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Parties in complex commercial cases that are accused of defaulting on or breaching a contract may invoke the defense of impossibility, arguing that performance of contractual obligations was rendered impossible by an intervening event. Under New York law, those arguments rarely make it past the motion stage. Courts apply the doctrine narrowly, only to executory contracts and only where the intervening event was both unforeseeable and destroyed either the contract’s subject matter or the means of performance. The related doctrine of frustration of purpose may apply more broadly, but only where it would make little sense to perform on a contract because of an intervening event. The narrowness of these doctrines — and their questionable utility for litigators — underscores the importance of striving during the contract drafting process to include contingency clauses providing for foreseeable possibilities and language making clear the contract’s purpose.
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By Marisa L. Byram
As we all expected, cases are being brought and decided on the issue of whether the COVID-19 pandemic and related governmental shut down orders trigger force majeure clauses in commercial leases and operate to excuse the performance of commercial tenants. While force majeure clauses vary widely, a recent decision from an Illinois Bankruptcy Court may provide guidance to help resolve disputes without resorting to the courts.
By Ian Steinberg
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio delivered another striking blow to property owners when he signed into law N.Y.C. Council Int. No. 1932-A (2020) on May 26, 2020. The new legislation prohibits landlords from enforcing personal guaranties on certain commercial leases for defaults occurring between March 7, 2020 and Sept. 30, 2020.
By Adam Leitman Bailey and Dov Treiman
Not including what may have been negotiated in a commercial lease, there are three traditional theories under which commercial tenants could seek to assert entitlement to forgiveness of their rent: frustration of purpose, impossibility of performance, and force majeure.
By Phillip Bantz
National Association of Realtors Survey Shows Most Commercial Tenants Struggling to Pay Rent
While the residential real estate market is experiencing what appears to be a swift rebound from the coronavirus-induced slump, the commercial landscape still looks relatively bleak.