Would you like Claudia to manage your liability concerns?

A polite decline can prevent a future headache.

Q: " I was recently asked to prepare an appraisal of a commercial property here in town. The lawyer who called me has hired me to do expert work in the past and I have never had a problem with him. But, the more he told me about this case, the more concerns I had about agreeing to do this work. This lawyer represents a gentleman who owns a local strip mall. The dispute he is having is with one of the tenants who operate a pizza place/sports bar in the mall. The landlord and tenant can’t agree on a reasonable rent going forward. They decided to jointly hire an appraiser. The appraiser must decide a reasonable rental rate and both sides will be bound by the appraiser’s determination. If I agree to take on the assignment, this lawyer that called me will send my name to the tenant’s lawyer. If the tenant is OK with me, I will be officially hired and my fee will be paid 50/50 by both sides.

I know the neighborhood, and I know the property. I have no problem with the assignment, but the more this lawyer told me the more “red flags” I saw. According to the landlord’s lawyer, this discussion about rent has been going on now for almost 2 years. The tenant claims the property needs updating and a lot of repairs. He also claims the signage is bad and he is accusing the landlord of constructive eviction. He says the rent the landlord is seeking is unreasonably high for the neighborhood and is designed to force this tenant to move so the landlord can lease this space to some other non-restaurant tenant. The landlord says this is all baloney. He is fine with the restaurant. He says the property is older but in good condition. He accused the tenant of intentionally causing damage to the premises as a ploy to get lower rent. He doesn’t understand why this tenant has issues that no other tenant in the mall is complaining about.

It sounds to me like this is a feud that I should not get involved with. Do you agree? "

A: I sure do, and I am glad you could step back and realize what sort of trouble there might be if you did take on this assignment. These two have been unable to reach a compromise in 2 years, and they are hurling accusations back and forth. I find it hard to believe that your appraisal will bring an end to the fighting. Rather, it just might make you the target. It seems that no matter what your opinions might be, one side or the other is not going to like it. If you are too “high” the tenant will attack you. If you come in too “low” it will be the landlord who will be critical. How likely is it that you will come in with a recommendation that is “high” enough for one and “low” enough for the other? If these two have been fighting about this for 2 years, rational agreement seems remote.

According to what the lawyer told you, you would be hired by both parties, which means you would owe a duty to both parties. I think you need to trust your instincts and that you should graciously decline the assignment. Otherwise, you would be putting yourself in the line of fire and you do not need that kind of problem.

Would you like Claudia to manage your liability concerns?