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"Unhealthy" Claim Just a Lot of Hot Air
by Ron Davis
Lack of proof of unhealthy air quality at a Minnesota shopping center has doomed a tenant’s excuse for early termination of his lease.
The shopping center is Valley Ridge Shopping Center in Burnsville, and the tenant leased space there beginning in 1999 for a chiropractic clinic. The terms of that eight-year lease required the tenant to be responsible for repair and maintenance of, among other things, the heating and air-conditioning equipment at the clinic.
The tenant agreed to those terms, but maintains that within a year after moving into the leased space, his employees began experiencing sore throats, headaches, stuffy noses, and dripping sinuses. Yet, two years later, in completing a survey of building satisfaction, he failed to mention any problems with air quality or employee illness.
After receiving a bid to build a new clinic elsewhere, however, the tenant complained for the first time about air quality at the center and the symptoms that his employees had complained of. He subsequently contracted with an environmental-control specialist, but the findings from the specialist’s investigation failed to discover a mold or any other environmental problem inside the tenant’s premises.
In the meantime, the tenant decided to vacate the shopping center space and move his clinic to a new location. The shopping center’s owners responded by reminding the tenant that he was obligated to pay rent for the next three years, at the end of which the lease would expire.
When the tenant refused to pay, the center’s owners sued, seeking $38,963.72 for future rent, plus fees.
A Minnesota district court ruled in favor of the tenant, finding that he had been “constructively evicted” from the center because his “beneficial enjoyment of the leased space was sufficiently interfered so as to justify abandonment.” The center’s owners appealed.
A Minnesota appellate court reversed the district court, explaining, “Because there is neither evidence nor findings of fact regarding the medical nature of symptoms reported by [the tenant’s] staff or the root cause of those conditions, the determination of wrongful interference and constructive eviction was an abuse of the district’s court discretion. Moreover, there is nothing in the record to show that conditions were of a sufficiently grave and permanent character to justify abandonment [of the leased premises].” (Englesma Limited Partnership v. Danielson, 2006 WL 3361966 [Minn.App.])
Decision: December 2006
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