COMMERCIAL LANDLORD-TENANT: Duty to Repair – Illinois Law

When something breaks in a commercial space, who is obligated to make the repair?


R. Kymn Harp Robbins, Salomon & Patt, Ltd.

R. Kymn Harp
Robbins, Salomon & Patt, Ltd.

Catherine Cooke Robbins, Salomon & Patt, Ltd.

Catherine Cooke
Robbins, Salomon & Patt, Ltd.

Absent a covenant in a lease obligating the landlord to make repairs, a landlord generally has no obligation to repair the leased premises, unless the landlord has actual knowledge of a defect at the time of entering into the lease and fraudulently conceals it. Baxter v. Illinois Police Federation, 63 Ill.App.3d 819, 380 N.E.2d 832, 835, 20 Ill.Dec. 623 (1st Dist. 1978); Elizondo v. Perez, 42 Ill.App.3d 313, 356 N.E.2d 112, 113, 1 Ill.Dec. 112 (1st Dist. 1976).



It is clear, however, that when a lease provides express covenants assigning responsibilities between landlord and tenant for repair and maintenance of leased property, those covenants will supersede any implied or common-law covenants and shall determine the responsibilities and liability of the respective parties. McGann v. Murray, 75 Ill.App.3d 697, 393 N.E.2d 1339, 1342, 31 Ill.Dec. 32 (3d Dist. 1979); Hardy v. Montgomery Ward & Co., 131 Ill.App.2d 1038, 267 N.E.2d 748, 751 (5th Dist. 1971). An express covenant to repair will not be enlarged by construction. Kaufman v. Shoe Corporation of America, 24 Ill.App.2d 431, 164 N.E.2d 617, 620 (3d Dist. 1960). The ordinary meaning of the word “repair” is to fix, mend, or put together that which is torn or broken. It involves the idea of something preexisting that has been affected by decay. Sandelman v. Buckeye Realty, Inc., 216 Ill.App.3d 226, 576 N.E.2d 1038, 1040, 160 Ill.Dec. 84 (1st Dist. 1991).


A general covenant of a tenant to keep the premises in repair merely binds the tenant to make only ordinary repairs reasonably required to keep the premises in good condition. Quincy Mall, Inc. v. Kerasotes Showplace Theatres, LLC, 388 Ill.App.3d 820, 903 N.E.2d 887, 230, 328 Ill.Dec. 227 (4th Dist. 2009); Sandelman, supra, 576 N.E.2d at 1040. It does not make the tenant responsible for making structural repairs. Kaufman, supra, 164 N.E.2d at 620; Expert Corp. v LaSalle National Bank, 145 Ill.App.3d 665, 496 N.E.2d 3, 5, 99 Ill.Dec. 657 (1st Dist. 1986); Mandelke v. International House of Pancakes, Inc., 131 Ill.App.3d 1076, 477 N.E.2d 9, 12, 87 Ill.Dec. 408 (1st Dist. 1985).


Alterations or additions of a structural or substantial nature that are made necessary by extraordinary or unforeseen future events not within the contemplation of the parties at the time of lease execution are ordinarily the responsibility of the landlord. Expert Corp., supra, 496 N.E.2d at 5. Likewise, renewals or replacements that would last a lifetime rather than maintain the condition of the premises are extraordinary repairs outside the scope of a tenant’s obligations under a general covenant of repair. Sandelman, supra, 576 N.E.2d at 1040; Schultz Bros. v. Osram Sylvania Products, Inc., No. 10 C 2995, 2011 WL 4585237 at *3 (N.D.Ill. Sept. 30, 2011). When a deficiency is so substantial and unforeseen that it would be unreasonable to expect the tenant to make repairs that basically benefit not the tenant but the landlord, those repairs may be deemed structural. Baxter, supra, 380 N.E.2d at 835.


