Monday, March 30, 2015

Lawyers and judges behaving badly

No "behaving badly" series can be complete without lawyers and judges behaving badly.

1.  Texas lawyer - "Exclusively for white people"

2.  Pennsylvania lawyer - "Charging your client for your bad behavior"

3.  Georgia lawyer - "Jail is better than attending a deposition"

4.  Attorneys and judges behaving badly from Wall Street Journal

5.  Two CA judges censured for having sex with staff in chambers

6.  Judges behaving badly from Above the Law

7.  Congress investigates judges behaving badly 2015

8.  Lawyer stalks opponent's trial witness back to witness's office and threatens him for testifying.

9.  Lawyer disbarred for advising his post-foreclosure clients to break back into their homes after Sheriff lockout.

10.  Judge takes emergency retirement the next day after partying in a bar with counsel who regularly appear before her.

11.  Judge publicly admonished for using his courtroom clerk and bailiff to perform property-management duties for his investment properties.  [And for a while, he was assigned, of all things, to the eviction calendar!]

12.  Small claims judge too concerned about being late for her lunch date waiting for her in her courtroom, than the trial proceeding in front of her.

[For the month of April, I will be participating in A to Z Blogging Challenge.  My topic will be legal definitions explained in plain (and hopefully humorous) English.  Hope you enjoy!]

Monday, March 23, 2015

Tenants behaving badly

As a follow-on to last week's post, this week is dedicated to tenants behaving badly.

1.  We all know the movie Pacific Heights

2.  UK tenants behaving badly

3.  From Money Smarts Blog

4.  Airbnb horror stories

5.  Too-numerous-to-count tenants who grow marijuana and run meth labs from their rental properties.

6.  Tenant who ran garden hose inside and soaked the hardwood floors.

7.  Tenant who placed a cardboard box full of shredded newspaper on top of his electric stove and turned on the burner just before he moved out.  The resulting fire destroyed the apartment and damaged the two adjoining units.

8.  Homeowner lost his house to foreclosure.  He smeared yoghurt onto all the interior walls and ceilings in the heat of summer.  When the bank took over the property about a month later, the real estate agent found so much mold in the home that it had to be demolished.

9.  Disgusting, murky swimming pool which, when drained after the tenant moved out, revealed an old car, a lawn mower, and several dead dogs.

Here are some sites with advice on dealing with tenants from hell:

Tips for managing terrible tenants

How to keep from having nightmare tenants

If anyone has their own "bad tenant" story, please post in comments.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Landlords behaving badly

This week's edition of the blog focuses on bad landlords.  Sure, I've represented bad landlords, including slumlords.  Not all attorneys have the luxury of picking and choosing their clients, and many times I don't know they're slumlords until I get to trial.

But they are my clients, so I do my best for them.

I always try to settle my cases, and most tenants of a bad landlord or slumlord want to move out to get away from the horrible living conditions.  So usually this works out in everyone's favor.  Here are some examples of landlords behaving badly.  Some of these activities are legal and some aren't.  Of course NONE of these examples are from MY client base....

1.  New York landlords behaving badly

2.  San Francisco landlord behaving badly

3.  UK landlords behaving badly

4.  Landlord won't fix roof, which leaks like a sieve, because the tenant hasn't paid rent.

5.  Landlord shuts off utilities for 24 hours and blames it on "a bad breaker box".

6.  Landlord installs friend/relative in the neighboring apartment who plays LOUD music at all hours of the day and night, to annoy a specific tenant and cause him to move out.

7.  Landlord has tenant's car towed because said car is parked one inch over the parking spot's limit line.

If anyone has their own "bad landlord" story, please post in comments.

[Next week, tenants behaving badly.]

Monday, March 9, 2015

No good deed shall go unpunished

Commercial leases are usually rather long and there are several different types.  Very few of them are like residential leases where the tenant pays a single amount for rent and may or may not be responsible for paying utilities also.  A commercial lease can be a gross lease [similar to residential], base plus percentage of profits, net, double net, triple net, etc.

Several years ago, I was approached for advice by a landlord who owned a commercial strip mall.  One of his long-term tenants had experienced a business slow-down, so she asked him to give her a reduced rental rate for a few months, to help her get through the downturn.  And being the nice guy that he is, he did.  They memorialized their agreement on a scrap of paper no better than a restaurant napkin.

In case you're wondering, yes a lease amendment written on a napkin is binding if signed, whether or not you asked your attorney for advice when drafting it, and even if the napkin contains a brown ring that looks suspiciously like a coffee mug.

So when this tenant's lease came up for renewal, the landlord wanted to increase the base rent per CPI, which is what was stated in the lease.  So take the final base rent amount in the lease, multiply it by CPI, and voila, there's the new monthly base rent.  Just like the lease stated.  Easy, huh?

The tenant insisted the new rent was the modified rent amount, multiplied by CPI.

This lease agreement was approximately 25 pages long, and including base rent plus common-area-maintenance [CAM] charges.  And one short paragraph in the middle of something like page 17, stated that the rent for subsequent renewal terms would be the average monthly base rent from the last six months of the current lease.

So yes, the tenant was correct.  The landlord was stuck with the reduced rent, multiplied by CPI, for the next 5-year renewal period.

This could have been avoided if the napkin had stated the reduced rent was NOT the final rent for purposes of the renewal, but the napkin didn't say that.

Most of the time, it's worth running your business decision by your attorney, even if you're only trying to be nice.

Monday, March 2, 2015

It's always good to know what you're signing

I wrote a settlement agreement recently.  The tenant agreed to move out on a certain date, and if he did so, the landlord would forgive all the unpaid rent owed.  As with most of my agreements, the first page hammered the tenant hard, and the second page took it all away if he moved out on time.

After the agreement was signed, we all stood at counsel table and the judge reviewed the terms with the parties, to make sure everyone understood what was expected.  After reciting the terms, the judge questioned the parties:

Judge, to Plaintiff:  "Is what I just said, the agreement you thought you signed?"

Plaintiff:  "Yes."

Judge, to Defendant:  "Is what I just said, the agreement you thought you signed?"

Defendant:  "I do have one question.  If I don't move out on time, does that mean I get arrested?"

Judge:  "Where did you get that idea?  Counsel [looking at me], is that what you told him?"

Me:  "No, Your Honor.  I told him that if he didn't move out on time, he would owe all the money and the Sheriff would come out and evict him."

Defendant:  "No, she didn't tell me I'd be arrested.  But I just moved here from Las Vegas, and I don't know how things work here."

Judge, with raised eyebrows:  "Is that how they do things in Las Vegas?"

Defendant:  "I don't know.  I've never been evicted before."

Judge:  "Here in California, no one gets arrested for not moving out on time.  You'll get evicted, not arrested."

Defendant:  "Good.  I've never been arrested before, either."

Despite my explanation, and the judge's explanation, the tenant still thought he signed an agreement to be arrested if he didn't comply with the terms.  If I was the Defendant and that's what I thought it said, I would have NEVER signed it!