Category Archives: Real Estate

Do More:  Prevent Your Neighbor from Taking Your Land Through Adverse Possession

By on September 26, 2017

            Does your neighbor’s fence fall on your side of the property line?  Did that garage get built on your land?  If your neighbor encroaches on your land, you may be subject to losing that portion of your property by adverse possession. 

            Adverse possession is a common law doctrine through which ownership to property can be acquired by an unlawful possessor exercising possession for twenty years of adverse, continuous, exclusive and uninterrupted use of land such that the lawful landowner has notice that the possessor claims title to the property.

            This little-known legal doctrine frequently affects densely populated residential areas where neighbors come and go and property surveys are the exception to the rule.  Recently, the New Hampshire Supreme Court had occasion to review its adverse possession jurisprudence in the case of O’Malley v. Little.

            In that action, an adverse possessor permanently acquired title to a strip of real estate in Hampton Beach, in a densely packed area of valuable homes near the beach.  In 1993, the plaintiff installed a chain link fence between her lot and her neighbor’s lot.  As it turned out, the fence was installed across the property line on to the neighbor-defendant’s land.  After installing the fence, the adverse possessor-plaintiff frequently used the encroaching area for parking cars, gardening, and other ordinary uses incidental to ownership of land. 

            In 2010, new neighbors learned that the fence encroached on their land.  In response, they called the plaintiff and informed her that her fence encroached and needed to be removed.  The plaintiff refused to move the fence.  The defendant asserted that he took other action to demonstrate to the plaintiff where the property boundary existed and that the plaintiff’s fence encroached on his land.  Nothing else occurred until 2013, when the defendant emailed the plaintiff again and requested the fence be removed.  In correspondence, the defendant offered the plaintiff a license to use the encroaching area.  Again, the plaintiff refused.  Accordingly, the defendant threatened to take action to relocate fence if the plaintiff did not do so herself.  The defendant never took such action.

            In December of 2013, the plaintiff filed suit to “quiet title,” or officially take legal possession of the encroaching area inside the fence line.  In that suit, the defendant asserted that it “ousted” the plaintiff from possession of the disputed land, and thus terminated the adverse possession, through the repeated assertions of ownership from 2010 to 2013.  The court disagreed.

            Instead, the New Hampshire Supreme Court quieted title in the encroaching plaintiff, finding that “ousting” an encroaching adverse possessor effectively requires more than mere assertions of title.  Rather than asserting title, the original owner must take affirmative steps to put the adverse possessor on notice that the lawful owner intends to reassert control or dominion over the disputed area.  Having failed to take any such actions, the original owner lost legal title to the disputed area.

            While little-known and infrequently asserted, losing title by adverse possession is risk property owners should be aware of, particularly in densely settled areas where unlawful encroachment by neighbors presents a significant risk to property.  If you’re concerned that your neighbor encroached upon your land, do your homework.  Review your plot plan and deed.  Engage a surveyor if you’re unclear whether an encroachment occurred.  Then take steps to reassert control over the land encroached upon by your neighbor.  If you’ve found that your neighbor encroached on your land, do not let time pass you by.  Instead, contact an attorney to help preserve your rights in your land.        

 

 

Foreclosures, Commercial Leases and the “First in Time, First in Right Rule”

By on September 18, 2017

Imagine that your company rents space in a commercial building and just found out that your landlord stopped paying the mortgage.  The building is in foreclosure, your lease isn’t ending soon, and it doesn’t address a foreclosure.  What happens to your commercial lease if the building is sold in a foreclosure auction?

When a commercial property owner defaults on its mortgage and the lender forecloses, a tenant should determine whether its lease was entered into before the foreclosed mortgage was recorded, as tenants retain interests in leased property if a lease predates a foreclosed mortgage.  Generally, the “First in Time, First in Right Rule” recognizes agreements respecting real estate with effect given to the “first in time” agreement.  In other words, a prior recorded mortgage that predates a lease, will permit the mortgagee to foreclose on the property and terminate the tenant’s lease, irrespective of the otherwise enforceable agreement between the defaulting landlord and the tenant.  On the other hand, a lease that predates a recorded mortgage will remain in effect after foreclosure, so long as the lease itself contains no contrary provision.