In order to shift to the tenant the responsibility to make structural or extraordinary repairs to the leased premises, a lease must (more…)

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Keys to Closing A Commercial Real Estate Transaction

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photography-skeleton-keys-image28661257Commercial Real Estate Closings

Anyone who thinks closing a commercial real estate transaction is a clean, easy, stress-free undertaking has never closed a commercial real estate transaction. Expect the unexpected, and be prepared to deal with it.

I may not charm your socks off with industry gossip, sports-talk or movie quotes, but give me a complex commercial real estate deal to close and I’ll get it done.

I’ve been closing commercial real estate transactions for over 35 years. I grew up in the commercial real estate business.

My father was a “land guy”. He assembled land, put in infrastructure and sold it for a profit. His mantra: “Buy by the acre, sell by the square foot.”  From an early age, he drilled into my head the need to “be a deal maker; not a deal breaker.” This was always coupled with the admonition: “If the deal doesn’t close, no one is happy.” His theory was that attorneys sometimes “kill tough deals” simply because they don’t want to be blamed if something goes wrong.

A key point to understand is that commercial real estate Closings do not “just happen”; they are made to happen. There is a time-proven method for successfully Closing commercial real estate transactions. That method requires adherence to the four KEYS TO CLOSING outlined below: (more…)

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Illinois Commercial Condominiums – The Inactive Association Challenge

RESALE DISCLOSURE CHALLENGES – When the Commercial Condominium Association is “Inactive”

  • Section 18.3 of the Illinois Condominium Property Act provides that a unit owners’ association will be responsible for the overall administration of the property through its duly elected board of managers. 765 ILCS 605/18.3.
  • Section 19 of the Illinois Condominium Property Act sets forth a specific set of records that the board of managers of every association is required to maintain. 765 ILCS 605/19.
  • Section 22.1 of the Illinois Condominium Property Act provides that “in the event of any resale of a condominium unit by a unit owner other than the developer such owner shall obtain from the board of managers and shall make available for inspection to the prospective purchaser, upon demand . . .” a fairly comprehensive list of condominium instruments, and other documents and information, concerning the makeup and financial condition of the owners association, insurance coverage, litigation, reserves, assessments, and the like.  765 ILCS 605/22.1.


RSP_LogoHD (3)Remarkably, perhaps as an aftermath of the Great Recession during which resales of commercial condominiums were infrequent, it is not rare to find that the owners association for a commercial condominium has become inactive or only slightly active. Record keeping and budgeting may have become ‘streamlined”, addressing little more than collecting minimal assessments to pay insurance premiums on common elements. The owner’s association may have no formal budget, no capital reserves, extreme deferred maintenance, scant, if any, record of meetings of the board of managers, and no centralized or organized record keeping system beyond a box in a filing cabinet in the back-office of one of the unit owners.


Because of the infrequency of unit transfers in recent years, and the possible inexperience of a record-keeper who may have gotten the record-keeping job by default – when the last remaining board member left following foreclosure of his or her unit during the Great Recession – obtaining and providing the resale disclosure documents and information required by §22.1 can be a challenge.


This challenge presents practical problems for the unit seller, unit buyer and the unit buyer’s proposed mortgagee when attempting to resell a commercial condominium unit. Not the least of these problems is delay and frustration in moving toward closing – which may ultimately sour a prospective buyer and its lender, and lead the buyer to back away from acquiring the unit at all.


Deferred maintenance of common elements affecting any unit in the condominium association could have an adverse financial impact on all unit owners.  For example, if a commercial or industrial condominium association is comprised of multiple commercial/industrial buildings, a required roof replacement, foundation repair, or other structural repair for any of the buildings, or a recognized environmental condition in the common areas, could be expensive, with the cost shared among all unit owners. Accordingly, when investigating the condition of a commercial/industrial condominium unit being considered for acquisition, due diligence may require having all common elements in the association inspected, rather than merely looking at the unit being considered for acquisition. This may be more expensive and may take more time than might ordinarily be expected when purchasing a stand-alone building that is not a condominium unit.



