Law firm Crowell sues to recoup $30 mln in COVID-era rent

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Commercial office space is seen empty in a building in Seattle, Washington, U.S. May 14, 2021. REUTERS/Karen Ducey/File Photo
REUTERS/Karen Ducey

(Reuters) - Crowell & Moring has sued its Washington, D.C., landlord to recover $30 million that the law firm said it was not required to pay in rent amid office space disruptions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Washington-based Crowell said in its complaint this month in District of Columbia Superior Court that its lease gave the firm a right to abate rent after a "material interference" inhibited using its 391,757 square-feet of office space near the White House.

Local orders restricted Crowell's office access from March 2020 through May 2021, which ran contrary to its lease agreement on use of the space, the firm said.

Crowell said it paid TREA Trust more than $30 million in rent between April 2020 and May 2021 but is entitled to a 98% abatement because office access "was reduced to less than 2% of the normal use and access" under the lease.

The lawsuit against The TREA 1001 Pennsylvania Avenue Trust was filed on March 10 but not previously reported.

A TREA Trust spokesperson said in a Monday statement that it will "vigorously defend against this meritless action."

A Crowell spokesperson said Monday that the firm was "left with no choice" but to sue, despite having had a good relationship with its landlord for 30 years in the building.

The courts have grappled with myriad real estate and insurance disputes arising from the pandemic, which spurred state, local and federal orders directing employers and others to take steps to minimize physical contact.

Law firm employees were among the millions of Americans who began working from home to help reduce spread of the virus. Most firms have since encouraged or required lawyers and professionals to work from the office at least part of the week.

In December 2020, Crowell sued its San Francisco office landlord related to pandemic-era impacts. That case was voluntarily dismissed in April 2022.

Law firm Jenner & Block and its landlord in Chicago settled dueling pandemic-related claims in 2021. Schulte Roth & Zabel is pursuing a $10 million rent abatement claim against its landlord in New York, and a trial is expected later this year.

The case is Crowell & Moring v. The TREA 1001 Pennsylvania Avenue Trust, District of Columbia Superior Court, No. 2023-CAB-001531.

For Crowell: Keith Harrison and Toni Michelle Jackson of Crowell

For TREA: No appearance yet

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Sara Merken reports on privacy and data security, as well as the business of law, including legal innovation and key players in the legal services industry. Reach her at