While the “general rule in Massachusetts is that entry by a mortgagee in possession under a mortgage granted prior to execution of a lease ousts the tenant and terminates the lease,” the inquiry doesn’t end there.  Tenants subject to a mortgagee’s title should consider whether the mortgagee exercised rights as a landlord over the tenant subsequent to the original landlord’s default on the mortgage.  Foreclosing mortgagees may acquire and exercise the landlord’s interest under a lease through an assignment of leases and rents from the debtor and demanding rent from the lessee as the landlord.  Similarly, the mortgagee may exercise rights as landlord through an attornment provision contained in the lease or through a separate attornment agreement with the tenant.  Attornment provisions can be found commonly in commercial leases, and express the tenant’s agreement to recognize mortgagees and/or subsequent purchasers as successor landlords to the tenant.  In the event that a tenant attorns to the mortgagee or a subsequent purchaser as its new landlord, or the mortgagee exercises rights under an assignment of the lease, the tenant will remain in possession of the leased space.

Absent such an assignment or attornment, the foreclosing mortgagee may terminate subordinate leases under the doctrine of paramount title.  Once asserted, paramount title requires entry, the demand rent be paid and actual or constructive eviction.  In to terminate a lease effectively, mortgagees acting in a dual capacity as both a mortgagee and landlord, must be cautious to articulate specifically its intended role so as not to afford subordinate tenants unintended rights permitting such tenants the right to carry on in prior existing leases.

In the rare instance that a commercial mortgage is subordinated to a lease, a lease would not be extinguished upon foreclosure of such a mortgage.  Instead, the purchaser of the commercial property would take possession subject to the tenant’s tenancy, and require the tenant to attorn to the purchaser as its new landlord, develop a new lease or vacate the premises.  

If your commercial space is sold at foreclosure, all is not lost.  The terms of your lease, along with timing of its execution in relation to the foreclosed mortgage will govern your rights and remedies as a tenant.   While it’s always a better course of action to address this issue when negotiating your lease it’s likely that you’ll retain some rights as a tenant despite a foreclosure.   In order to determine and preserve your rights under a commercial lease conclusively upon notice of a foreclosure, it’s important to consult with an experienced real estate attorney promptly.

Recent Ruling Emphasizes the “Sacred” Procedure of a Jury Demand

By on September 11, 2017

     Parties to a summary process (eviction) proceeding in Massachusetts are afforded the right to a trial by jury. Article 15 of the Constitution for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts declares that “parties have a right to a trial by jury; and this method of procedure shall be held sacred,” which applies to court rules and procedures for summary process governed by Massachusetts Rules of Civil Procedure, Rule 8 of the Uniform Summary Process Rules, and Section 21 of Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 185C.

     Recently, the Massachusetts Appeals Court overturned a ruling from the Housing Court and reemphasized the “sacred” right to a jury trial.  In Tchad Cort v. Alver Majors, a residential tenant appealed from judgment awarding possession and money damages to the landlord. The landlord filed a summary process action, to which the tenant responded with an answer, counterclaims, and a jury trial demand. At trial, the judge asked both parties if they were prepared for trial and the tenant acknowledged that he was prepared to proceed. After the landlord presented her case, the tenant provided testimony and stated that he would “like a jury.” The judge determined that trial was already underway and thus the tenant waived his right to trial. The tenant and the judge debated the tenant’s misunderstanding regarding waiver and the tenant presented his case. Thereafter, judgment entered against the tenant.