Consider when drafting a purchase agreement under these circumstances, who should bear the cost of inspecting all common elements in the association? Ordinarily the cost of “due diligence” is a buyer’s expense. But if extraordinary inspections of association common elements beyond the specific unit being acquired is required in the exercise of due diligence because the selling unit owner did not demand that the owners’ association be operated by a board of managers in compliance with the Illinois Condominium Property Act, should the buyer bear this extraordinary expense, or should the seller?


There is no easy solution for this challenge, especially for a buyer planning to purchase a unit in one of these inactive associations. The best advice may be to become proactive – whether as an existing unit owner or upon becoming a new unit owner, to reactivate and invigorate the owners’ association and its board of managers, and to take steps to run the owners association in a businesslike manner, in compliance with the Illinois Condominium Property Act.


Generally speaking, owners of commercial condominiums are business people. They should demand that the association be run like they would run any business or investment property they invest in, if they expect to be successful.


If you have a viable solution to this challenge, please comment with your insights and practical suggestions.


Thank you in advance for participating in this discussion.




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R. Kymn Harp Robbins, Salomon & Patt, Ltd.

R. Kymn Harp
Robbins, Salomon & Patt, Ltd.

I am pleased to be attending the Alliance of Merger & Acquisition Advisors Summer Conference in Chicago, IL this week.  It looks to be an informative conference providing insights on middle market business opportunities. If you are attending, please contact me through LinkedIn or via rkharp@rsplaw.com.  I look forward to seeing you.

AM&AA Summer Conference

AM&AA Summer Conference

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ICSC RECon2015 Takeaway: A Tale of Two Shows

A Tale of Two Shows

ICSC RECon2015 is done. While it was not a reflection of the best of times, nor of the worst of times, there was a distinct dichotomy between the Big Money Interests and the rest of the industry.

I spoke with a number of developers, brokers, attorneys, and intermediaries claiming to be active in the Big Money Interests side of our industry. The side made up of mega-REITS and CMBS financed power centers anchored by super-tenants such as Neiman Marcus, Macy’s, Bloomindale’s, Nordstrom’s and the like. The side claiming to be putting together billion dollar private equity funds to finance massive acquisitions and million square foot developments in hot urban and suburban markets around the country, using incomprehensible amounts of other people’s money. The side claiming there is a huge volume of untapped capital coming into the market and that, within a year or two, the commercial real estate market will be hotter than it was before the crash in 2008 and that the crash will be little more than a thankfully forgotten memory.

R. Kymn Harp Robbins, Salomon & Patt, Ltd.

R. Kymn Harp
Robbins, Salomon & Patt, Ltd.

I say they claim these things to be true only because I don’t know for sure whether what they are saying is what they are actually experiencing, or whether they are merely dreaming wistful dreams. What they describe is not my world. I represent the other guys.

I also spoke with a number of people working on much smaller projects. Projects typically in the $3 million to $20 million range, or less. Projects using the developer’s own money, and using financing obtained through local or regional banks. Projects where every dollar spent is a dollar that matters. This is my world. These are the people I represent.

For them, times are still challenging. To them, the focus is on reinventing or repositioning one or more existing properties or urban business centers, large or small, into projects that are profitable and sustainable. These are the value-add developers, the property turn-around specialists, or simply the savvy investors with a vision for a transformative urban or suburban project that may be the missing ingredient to energize a struggling community. These are the property owners focused on finding, attracting and retaining the right mix of retail or service tenants to serve the changing demographics and psychographics of an underserved area’s actual target market. These are the investors, developers and property owners who are doing what is necessary; doing what is affordable; or, perhaps, doing what they can, to fill that last 5% of their center so they can realize a profit. These are the investors, developers and property owners working with community leaders, thinking about the aggregate effect of their project and nearby projects on the local community, and how they can work together with municipal economic development staff, chambers of commerce, and area business leaders to create critical mass to transform an area challenged by insufficient retail, office, or residential options into a thriving business district to satisfy local needs, make a profit and enhance surrounding property values.

