Z&S Corp. v. Fill & Fly, Inc., 2014 IL App (3d) 130253-U examines whether a commercial lessor, who serves a 30-day notice to terminate an oral month-to-month lease, waives the termination by accepting rents after the notice period expires. The case also addresses what factual elements a plaintiff must prove to prevail on a specific performance claim under Illinois law.
The defendant operated gas stations on two properties owned by the plaintiff since 2008. And while they had discussed the defendant’s purchase of the sites at various times – most recently in 2009 – they were operating under a verbal month-to-month tenancy pursuant to which the tenant paid monthly rents and real estate taxes to the plaintiff landlord. When tenant defaulted under the oral lease, plaintiff served a 30-day notice (on February 28, 2012) to terminate the tenancy (effective March 31, 2012) and eventually filed a forcible suit seeking possession of both properties. After the 30-day termination period expired, plaintiff accepted some rent payments from the tenant defendant.
The tenant filed a 2-619 motion to dismiss the forcible action on the basis that the landlord waived the 30-day termination notice by accepting rents after March 31, 2012 – the 30 day notice period’s expiration. 735 ILCS 5/9-207 (month-to-month tenancy terminable on 30 days’ notice); See http://paulporvaznik.com/how-to-terminate-periodic-tenancies/23,
The trial court rejected this argument and denied the tenant’s motion on the basis that the parties were actively engaged in settlement talks and so the landlord’s lease termination notice wasn’t waived when the landlord accepted post-termination rents. After a bench trial, the trial court found in favor of the plaintiff and awarded it possession of the properties. The trial court also entered judgment for plaintiff on the tenant’s specific performance counterclaim – which sought to enforce an earlier purchase contract for the sites – on the basis that the purchase contract lapsed. The tenant appealed both the denial of its 2-619 motion and the trial result. Z & S, ¶¶ 21-22.
The Third District affirmed the trial court. On the termination notice issue, the Court held that a landlord’s acceptance of rent after a termination date usually results in a waiver of the notice. Z & S, ¶ 30; Bismark Hotel Co. v. Sutherland, 92 Ill.App.3d 167, 173 (1980). But Illinois case law provides that if the parties are involved in active settlement negotiations at the time the landlord accepts the rent payment, the landlord’s acceptance of the rent won’t waive the lease termination. Z & S, ¶ 30; Yarc v. American Hospital Supply Corp., 17 Ill.App.3d 667, 671 (1974). Here, since the record evidence demonstrated that the parties were engaged in settlement talks, the landlord’s acceptance of rent after the 30-day notice period ended didn’t nullify the notice.
The Court also upheld the trial verdict in landlord’s favor on the tenant’s specific performance claim. The tenant was trying to enforce a 2009 purchase contract for the two gas station properties. A key component of a specific performance claim is whether the claimant (1) has complied with all terms of the contract or (2) was ready, willing and able to complete the contract but was prevented from doing so by the opposing party. Z & S, ¶ 37; Maywood Proviso State Bank v. York State Bank and Trust Co., 252 Ill.App.3d 164, 171 (1993).
The defendant’s failure to establish either element doomed its specific performance claim. The trial evidence demonstrated that the defendant’s failure to pay real estate taxes on the properties – as required under the lease and aborted purchase contract – was the reason the properties’ mortgage lender wouldn’t permit defendant to assume the existing mortgages on the sites and consummate the purchase. Also, the Court noted that the defendant’s principal’s trial testimony established that he was unable to complete financing for the purchase of the properties because he didn’t have a green card. Without a green card, the bank wouldn’t allow the defendant to complete the purchase transaction. Taken together, the evidence clearly demonstrated that the tenant couldn’t prove either that he complied with the purchase contract or was prevented from doing so by the plaintiff. Z & S, ¶¶ 37-39.
Z & S is useful for its discussion of how to terminate a month-to-month commercial lease and when a landlord can still accept rent payments after a termination notice lapses. The case also shows that to plead and prove specific performance, a litigant must show that he either complied with the contract terms or stood ready to but was impeded by some act of the other contracting party.