     On appeal, the Appeals Court reversed the judgment, holding that a passive waiver of a jury demand, by proceeding with trial without a jury after demanding a jury, is not sufficient to waive a prior plead jury demand. Instead, an effective waiver of a jury demand requires at least an oral stipulation waiving the demand. The Appeals Court emphasized the responsibility assigned to trial court judges to affirmatively investigate, prior to commencement of trial, whether to proceed with or without a jury, rather than starting trial and waiting for a party to object to the absence of a jury.

     Self-represented litigants in all courts are held to the same standards as attorneys. As a result, it’s crucial to understand and apply the rules of court and constitutional protections relevant to each action. More often than not, self-represented litigants are ill prepared to do so. In order to navigate litigation efficiently and effectively, engaging an experienced attorney to guide litigation prevents costly errors resulting from the failure to understand available rights and remedies. If you are involved in, or are considering filing a summary process claim, you’re well-advised to contact an experienced landlord-tenant attorney to achieve the best outcome.

Renting Apartments to Multiple College Students? Lodging House Requirements No Longer Apply

By on August 23, 2017

Massachusetts law distinguishes rented dwellings from lodging houses with regard to the requirements, rights, and remedies for the landlord or owner of the property and the tenants or lodgers. By statute, when a dwelling unit is occupied by “four or more persons not within second degree of kindred” to each other, that unit is considered “lodging,” and not a rental unit. In order to legally operate a lodging house, the owner of such units must obtain the necessary licenses, subject to fines or imprisonment for failure to comply.

The lodging house act was enacted during World War I as a reaction to concerns over immoral conduct and the spread of sexually transmitted infections. The Act divided persons who reside with their nuclear families, or are related within a second degree to the person owning the premises, from other, unrelated individuals who reside with each other. The Act applies to fraternity houses and dormitories for educational institutions, with the exception of dormitories for philanthropic institutions or nursing homes. Lodging houses have separate standards for complying with Massachusetts law, which are separate from standards set against apartment buildings and units. In addition to the licensing requirement, lodging houses must comply with the applicable building codes, they must provide kitchen facilities equal to or greater than 150 square feet in area and include a gas or electric plate or stove, a refrigerator, and hot and cold water, unless the city or town where the building is located has contrary regulations or bylaws. Lodging homes are also subject to the requirement that they not be used for any “immoral purpose” and the owner of the lodge must keep a register of all persons occupying units in the premises.

More recently, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (“SJC”) addressed the implications of the act in City of Worcester v. College Hill Properties, LLC, relative to private rentals to college students. In that case, the defendant property owners owned several two- and three-family properties and leased each unit to four unrelated college students under annual lease agreements. After investigating the units, the City of Worcester cited the defendants and ordered them to cease and desist from operating unlicensed lodging houses. The defendants refused to comply with the order and the City filed suit in the Housing Court. The Housing Court held that the units, as occupied, constituted “lodgings” under the law and ordered injunctions against the defendants. This ruling was upheld by the Massachusetts Appeals Court and the defendants ultimately appealed to the SJC. The SJC reviewed the historical differences between “lodgings” and apartments and analyzed the plain dictionary definitions to determine whether the defendants’ buildings were apartments or lodging. The SJC overturned the Housing Court’s ruling, finding that the City of Worcester’s interpretation of “lodging” (that the plain meaning of “lodging” and “let” suggested that the statute applies to “any place to live in any house”) was myopic and would “lead to absurd results and selective enforcement.” The SJC therefore refused to adopt the interpretation put forth by the City of Worcester and followed by the Housing Court, holding that the defendants were not operating “lodgings” within the meaning of the act.

The SJC’s interpretation in College Hill Properties has created a logical standard for distinguishing lodging houses from apartment buildings and has helped to facilitate the increased need for housing for college students in Massachusetts. If you are a property owner who rents to multiple unrelated persons or are considering renting in Massachusetts you should contact an experienced attorney to ensure compliance with all laws regulating rental apartments and lodging houses.