Thankfully, ICSC RECon2015 recognized this segment of our industry in a serious, meaningful, and helpful way. The offering of educational programs directed to people working in this space was spectacular. The speakers were knowledgeable, creative and informative. I applaud the ICSC program planners for recognizing that this is a vital segment of our industry that is oftentimes overlooked in favor of the Big Money Interests.

The commercial real estate industry as a whole is remarkably diverse and decentralized. The small to medium sized investors, developers, and owners-operators who make up the bulk of the commercial real estate industry need our help. They need our expertise. They need local community and industry involvement. They need sophisticated, yet cost-conscious services that provide genuine value to help them and our communities succeed.

Special thanks to ICSC for doing its part to serve this segment of the commercial real estate industry.

Thanks for listening.

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Real Estate Projects I Love to Work On.

I love cool real estate projects. Cool projects are why I became a lawyer. Cool projects are why I come to the office each day. Cool real estate projects are why I did not become an astrophysicist (well, one reason – although, that might have been cool too). Cool projects are the reason I live, smile, dance, breath, scour the earth for new deals, jump for joy.

And by “cool”, I don’t mean in a thermal sense – but rather in a “this project is so cool” sense. I am referring to real estate projects that are awesome. Real estate projects that are fun. Real estate projects that make you say “Wow – what a cool project!

R. Kymn Harp Robbins, Salomon & Patt, Ltd.

R. Kymn Harp
Robbins, Salomon & Patt, Ltd.

Cool projects don’t need to be costly projects in major urban centers – although those can be cool too. I’m talking about projects that are creative. Projects that require vision and imagination. Projects that take something mundane and turn it into something special.

Some people think I only like huge projects. To be honest, I do like huge projects, but largely because the huge projects I have worked on also happened to be cool projects.

Redevelopment of the commercial portions of Marina City in downtown Chicago was a cool project. Ground-up development of Sears Centre Arena in Hoffman Estates, Illinois was a cool project. Work on various mixed-use projects around the Midwest and upstate New York have been cool projects. But so has been the much smaller development of an 8,000 square foot microbrewery in the historic Motor Row District of Chicago using TIF financing; development of countless restaurant and entertainment venues throughout the Midwest; conversion of a multi-story industrial building into a high-tech office center; conversion of an outdated office building into a stylish, luxury hotel; adaptive reuse of outdated retail strip centers, bank buildings, city and suburban office buildings, bowling alleys, warehouses, industrial buildings, gas stations, and various small to medium sized special purpose buildings into modern, fully functional jewels – reinvented to provide much needed retail and service amenities for local neighborhoods and communities. It is not the size of the project that makes it cool – or the cost – it is the concept, imagination and creative challenge involved that makes the difference. At least for me.

Cool Projects Test

Here’s a test [call it the “Cool Projects Test”, if you will]:

Which of the following projects is more likely to end up on Kymn Harp’s list of cool projects? (more…)

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A misconception abounds in commercial real estate. I am partly to blame. I didn’t mean to add to this false belief, but I recognize that I have.

RSP_LogoHD (3)While writing articles and presenting seminars on due diligence for commercial real estate transactions, my colleagues and I who focus on due diligence as a topic of continuing education tend to overstate the case as it applies to any single transaction. We tend to make our hypothetical project or transaction so complex and so filled with due diligence potholes that we can sometimes obscure what really happens in most commercial real estate transactions. Our audience – whether they be readers or live seminar attendees – can understandably find their eyes glazing over and may conclude that the scenario being addressed has no connection to their life or their deals. They have never seen a project or transaction so convoluted or complex, and don’t expect that they ever will.

In truth – no one does. In practice, commercial real estate due diligence is not that hard. It is not that complex. It need not be that expensive.

