I am on an expired lease that automatically turned into a wilful m2m, two months ago. I informed LL that I had filed for CH7 bankruptcy and had to discharge 2 months worth of arrears, but that I wanted to work something out with them. Next morning they had changed the locks, and demand pay in full or engage on a payment plan. I sent them a cease and decease and they responded that they will provide access tomorrow providing I vacate the premises since I dont have a lease in place (they seem to believe that). I cannot vacate in one day, and frankly after all lost business by now, I want some leeway to find another place and regroup with all my work. I want to have some time before I grant them a voluntary surrender, and explore damages. What are my choices and how much will it cost me?
(1) An attorney will have to take a look at your lease. Commercial leases can be incredibly complex. You're lease may have completely expired. Then again, certain provisions in your lease may still be enforceable. For instance, there may be something in your lease that grants the landlord a right to change the locks upon non-payment. I have seen leases that became month-to-month, BUT where certain provisions of the original lease were still in effect.
(2) Your position is not overly strong. You may have some damages, but you will have to give careful consideration to whether or not it will actually be economically worthwhile to initiate litigation. No attorney that I know would take your case on a contingency fee (hoping for a % of the damages recovered). That is too speculative. Instead, you would have to retain someone and pay hourly. Given that you are in chapter 7 and you are behind on your commercial property rent, any attorney who takes this will want a healthy retainer up front for fees plus money for costs. Just throwing number out there-- someone might take this for $2,500 retainer plus $1,000 for initial costs (filing, service, etc).
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It sounds very likely that the landlord may have violated the automatic stay that you benefit from while your bankruptcy case is open. The bankruptcy court can sanction the landlord and issue an injunction to control the landlord's future conduct. You should contact a bankruptcy attorney immediately to discuss this.
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