Airbnb Tax Dropped from Budget after House Negotiations

By on August 8, 2017

This post updates our previous post regarding proposed taxation of revenue generated by Airbnb rentals.  Despite prior consideration of an Airbnb tax as early as July 2017, the proposal was dropped from the fiscal year 2018 budget proposal. Earlier this year, the state Senate pushed to apply Massachusetts’ state hotel tax, and local levies, on private residences rented for short stays by Airbnb and its competitors, but lawmakers in the House could not agree on a budget measure.

Although the so-called Airbnb tax will not be included in the 2018 fiscal year budget, Representative Aaron Michlewitz, a leader in the efforts to install an Airbnb tax, remains confident that the legislature will institute a tax plan for short-term housing. It seems all parties concerned — from Governor Charlie Baker to industry leader Airbnb — agreed that short-term housing in Massachusetts should be subject to some taxation along the way.  Thus far, however, no consensus could be reached to keep the tax on the 2018 budget proposal.  Expect more updates on this matter as they develop in state government.

Massachusetts Proceeds with Proposal to Impose Tax on Short-Term Rentals like Airbnb

By on June 19, 2017

As discussed in one of our previous posts , Massachusetts legislators have continued to discuss imposing a tax on short-term rental companies like Airbnb. Recently, the Massachusetts Senate decided to proceed with Governor Charlie Baker’s proposal to expand the room occupancy tax to include short-term rentals, but not without a few modifications. Back in January, Governor Baker proposed to expand hotel taxes to include users of services like Airbnb who rent out private rooms for more than five months (150 days) per year. The proposal stated that the 5.7% state tax – and up to 6% local tax – should apply to all providers of “transient accommodations.”

The Senate’s proposal, which was published in late May, adopts and expands upon Governor Baker’s initial proposal. Instead of only applying the room occupancy tax to private rooms that are rented out for more than five months per year, the Senate proposes imposing the tax on all “transient accommodations.” In contrast to Governor Baker’s proposal, which suggested encompassing long-term Airbnb providers under the definition of “hotels,” the Senate’s proposal introduces an entirely new category of housing that would be subjected to the room occupancy tax. “Transient accommodation” would encompass all “owner-occupied, tenant-occupied or non-owner occupied property . . . that is not a hotel, motel, lodging house or bed and breakfast establishment” where at least one room is rented to an occupant and all accommodations are reserved in advance. This new category of accommodation would expand the application of the room occupancy tax to all Airbnb-type services, regardless of their frequency. As a result of this proposed expansion, the state Senate’s proposal is projected to raise $18 million in 2018.

In a television ad Airbnb declared its support for the proposed rental tax in Massachusetts. Although similar ads ran last summer, the new ad reaffirms the company’s “commit[ment] to working with Massachusetts on new, common-sense home sharing rules. We want to collect and pay taxes for our hosts and protect affordable housing. Together, we can make sure all of Massachusetts benefits.” At this point it appears that at least some tax will be levied on companies like Airbnb in the very near future. The effect on hosts and customers remains unknown.  Strang Scott will continue to follow the progress of the proposed tax.

New Hampshire Supreme Court Denies Consumer Protection Act Claim in Real Estate Transaction Gone Bad

By on June 15, 2017

     In the recent case of Fat Bullies Farm, LLC, v. Lori Devenport et al., the New Hampshire Supreme Court had occasion to consider whether a series of less than truthful representations made by a prospective purchaser in the course of negotiating a real estate transaction gave rise to liability under NH RSA 358-A, New Hampshire Consumer Protection Act (the “Act”).

     After a trial in the matter, the Superior Court determined that the plaintiff and counterclaim defendants, Fat Bullies Farm and its principals, were liable for an award of enhanced damages – double attorney’s fees and double costs – pursuant to the Act.  On appeal, Fat Bullies Farm and its principals argued that the trial court erred in determining that the conduct underlying the award was sufficient to support liability under the applicable legal standard – that is, that the conduct was sufficiently unfair and deceptive to meet the “rascality test” for determining liability under the Act.