I have been asked to discuss “small deal due diligence”. I generally try to avoid using the term “small deal” when describing commercial real estate projects or transactions, because to our clients no deal is small when it involves their money or business. To some, (more…)

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DUE DILIGENCE CHECKLISTS for Commercial Real Estate Transactions

R. Kymn Harp Robbins, Salomon & Patt, Ltd.

R. Kymn Harp
Robbins, Salomon & Patt, Ltd.

 2015 Update:

Are you planning to purchase, finance, develop or redevelop any of the following types of commercial real estate in the USA?

  • Shopping Center
  • Office building
  • Large Multifamily/Apartments/Condominium Project
  • Sports and/or Entertainment Venue
  • Mixed-Use Commercial-Residential-Office
  • Parking Lot/Parking Garage
  • Retail Store
  • Lifestyle or Enclosed Mall
  • Restaurant/Banquet Facility
  • Intermodal logistics/distribution facility
  • Medical Building
  • Gas Station
  • Manufacturing facility
  • Pharmacy
  • Special Use facility
  • Air Rights parcel
  • Subterranean parcel
  • Infrastructure improvements
  • Other commercial (non-single family, non-farm) property

RSP_LogoHD (3)A KEY element of successfully investing in commercial real estate is performing an adequate Due Diligence Investigation prior to becoming legally bound to acquire or finance the property.  Conducting a Due Diligence Investigation is important not just to enable you to walk away from the transaction, if necessary, but even more importantly to enable you to discover obstacles and opportunities presented by the property that can be addressed prior to closing, to enable the transaction to proceed in a manner most beneficial to your overall objective. An adequate Due Diligence Investigation will assure awareness of all material facts relevant to the intended use or disposition of the property after closing. This is a critical point. The ultimate objective is not just to get to Closing – but rather to confirm that the property can be used or developed as intended after Closing.

The following checklists – while not all-inclusive – will help you conduct a focused and meaningful Due Diligence Investigation. (more…)

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COMMERCIAL LANDLORD-TENANT – Part 2 – The Covenant of Quiet Enjoyment

R. Kymn Harp Robbins, Salomon & Patt, Ltd.

R. Kymn Harp
Robbins, Salomon & Patt, Ltd.

Catherine Cook Shareholder at Robbins, Salomon & Patt, Ltd.

Catherine A. Cooke
 Robbins, Salomon & Patt, Ltd.

This is Part 2 of a multi-part series of articles discussing the duties, rights and remedies of commercial real estate tenants in Illinois. Part 1, entitled “Getting It Right” discussed the importance of clarity in lease drafting, and the potential for unintended leasehold easements for parking, and other uses.

In March 2015, the Illinois Institute for Continuing Legal Education (“IICLE”) published its 2015 Edition practice handbook entitled: Commercial Landlord-Tenant Practice. To provide best-practice guidance to all Illinois attorneys, IICLE recruits experienced attorneys with relevant knowledge to write each handbook chapter. For the 2015 Edition, IICLE asked R. Kymn Harp and Catherine A. Cooke to write the chapter entitled Tenant’s Duties, Rights and Remedies. We were, of course, pleased to oblige. Although each of us represent commercial landlords at least as often as we represent commercial tenants, a clear understanding of the duties, rights and remedies of commercial real estate tenants is critical when representing either side of the commercial lease transaction.

The following is an excerpt (slightly edited) from our chapter in the 2015 Edition. We hope you find this excerpt, and the excerpts that will follow, informative and useful. Feel free to contact IICLE  directly to purchase the entire volume.

