(Reuters) - A Chicago landlord has sued tenant Jenner & Block, one of the largest law firms in that city, alleging it hasn’t paid rent in April or May, as many offices across the U.S. remain closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The landlord, Hart 353 North Clark LLC, said in a complaint filed May 20 in Chicago state court that Jenner & Block failed to pay its rent on due dates April 1 and May 1 and that it owes more than $3.7 million. The landlord asked that the firm be made to pay the overdue rent on its 353 N Clark Street office, plus more than $150,000 in alleged “unpaid cafe charges” and reconciliations from 2018, and attorneys’ fees.
Jenner & Block co-managing partner Randy Mehrberg said in a statement on Friday that the firm’s Chicago office lease includes a “provision for rent abatement in the event of a situation, like the global pandemic, that renders the firm unable to use and occupy the space for its intended purpose” and that it “has invoked that provision.”
”We have credited the landlord for the limited space we have been able to use for its intended purpose. Jenner & Block has a very strong financial position; this dispute is exclusively about the enforcement of that provision in the lease,” Mehrberg said.
Chicago-based Jenner & Block has five offices in the U.S. and U.K. and more than 500 attorneys, according to its website.
Many law firm offices have sat empty since mid-March, when the pandemic led most businesses to shutter in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus. As attorneys adapt to remote work, some in the legal industry have speculated the pandemic could lead law firms to rethink their real estate footprint. But Jenner & Block may be one of the first large law firms to stop paying rent for an unused office.
Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker in April ordered law enforcement to “cease enforcement of orders of eviction for non-residential premises” amid the coronavirus pandemic, unless the tenant poses a threat to safety or a severe and immediate risk to property or violates certain regulations.
The case is Hart 353 North Clark LLC v. Jenner & Block LLP, Cook County Circuit Court, No. 2020-L-005476.
For Hart 353 North Clark LLC: John Riccione, William Serritella and Brianna Skelly of Taft Stettinius & Hollister
For Jenner & Block: Not immediately available