     The Act proscribes unfair and deceptive practices in commerce generally, and provides an inexhaustive list of specific types of conduct that give rise to liability under the Act.  For conduct not specifically listed, courts in New Hampshire consider the conduct complained of under the Act’s general proscription against unfair and deceptive conduct.  When considering whether any particular conduct not proscribed in the Act nevertheless supports liability, New Hampshire courts consider the conduct against the so-called “rascality test.”  Under the “rascality test” the conduct complained of must “attain a level of rascality that would raise an eyebrow of someone inured to the rough and tumble of the world of commerce.”  As a practical matter the court seeks guidance from the Federal Trade Commission Act (the “FTCA”) to determine whether such conduct runs contrary to the “rascality test” and offends the Act.

     The FTCA test considers whether the complained of activity offends public policy as embodied in other statutes, the common law or otherwise offends established norms of fairness, whether the conduct is immoral, unscrupulous, oppressive or unethical or whether it causes substantial harm to consumers.

      In the instant matter, the trial court found that Fat Bullies Farm’s conduct, which consisted of a course of unscrupulous behavior including misrepresenting their intentions for the future of the real property included in the proposed transaction, along with certain other selfish bargaining and business dealing tactics, was sufficient to establish liability under the Act. 

     The Supreme Court disagreed with the trial court’s decision, however, and held as a matter of law that misrepresentations concerning future uses of real property to be purchased could not give rise to liability under the Act if not contained in writing, because oral promises concerning real property are unenforceable under the Statute of Frauds.  The Supreme Court noted that even though Fat Bullies Farm’s misrepresentations encouraged property owner to sell the property to them, a course of misrepresentations of intent were not enough to support liability under the general proscription of the Act and the “rascality test” absent more.

     Each decision concerning liability under the general proscription of the Act and the related “rascality test” is inherently fact based, and therefore may not serve as strong precedent for future decisions of the Court.  Nonetheless, the Fat Bullies Farm decision further underscores the larger body of New Hampshire Supreme Court jurisprudence that demonstrates a pattern of restraint in its application of the Act to business dealings.  While other states with similar statutes apply the remedies offered by the Act liberally, the New Hampshire Supreme Court applies the remedy sparingly, and potential litigants should not be confident that, absent extraordinary circumstances, the Act provides redress for unscrupulous conduct in business dealings.  To consider whether the circumstances of your dispute merit consideration of a claim under the Act, litigants are well-advised to contact a New Hampshire litigator.       

Property Owners and Landlords Beware: New Ruling Clarifies Restriction on Claims to Remove Holdover Owners and Tenants After Foreclosure

By on June 5, 2017

Every eviction action centers on one or both of the following issues: which party is entitled to possession and what amount of damages are appropriate. Recently, the Massachusetts Appeals Court faced a unique set of facts with regard to the right of possession in Fed. Nat. Mortgage Ass’n v. Heather Gordon, et al., 2015-P-0441, and reaffirmed the requirement for post-foreclosure owners to resort to summary process to remove holdover owners and tenants.

In Nat. Mortgage Ass’n, the occupants of a property in Roxbury appealed from a judgment in favor of Fannie Mae, the party obtaining title to the property after foreclosure, from the Boston Housing Court. The occupants argued Fannie Mae’s common-law trespass claim against them was barred by statute and that Fannie Mae failed to obtain actual possession of the property before filing its claim. The occupants previously entered into a 3-year residential lease with one of the former owners of the property who lost title at foreclosure. Interestingly, the lease was executed after the date of foreclosure and after Fannie Mae filed a summary process action against the former owner. The former owner moved out of the property several months after signing the lease and the occupants moved in. Once Fannie Mae learned the occupants had taken possession, it brought a separate action for common-law trespass against them. The Boston Housing Court entered judgment awarding possession to Fannie Mae.

