Plaintiff as tenant entered into a five year commercial lease, commencing March 1, 2006. The lease provided that the space would be used as an office for a recruiting firm and nothing else, and would not be used in a manner that would violate the certificate of occupancy (the “CO”), which would result in the tenant’s breach of the lease. In December 2007, the tenant learned that the CO required that the building be used only as residential space. The tenant asked the landlord to correct this, but the landlord refused. The tenant vacated on May 8, 2009. Thereafter, the tenant sued claiming that the lease was invalid and illegal. The landlord claimed that it was an innocent mistake and counterclaimed for breach of contract, claiming that the lease provided that it was the tenant’s obligation to provide for all permits and licenses in connection with the leased space and that the landlord did not make representations as to the legality of the space.
In reversing the lower court, the First Department held that the landlord could not hide behind that lease provision while also representing that commercial use was permitted in the building, specifically as an office. Allowing the landlord’s argument would mean that the tenant was in breach of the lease on the day it moved in. Even if the landlord’s mistake was innocent, the tenant did not get what it bargained for, and may thus be entitled to rescind the lease. The court clearly saw the landlord as the offending party and seemed skeptical of its arguments in refusing to correct or update the CO, to the extent that was even possible.
Notably, the court did not address the tenant’s ability to check public records for the building’s permitted use, which would have informed the tenant of the building’s limited use. It seems that the court was not going to allow the landlord to hide its conduct behind the lease terms, no matter what.