Landlord’s Property Manager Direct Examination (Commercial Lease)

witness stand (photocredit: google images; www.pixgood.com)

Here’s an outline of the direct examination I’ve used in commercial lease eviction cases at trial representing a landlord.  Assume a commercial tenant who has defaulted under a commercial lease and I’ve called the lessor’s property manager to testify concerning the lease, the 5-day notice, the tenant ledger, the lease guarantee and to provide damages testimony.

Necessary documents/exhibits: (1) Lease and Guaranty, (2) 5-day Notice, (3) Tenant Ledger, (4) Management Agreement (contract between owner and property manager that authorizes property manager to collect rents and to prosecute forcible action if tenant breaches lease); (5) Fee petition (assuming lease contains fee-shifting language); and (6) any legally significant correspondence (i.e. a lease termination notice).  Obviously, at trial, I often have to deviate from my script but this hopefully provides a useful outline of key topics.

Also – some of the  questions are leading and may have to be rephrased.  My experience though is most judges give some latitude in the interest of streamlining the examination.

Q: State name

A: “I’m Patricia Property Manager” 

Q: Where are you employed?

A: “I’m the Vice President of Leasing for Property Managers, Ltd.”

Q: What are your day-to-day duties?

A: “I handle rent collections and billing for various tenants and am the liaison for tenants on all of our shopping center properties”

Q: Are you familiar with the property that is the subject of this lawsuit?

A: “Yes”

Q: How so?

A: “The property is one of my assigned assets.  I’m in charge of collecting rents for this property and dealings with the tenant”

Q: Where is the property located?

A: “125 Main Street,  Store No. 2 S, Pine Acres shopping mall”

Q: Can you describe that property please?

A: “Yes It’s in a strip mall outside of downtown and contains 11 different retail businesses.”

Q: Are you familiar with the tenant and defendant in this case?

A: “Yes, the tenant operates a financial services franchise in Unit 2-S in the mall.”

Q: What is your company’s relationship to Property Owner?

A: “We’re  the owner’s property manager”

Q: Is your company authorized to collect rents on this site?

A: “Yes”

Q: How do you know that?

A: There’s a written management agreement between the owner and our company for us to manage the property

[Show Management Agreement – Ex. 1]

Q: Do you recognize this document?

A: Yes

Q: What is it?

A: “It’s the property management agreement between the owner and us”

Q: have you seen this before?

A: “Yes”

Q: In what context have you seen this?

A: “This management agreement is part of our lease file.  It’s the governing document between us and the property owner/landlord that allows us to manage the property and collect rents”

SHOW LEASE – Exh. 2

Q: Showing you what’s been marked as Exhibit 2 – do you recognize this?

A: “Yes”

Q: What is it?

A: “It’s the written lease for the property involving the tenant and defendant”

Q: What is commencement date and end date of the Lease?

A: “January 1, 2010 is the start, the end date is January 1, 2020″

Q: Do you recognize the signatures on the Lease?

A: “Yes”

Q: How so?

A: “The person who signed for the landlord is one of the property owners; the person who signed for the tenant is the president of the tenant’s company”

Q: Do you (or does your company) keep records of rents charged and owing under this lease?

A: “Yes”

Q: Describe to the court how you track rents

A: “We input them into our computer database and update our internal records with each payment.  We regularly send the tenant a regular ledger showing current amounts owed and past amounts paid”

Q: Have you reviewed [Name of Property Mgmt company] books and records pertaining to this Lease and Property

A: “Yes”

Q: What, in general, do those books and records consist of?

A: “The lease, correspondence, guaranty, tenant ledger, any default notices, etc.”

SHOW 5-DAY NOTICE – EX. 3

Q: Do you recognize this

A: Yes

Q: What is it

A: It’s the default notice we sent to the tenant after it failed to pay rent

Q: Is this the type of document you’ve seen before?

A: Yes.  It’s the typical default notice we send out to a defaulting tenant

Q: Do you know how this notice was served on the Tenant

A: Yes – certified mail

Q: Do you know when it was served

A: June 5, 2017

Q: How do you know?

A: Because we received the green card certified mail receipt which showed that the tenant received and signed for the notice on that date

[Note – be prepared to show the certified mail receipt to the witness and argue that it gets in under judicial notice, business record or public record – e.g. print-out from usps site.Q: How much did the Tenant owe on the date of this 5-day notice

Q: Has Tenant made any payments since the date of this notice

A: No

SHOW TENANT LEDGER – EX. 4

Q: Do you recognize this?

A: Yes

Q: What is it?

A: It’s the Tenant Ledger

Q: Is this a document you’ve seen before?

A: Yes – it’s the standard ledger we use for all tenants to track lease charges and payments

Q: What information is contained on here?

A: It’s a written itemization of rent payments made and owed as well as other lease charges?

Q: What’s the source of these figures?

A: It’s based on payments received and charges made as entered into our leasing data software program.

Q: Is this prepared and kept in the regular course of [Property Mgr’s] business?

A: Yes

Q: For what purpose?

A: To be able to provide tenant and us with a current statement of amounts due

Q: As Vice President of Leasing who has responsibility for the account with the tenant-defendant, do you have personal knowledge of lease payments due and owing from this tenant as well as payments made?

A: Yes

Q: Is the Tenant current on its lease payments

A: No

Q: Why do you give that answer

A: Because the tenant hasn’t paid rent for the past three months

Q: Is the tenant still in possession to your knowledge?

A: Yes

Q: How much does the Tenant owe through today?

A: $16,500

Q: How did you arrive at that number?

A: Rent is $5,000 a month, plus late fees and CAM reimbursement

Q: And are those numbers on this tenant ledger

A: Yes

Q: How much does the Tenant owe through the end of the Lease term?

A: $150,000

Q: Explain how you calculated that

A: I multiplied monthly rent times number of months left on the lease and added CAM and real estate tax reimbursement charges

GUARANTEE – EX. 5

Q: Showing you what’s been marked as Exhibit 5- do you recognize this

A: Yes

Q: What is it?

A: It’s the lease guaranty signed by Tom Tenant – the company president

Q: Is this a type of document you’ve seen before in your capacity as VP of leasing?

A: Yes – we require personal guarantees from some of our corporate tenants

Q: Did you ever notify the Guarantor that the Tenant was in default under the Lease

A: Yes.

Q: When

A: the same date we sent the notice.  We copied Tom Tenant with the notice

Q: have you received any payments from the Guarantor since notifying him of the Tenant’s breach

A: No

“Your honor, I move to admit Exhibits 1-5 into evidence.  I have nothing further”