The occupants argued on appeal that Section 18 of Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 186 prohibits property owners from bringing common-law trespass actions against holdover former owners or tenants and requires resort to summary process to lawfully regain possession. The Appeals Court agreed with the occupants, reaffirming the Supreme Judicial Court’s holding in A.G. v. Dime Sav. Bank of N.Y., 413 Mass. 284 (1992). The Appeals Court held that the former owner occupied the property at the time of foreclosure and that the occupants became holdover tenants. The Court went on to hold that the occupants’ status in relation to the property could not be treated as different or lesser than that of a holdover tenant without attributing actual or constructive knowledge that the occupants knew the former owner did not have title when signing the lease or when they moved into the property. The Court declined to create an expectation that residential tenants would need to take steps to make sure their landlord has title to a property before entering into a tenancy. Under the ruling set forth in Fed. Nat. Mortgage Ass’n, post-foreclosure owners may not bring a trespass action against holdover tenants who remain in possession, even where that holdover tenant’s leasehold rights arose after the date of foreclosure, but before final judgment for possession in favor of the foreclosure purchaser.

The Appeals Court also held in favor of the occupants’ argument that Fannie Mae never took actual possession of the property. Actual possession is one of the elements claimants must prove in order to succeed on a common-law trespass claim. In holding for the occupants, the Court reaffirmed the ruling in Dime Savings that actual or constructive possession by an owner asserting a trespass action cannot be maintained when the property is actually possessed by another. The Appeals Court clarified that “actual” possession does not terminate the minute the former owner vacates the property and that the facts presented in Nat. Mortgage Ass’n showed that the execution of the lease and surrender of possession to the occupants did not “indicate [the former owner]’s surrender of possession in relation to others [namely, Fannie Mae] who might claim title.” To the contrary, the facts suggest the opposite and that a gap in time between when the former owner vacated and the occupants took possession cannot signify surrender of actual possession by the former owner. The Court determined that surrender of possession is a factual dispute “to be determined by the intent as expressed by words and acts of all the parties in the light of the circumstances” and the facts presented suggested that the former owner intended to remain in possession after she moved out, regardless of the pending summary process action against her by Fannie Mae. 

The outcome of Fed. Nat. Mortgage Ass’n further emphasizes the strict conformity Massachusetts require in connection within regaining possession and the necessity for landlords and residential property owners to undertake summary process to protect and enforce those rights. Evicting holdover tenants and former owners can be a complicated and fact-specific process.  As such, you should contact an experienced attorney to ensure the proper timelines and steps are taken to evict a tenant.

Want Out? Prove It: Enforcing Termination Options in Massachusetts Commercial Leases

By on May 22, 2017

A recent Massachusetts Appeals Court decision made clear that the burden of proof relative to the operation of lease option clauses falls on the party seeking to exercise the option regardless of which party moves to enforce their rights pursuant to the lease. In Patriot Power, LLC v. New Rounder, LLC, et al. (2016), a commercial landlord initiated an action for declaratory judgment and breach of contract against a tenant alleging that the tenant did not properly exercise its contract option to terminate its tenancy.

At trial, the jury was instructed that the landlord bore the burden of proof relative to the claim that the tenant had not properly exercised the lease termination option. The landlord objected to the instruction and subsequently lost the case. On appeal, the court sided with the landlord and reversed the ruling on the grounds that the jury instruction regarding the burden of proof was erroneous and prejudicial.

The court held that the fact that the landlord initiated the action for declaratory relief did not shift the burden to the landlord on the underlying action. The court cited a line of cases supporting the proposition that, “one relying on a condition to avoid contractual obligation has the burden to prove the occurrence of the condition.” A proposition made stronger when the facts are such that, “the contractual obligation actually requires an affirmative act by the party seeking to end the obligation.”

As applied to the facts in Patriot Power it is clear that the tenant bore the burden of proof. The lease termination option required the tenant to mail timely notice of such termination in order to relieve the tenant of further contractual obligation. Thus, the tenant needed to prove it had, in fact, complied with the terms of the lease rather than the landlord needing to prove non-compliance. Lease termination option clauses are common in many Massachusetts commercial leases. Both commercial landlords and tenants should read their leases carefully in order to fully understand the obligations and provisions contained within.

