not having to worry about proving liability at trial, it also keeps out any affirmative defenses the other side had if those defenses only relate to the question of liability. To do that though, you need all of the right documentation and other evidence, along with all the proper arguments, which is why it helps to have a knowledgeable Florida landlord-tenant attorney handling your case.

A recent commercial lease dispute case was a good example. The tenant and its landlord had a five-year lease. Like many commercial lease agreements, this one included a guaranty. The guaranty said that the guarantor promised “the due prompt and punctual performance of all obligations of, and the prompt payment when due.”

Problems emerged, the landlord told the tenant to vacate the space and the tenant sued the landlord for illegal self-help because, allegedly, the landlord changed the locks on the space and refused the tenant entry unless it paid rent. The landlord countersued for breach of contract and for unpaid rent. The landlord’s countersuit also named the guarantor as a party.

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