What Is It? — General Principles

It has long been the law in Illinois that a covenant of quite enjoyment is implied in all lease agreements. Blue Cross Ass’n v. 666 N. Lake Shore Drive Associates, 100 Ill.App.3d 647, 427 N.E.2d 270, 273, 56 Ill.Dec. 290 (1st Dist. 1981); 64 East Walton, Inc. v. Chicago Title & Trust Co., 69 Ill.App.3d 635, 387 N.E.2d 751, 755, 25 Ill.Dec. 875 (1st Dist. 1979); Berrington v. Casey, 78 Ill. 317, 319 (1875); Wade v. Halligan, 16 Ill. 507, 511 (1855).

A covenant of quiet enjoyment “promises that the tenant shall enjoy the possession of the premises in peace and without disturbance.” [Emphasis in original.] Checkers, Simon & Rosner v. Lurie Co., No. 87 C 5405, 1987 WL 18930 at *3 (N.D.Ill. Oct. 20, 1987). This does not mean, however, that no breach of the covenant of quiet enjoyment may be found in a leasehold without a finding that the lessor intended to deprive the lessee of possession. Blue Cross Ass’n, supra, 427 N.E.2d at 27. It simply means that a tenant must actually be in possession of the premises to claim a breach of the covenant of quiet enjoyment. If the tenant has already vacated the premises before the disturbance has commenced, no breach of the covenant of quiet enjoyment occurs. Checkers, Simon & Rosner, supra, 1987 WL 18930 at *3.

RSP_LogoHD (3)An implied covenant of quiet enjoyment includes, “absent a lease clause to the contrary, the right to be free of the lessors’ intentional interference with full enjoyment and use of the leased premises.” Infinity Broadcasting Corporation of Illinois v. Prudential Insurance Company of America, No. 86 C 4207, 1987 WL 6624 at *5 (N.D.Ill. Feb. 9, 1987), aff’d, 869 F.2d 1073 (7th Cir. 1989), quoting American Dairy Queen Corp. v. Brown-Port Co., 621 F.2d 255, 258 (7th Cir. 1980).

If the landlord breaches the covenant of quiet enjoyment, the lessee may remain in possession and claim damages for breach of lease. In such case, the measure of damages is the difference between the rental value of the premises in light of the breached covenant of quiet enjoyment and the rent that the tenant agreed to pay under the lease, together with such special damages as may have been directly and necessarily incurred by the tenant in consequence of the landlord’s wrongful act. 64 East Walton, supra, 387 N.E.2d at 755.

Although Illinois cases defining the precise scope of a covenant of quiet enjoyment are rare, BLACK’S LAW DICTIONARY, pp. 1248 – 1249 (6th ed. 1993) defines “quiet enjoyment” in connection with the landlord-tenant relationship as “the tenant’s right to freedom from serious interferences with his or her tenancy. Manzaro v. McCann, 401 Mass. 880, 519 N.E.2d 1337, 1341. (Ringing for more than one day of smoke alarms in an apartment building could be sufficient interference with the tenants’ quite enjoyment of leased premises to justify relief against the landlord.).”


In Blue Cross Ass’n v. 666 N. Lake Shore Drive Associates, 100 Ill.App.3d 647, 427 N.E.2d 270, 273, 56 Ill.Dec. 290 (1st Dist. 1981), the First District Appellate Court discussed the covenant of quiet enjoyment in the lease as granting the tenant a right of quiet and peaceful possession and enjoyment of the whole premises and equated a breach of quiet enjoyment under a lease to a private nuisance. “A private nuisance in a leasehold situation is ‘an individual wrong arising from an unreasonable, unwarranted or unlawful use of one’s property producing such material annoyance, inconvenience, discomfort, or hurt that the law will presume a consequent damage.’ ” Id., quoting Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co. v. LaSalle National Bank, 77 Ill.App.3d 478, 395 N.E.2d 1193, 1198, 32 Ill.Dec. 812 (1st Dist. 1979).

The tenant had entered into a five-year lease on August 22, 1978, with a five-year renewal option, for approximately 53,000 square feet of the (more…)

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Commercial Landlord-Tenant Issues – PART 1 – Getting it Right

R. Kymn Harp Robbins, Salomon & Patt, Ltd.

R. Kymn Harp
Robbins, Salomon & Patt, Ltd.

Catherine Cook Shareholder at Robbins, Salomon & Patt, Ltd.

