Landlord-tenant disputes frequently arise over one party's alleged failure to honor the terms of a lease. When such disputes lead to litigation, courts will look to the clear language of the lease in deciding who is at fault. Supplemental documents, such as those discussing proposed amendments to the lease, may be considered by a court but are not necessarily enough to prove a party's case.
Landlord Ordered to Refund Rent for Delayed Elevator Installation
Here is a recent example from upstate New York. In 2008, the City of Troy in Rensselaer County needed to temporarily relocate its city hall while making renovations to its existing facility. The City signed a three-year lease to rent space in a private building. Prior to signing the lease, the landlord sent the City a “letter of intent” outlining the proposed agreement. Among other things, the landlord agreed to install an elevator in the building “at its sole expense.”
The final lease reflected this obligation, requiring the landlord to install the elevator by March 1, 2009, two months after the start of the lease's term. But for a number of reasons, the landlord did not install the elevator on time, delaying the City's ability to occupy the building until December 2009. During this delay, the City made rent payments on the lease. In October 2009, the City sued the landlord in Rensselaer County Supreme Court, seeking recovery of those rental payment due to the landlord's breach of the lease.
Before the Supreme Court, the landlord argued the City was at least partially responsible for the delay in installing the elevator. The landlord cited the original letter of intent which purportedly obligated the landlord to seek the City's approval in selecting an appropriate location for the elevator. But as the Supreme Court, and later the Appellate Division, Third Department, held, even if the letter of intent could be considered part of the lease itself, that did not excuse the landlord's “failure to install the elevator by March 1, 2009 as required” by the “unequivocal” terms of the lease. As the Third Department explained, the deadline “was in no way conditioned or dependent upon plaintiff's approval of the elevator's location.”
The Third Department further agreed with the Supreme Court the City was entitled to a refund of nine months' back rent—the payments made between March 2009 and December 2009—as the City was “substantially and materially deprived of the beneficial use and enjoyment” of the building due to the landlord's non-compliance. The landlord argued the City waived its right to recover the March-thru-June payments because it did not make them “under protest,” but the Third Department said that was unnecessary. The court said under New York law, “payment of all required rent is a condition precedent to the maintenance of” a tenant's allegation the landlord has breached the lease.
Need Help With a Lease?If you are involved in a lease negotiation—or a potential breach of an existing lease—it is important to work with an experienced New York real estate attorney who can help protect your rights. Contact the offices of Waldhauser & Nisar, LLP, if you need to speak with an attorney today.