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Commercial Landlord Has an Implied Obligation to Maintain Shopping Center

On July 7, 2011, the New Jersey Appellate Division affirmed a trial court ruling that where a lease requires a tenant to operate a “quality jewelry store” in a “first class and reputable manner,” the landlord has an implied obligation to maintain the shopping center in a good condition.

In Wallington Plaza LLC v. Taher, the trial court concluded that while the lease obligated tenant to sell only quality jewelry, it also imposed a responsibility on the landlord to keep the premises in a reasonable condition as a tenant would expect if he had to operate a first-class business to make prospective customers welcome.  According to the tenant, during the years immediately preceding tenant vacating the premises, the shopping center’s parking lot fell into disrepair. More importantly, many key tenants closed and vacated the shopping center.  The tenant, faced with considerably reduced traffic and an unattractive setting, vacated his store.  The landlord sued for 6 months rent.

In ruling in favor of the tenant, the trial court found that the landlord essentially allowed the shopping center to go to seed.  The parking lot had no parking space white lines, was uneven, and had grass growing all throughout the broken concrete. The trial court also noted the number of vacancy signs together with the mall’s overall substandard condition.

Notwithstanding the dismal economy, it is imperative that landlords not shirk their obligations to maintain their properties.  Failure to do so could end up costing a lot more in the form of lost rent and attorney’s fees.