Wednesday, November 15, 2017
I love when I reach the end of the semester teaching contracts because everything is still extra-fresh in my mind and every case starts to read like an exam hypo to me. This recent case out of New York, GB Properties NYC LLC v. Bonatti, 503564/2017, discusses time is of the essence issues in the context of a real estate contract.
The parties entered into the contract on July 28, 2016, and while no date was set for closing in the contract, the contract stated it should take place within 60 days of the contract's execution or on some other mutually agreeable date. Sixty days after execution of the contract, the plaintiff had not provided the necessary information to close. Defendants' counsel informed plaintiff's counsel that the closing would be scheduled for December 6 and that the date was "of the essence." Plaintiff's counsel requested an extension, which was agreed to and set for December 28, but time was still deemed to be of the essence in the extension document.
On December 28, the defendants appeared for the closing but the plaintiff never appeared. Two days later plaintiff's counsel requested an extension to January 12. The defendants agreed only if the plaintiff timely provided additional money to be held in escrow; otherwise they would consider the parties' contract to be concluded for violation of the time is of the essence condition and they would keep the money already in escrow (as had been provided in the contract by way of liquidated damages). The plaintiff did not provide extra money. On January 27 the defendants entered into a contract to sell the property to someone else. This lawsuit resulted, with the plaintiff seeking specific performance of the contract.
The defendants maintained that both parties agreed that the December 28 date was of the essence and the plaintiff was not ready to fulfill its contractual obligations on that date. Therefore, the plaintiff breached the contract and the defendants were entitled to declare the contract terminated and maintain the down payment as liquidated damages. The plaintiff, however, alleged that the failure to close was the defendants' fault because the defendants had not provided clean title by the closing date and so the defendants were not ready to close on December 28.
The court found that the defendants were ready to close on December 28 and that the extension negotiated between the parties unequivocally made the December 28 date of the essence. The plaintiff's failure to appear on that date was a breach of contract. The plaintiff itself admitted that it did not have the money for the closing on that date. Therefore, the plaintiff was in breach and the defendants were entitled to retain the down payment pursuant to the liquidated damages provision in the contract.