Catherine Cooke
 Robbins, Salomon & Patt, Ltd.

In March 2015, the Illinois Institute for Continuing Legal Education (“IICLE”) published its 2015 Edition practice handbook entitled:  Commercial Landlord-Tenant Practice. To provide best-practice guidance to all Illinois attorneys, IICLE recruits experienced attorneys with relevant knowledge to write each handbook chapter. For the current edition, IICLE asked R. Kymn Harp and Catherine Cooke of Robbins, Salomon & Patt, Ltd., Chicago, Illinois, to write the chapter entitled Tenant’s Duties, Rights and Remedies. We were, of course, pleased to oblige. Although each of us represent commercial landlords at least as often as we represent commercial tenants, a clear understanding of the duties, rights and remedies of commercial real estate tenants is critical when representing either side of the commercial lease transaction.

The following is an excerpt (slightly edited) from our chapter, Tenant’s Duties, Rights and Remedies appearing in the 2015 Edition of IICLE Commercial Landlord-Tenant Practice. We hope you find this excerpt, and the excerpts that will follow, informative and useful. Feel free to contact IICLE directly to purchase the entire volume.

How Commercial Lease Issues Commonly Arise – Getting it Right

Commercial real estate leases, like virtually all documents and agreements relating to commercial real estate transactions and interests, are, to a very large extent, consistent only in their variety. In commercial real estate practice, there are few, if any, “standard form” documents or agreements. To be sure, there are provisions in commercial real estate leases that any experienced practitioner would expect to see, and there are some generally applicable legal concepts that apply, but the variety of issues that may arise — and the language used in each commercial lease — will directly and materially impact the “duties, rights, and remedies” of a tenant under any commercial lease.

The best answer to most questions about what are the rights, duties, and remedies of a tenant under a commercial real estate lease is “It depends.” What does it depend on? It depends primarily on what the parties to the lease — the landlord and tenant — intended, as (presumably) reflected by the express terms and conditions of the lease. However, two common challenges frequently exist, and they apply equally to commercial tenants and commercial landlords. They are (a) poorly written lease provisions that do not clearly and definitively set forth the intention of the landlord and tenant in a way that cannot reasonably be misunderstood and (b) inclusion of perceived “standard boilerplate” provisions in a lease without fully understanding their legal or practical affect on the leased premises, the parties, and the greater project of which the leased premises may be a part. When the intent of the parties is not abundantly clear, a court may find the answer implied by the facts and circumstances.


A “lease” is generally described as a contract for exclusive possession of land and improvements for a term of years or other duration, usually for a specified rent or other compensation. Urban Investment & Development Co. v. Maurice L. Rothschild & Co., 25 Ill.App.3d 546, 323 N.E.2d 588, 592 (1st Dist. 1975); Feeley v. Michigan Avenue National Bank, 141 Ill.App.3d 187, 490 N.E.2d 15, 18, 141 Ill.Dec. 187 (1st Dist. 1986).

In determining the duties, rights, and remedies of a tenant under a commercial lease in Illinois, the general rules of contract construction will apply. Walgreen Co. v. American National Bank & Trust Company of Chicago, 4 Ill.App.3d 549, 281 N.E.2d 462, 465 (1st Dist. 1972); Feeley, supra, 490 N.E.2d at 18; Chicago Title & Trust Co. v. Southland Corp., 111 Ill.App.3d 67, 443 N.E.2d 294, 297, 66 Ill.Dec. 611 (1st Dist. 1982). Interpretation of a lease is a question of law when the terms are plain and unambiguous. Madigan Bros. v. Melrose Shopping Center Co., 123 Ill.App.3d 851, 463 N.E.2d 824, 828, 79 Ill.Dec. 270 (1st Dist. 1984).

