In a recent matter we were engaged by a commercial property owner to resolve an issue with one of her tenants. Our client owns an office building on a main street with an attached small warehouse. At the time, the warehouse space was being used as a commercial bakery by one of the town’s well known “fresh bread” providers. The second level of the bakery building was our client’s office. She happens to be a landscape architect in addition to the building owner.
The bread company had occupied the space for over 15 years, but personality differences had arisen between the bakery owner and our client, particularly when a large container of cooling bread was dropped onto her model urban garden, crushing the plants. The baker refused to repair the garden. Generally speaking, landscape architects are soulful, earthy people, but you don’t want to hurt their plants!
Although there were 2.5 years remaining on the lease, our client wanted the baker off the premises immediately. Counsel retained by our client previously advised that she serve the baker a five day notice of default, alleging various technical breaches of the lease, most of which were not well taken. After the notice was served, the baker retained counsel who contested the notice and went on the offensive, subjecting our client to a $15,000 unlawful detainer trial on “non-monetary” default issues. These types of cases can be difficult to win, and in any event Judges can be reluctant to declare forfeiture of the lease where the defaults are cured prior to judgment.
After being contacted by the landscape architect, we reviewed the lease terms and recommended a different course of action. The lease required the tenant to maintain the interior and exterior of the premises, including all the equipment contained therein. We recommended a detailed inspection of the equipment and premises, which revealed that most of the building equipment (including the bakery equipment) had not been serviced for many years and needed extensive repair followed by regular servicing. When presented with the report, the baker concluded that the repairs, and more importantly the monthly servicing costs, were more than the bakery could afford. A settlement was negotiated which gave the baker time to locate new premises, which it did. Additionally, a “surrender” payment was negotiated to compensate our client for damages to the equipment.
Ultimately, by the time the baker vacated, a new catering tenant was ready to move in who was a plant lover herself, and who now sits in the urban garden during breaks.
This case was never about money. Our client felt offended by the baker’s attitude towards her plants and by extension, towards her. We are sure that the baker didn’t understand why anyone would care so much about a bunch of plants and was preparing to fight. Because we understood the practical aspects of the tenant’s obligations in the commercial lease, we were able to avoid wasting time, money and energy on an unlawful detainer litigation and achieved a solution to the client’s problem at about 25% of the cost.