The Massachusetts Superior Court (Essex) recently held that failure to strictly comply with commercial lease notice requirements did not invalidate a tenant’s email and verbal notice of its intent to terminate a lease. Specifically, the tenant wanted to avoid triggering the automatic extension clause in the lease but did not send notice in the manner required by the lease. In SpineFrontier v Cummings (2018), the Court held that the tenant’s email and verbal notice, although not in strict compliance with the lease, sufficiently conveyed to the landlord that the tenant did not intend to renew its lease.
The Court went on to state that setting the sufficiency of actual rather than lease-prescribed notice aside, the landlord waived its right to assert the necessity of strict compliance with the written lease language. The landlord, by its own history of action, acted as though the Tenant’s Notice was sufficient notice to terminate the lease. The Court noted:
At no point following the [email or verbal notice] did Cummings notify SpineFrontier that its notice failed to comply with the requirements of SpineFrontier’s lease…Moreover, in the several months that followed, Cummings acted as if proper notice had been provided, repeatedly attempting to strike a deal with SpineFrontier on different terms for office space…
We consistently remind commercial tenants and landlords to strictly comply with their lease obligations. If a lease states that notice must be given in a certain way (e.g. certified mail, overnight delivery, etc), then a landlord or tenant should always follow that, even if it seems unnecessary. The “notice” provision is often overlooked at the beginning negotiations of a lease, but tenants and landlords should take the time to make sure it is workable. Even so, SpineFrontier v Cummings makes it clear that strict compliance does not always win the day.
Therefore, if you are a tenant that has failed to strictly follow your lease, you should speak with a commercial real estate attorney to determine if you may still have options. Likewise, if you are a landlord and your tenant has not strictly followed the lease, do not assume that such failure is automatically in your favor. You too should consult with a lawyer to determine your options.