“An ambiguous contract is one capable of being understood in more senses than one; an agreement obscure in meaning, through indefiniteness of expression, or having a double meaning.” Advertising Checking Bureau, Inc. v. Canal-Randolph Associates, 101 Ill.App.3d 140, 427 N.E.2d 1039, 1042, 56 Ill.Dec. 634 (1st Dist. 1991), quoting First National Bank of Chicago v. Victor Comptometer Corp., 123 Ill.App.2d 335, 260 N.E.2d 99, 102 (1st Dist. 1970). However, the mere fact that the parties to a lease “dispute” the meaning of a lease provision and assign conflicting interpretations does not render the provision “ambiguous.” McGann v. Murry, 75 Ill.App.3d 697, 393 N.E.2d 1339, 1342 – 1343, 31 Ill.Dec. 32 (3d Dist. 1979); St. George Chicago, Inc. v. George J. Murges & Associates, Ltd., 296 Ill.App.3d 285, 695 N.E.2d 503, 506 – 507, 230 Ill.Dec. 1013 (1st Dist. 1998); Ford v. Dovenmuehle Mortgage, Inc., 273 Ill.App.3d 240, 651 N.E.2d 751, 745 – 755, 209 Ill.Dec. 573 (1st Dist. 1995). Whether ambiguity exists is a question of law for the court. Advertising Checking Bureau, supra, 427 N.E.2d at 1042; Pioneer Trust & Savings Bank v. Lucky Stores, Inc., 91 Ill.App.3d 573, 414 N.E.2d 1152, 1154, 47 Ill.Dec. 36 (1st Dist. 1980).

It is well-settled in Illinois that, when construing a written lease, the court must give words their commonly accepted meaning and must construe every part with reference to all other portions of the lease “so that every part may stand, if possible, and no part of it, either in words or sentences, shall be regarded as superfluous or void if it can be prevented.” Kokenes v. Cities Service Oil Co., 24 Ill.App.3d 483, 321 N.E.2d 338, 340 (1st Dist. 1974), quoting Szulerecki v. Oppenheimer, 283 Ill. 525, 119 N.E. 643, 646 (1918). See also Southland, supra, 443 N.E.2d at 297.

In construing a lease, the instrument is to be considered as a whole and the primary object is to derive the intent of the parties. However, a contract must be enforced as written, and when the terms of a lease are clear and unambiguous, they will be given their natural and ordinary meaning. Gerardi v. Vaal, 169 Ill.App.3d 818, 523 N.E.2d 1327, 1331, 120 Ill.Dec. 416 (3d Dist. 1988).

The foregoing sounds pretty straightforward, but unless attorneys and their clients draft leases with a comprehensive understanding of the interplay between particularly drafted provisions and every other part of the lease — including so-called “standard boilerplate” provisions — they may find themselves surprised by what they have “agreed to.”


 Drafting a commercial real estate lease is similar to drafting any other commercial document, except that the meaning and intent of contractual lease provisions are colored by an extensive body of underlying real property law that has developed over the centuries.

A commercial real estate lease should say what the parties mean and mean what it says. Words have meaning; phrases have meaning; each provision has meaning. The interplay of words, phrases, and all provisions in a lease will help determine the meaning of each other word, phrase, or provision. See Kokenes, supra, 321 N.E.2d at 340; Szulerecki, supra, 119 N.E. at 646.


 Be sure the words and phrases you use mean what your client believes they mean before proceeding.

 If there are provisions of a commercial real estate lease you do not fully understand — including provisions you believe are “standard boilerplate” provisions — you need to learn what they mean and how they affect other parts of the lease, and your client’s rights, duties and remedies, before advising your client to proceed.

The following discussion highlights some areas in which the rights, duties, and remedies of the commercial real estate tenant (and, by mirror image, the landlord) appear not to have been what one or the other party thought they were. (more…)

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