Massachusetts Commercial Lease: Maintaining and Repairing Equipment

By on April 28, 2017

It often comes as a surprise to commercial tenants that they are responsible for repairing and maintaining most of the equipment in their commercial space.  This can prove both frustrating and expensive when an outdated air conditioner breaks in the middle of summer.  To avoid these frustrations, tenants should (1) review the specific requirements in the lease, with an eye on some of the below specific applications; and (2) have a professional evaluate the life and value of each piece of equipment the tenant is required to maintain.

Servicing Exclusively the Premises

When a lease requires a tenant to repair and maintain equipment, the commercial leasing lawyers typically haggle over what specific equipment is required to be maintained.  The usual approach is to require the tenant to repair and maintain equipment that “exclusively serves” the rented space.  Meaning, the landlord is required to maintain equipment that serves the entire building (e.g. the building plumbing) but the tenant is required to maintain equipment that only serves the space (e.g. plumbing located in the tenant’s bathroom).  All buildings and all rental spaces are different, so it is imperative to negotiate, with as much detail as possible, what equipment truly “exclusively serves” the premises.  Often, as is usually the case with air conditioning and HVAC, the line between a building system and a premises-specific system is blurred. 

Air Conditioning and HVAC

Air conditioning and HVAC units are some of the more contested elements in maintenance/repairs provisions of leases.  These systems are critical because they can completely destroy a tenant’s ability to operate its business if they fail and they are often expensive.  Moreover, these systems are often tied to other systems within the building and therefore it is difficult to pinpoint who should absorb the cost.  As stated above, tenants should enlist a maintenance or engineering expert to determine (1) the life of the air conditioning and HVAC system; and (2) fully describe the interplay between the tenant’s systems and the building’s systems. 

Grease Traps

A grease trap, which is a plumbing apparatus used to collect cooking grease before it enters the wastewater system, is particularly important for restaurant commercial leases.  In every restaurant lease I have negotiated, the tenant is responsible for cleaning and maintaining the grease traps.  Leases typically state that tenants must “regularly” clean and maintain their traps, but sometimes a lease will provide for specific periodic cleanings (e.g. once a month) and even specify the contractor the restaurant owner must use.  The above language is fairly standard, but one important piece that is often overlooked is the location of the actual grease trap.  While ordinarily located within the restaurant, grease traps are sometimes located in separate areas, in other adjacent units, and even outside of the premises.  As such, tenants and landlords alike should discuss and agree to how and when grease traps should be cleaned.  Otherwise, tenants will have headaches in trying to access the very thing they agreed to clean, and landlords may have other tenants angry because the grease trap equipment is interfering with their business.    I once had a client whose grease trap was located in the basement of an adjoining unit, which happened to be a merchandise showroom.  Although my client cleaned the grease trap as required, they also inadvertently dragged grease throughout the showroom, much to the frustration of the other tenant.     

Operating Expenses

The confusing crossover between all repair and maintenance issues is when repair and maintenance are covered as part of operating expenses.  In larger buildings, tenants will have to pay, in addition to rent, a portion of the landlord’s operating expenses for the building.  This portion often covers some of the building’s overall maintenance and repair costs.  As such, even if something is not a direct tenant expense, the tenant may end up covering the cost (or a portion) through the payment of operating expenses.  It is therefore imperative that tenants ensure their maintenance and repair obligations are consistent with what is covered under operating expenses.   

The above is a simplified summary of different approaches to equipment maintenance for a commercial space. Each situation is different, and often different locations will have differing “standards” for how leases are structure. For example, in the Boston area, the standard provisions for commercial leases in Cambridge often differ from those in the City of Boston. In fact, the standards in different neighborhoods in Cambridge (e.g., Kendall Square) often deviate from other neighborhoods (e.g., Harvard Square). As such, it is critical that both landlords and tenants speak with a commercial real estate attorney before executing a commercial lease.