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What is it about attorneys? Are they taught to write shockingly bad English or do they just pick it up as they go along?

I have a standard lease agreement that’s been floating around for years. We found a lovely house to rent here in Knysna and I offered to draft the lease. I set out to eliminate all the legal waffle that the document contained. I think this one sentence with 241 words is a classic –

The Lessor shall not be responsible for any damage to or the loss of any stock, furniture, equipment or other effects, possessions or articles in the premises (whether the property of the Lessor or anyone else) by rain, hail, lightning or fire or by reason of riot, strikes or state enemies or as a result of theft, burglary or forced entry or through any other cause whatsoever, nor shall the Lessor be responsible for any personal injury which may be sustained in or about the premises, the building or the land by any of the invitees of the Lessee or any occupants for the time being of the premises or any person whomsoever, whether to the person so injured or any dependent of any such injured person, whomsoever such injury may be caused nor shall the Lessor be responsible for the death, howsoever caused of any person occurring in the premises, the building or on the land , whether to dependents or otherwise and the Lessee hereby indemnifies the Lessor against any claim of whatsoever nature which may be made against the Lessor in respect of personal injury so sustained or any such loss of life or in respect of the loss of or damage to anything contained in the premises and such indemnity shall be fully effective notwithstanding that as between the Lessor and any claimant in question, the Lessor is liable to such claimant in respect of his/its claim.

I deleted all the strike outs and added a few words to make the statement more fair to me the Lessee.

The Lessor shall not be responsible for any damage to or the loss of any stock, furniture, equipment or other effects, possessions or articles in the premises (whether the property of the Lessor or anyone else) by rain, hail, lightning or fire or by reason of riot, strikes or state enemies or as a result of theft, burglary or forced entry or through any other cause whatsoever, nor shall the Lessor be responsible for any personal injury which may be sustained in or about the premises, the building or the land by any of the invitees of the Lessee or any occupants for the time being of the premises or any person whomsoever, whether to the person so injured or any dependent of any such injured person, whomsoever such injury may be caused nor shall the Lessor be responsible for the death, howsoever caused of any person occurring in the premises, the building or on the land , whether to dependents or otherwise and the Lessee hereby indemnifies the Lessor against any claim of whatsoever nature which may be made against the Lessor in respect of personal injury so sustained or any such loss of life or in respect of the loss of or damage to anything contained in the premises and such indemnity shall be fully effective notwithstanding that as between the Lessor and any claimant in question, the Lessor is liable to such claimant in respect of his/its claim.

And this was the result. It says exactly the same as the original, except for the added bits in blue.

The Lessor shall not be responsible for any damage to, or the loss of, any articles in the premises unless as a result of other than its own negligence. Nor shall the Lessor be responsible for any injury which may be sustained in or about the premises by any person, whether to the person so injured or any dependent of such person.

Let’s look at the main reasons for the deletions

  • stock, furniture, equipment, other effects are all articles, so one word covers them all
  • “whether the property of the Lessor or anyone else” actually says nothing
  • “rain, hail, lightning or fire or by reason of riot, strikes or state enemies or as a result of theft, burglary or forced entry or through any other cause whatsoever” also says nothing
  • “The premises” are defined and include the land and buildings, so saying “the premises, the building or the land” is a duplication.
  • As soon as you see “whomsoever”, “whatsoever”, “howsoever” you know that you are reading garbage.
  • Regarding the attempted indemnity, if the Lessor is liable, then the Lessor is liable, period.
  • So then I took that out as well and ended up with this 27 word sentence –

The Lessor shall not be responsible for any damage to, or the loss of, any articles in the premises unless as a result of its own negligence.

2 comments

  1. Atta boy, Derek! The simpler, the better. How can you have a “meeting of the minds” if all the parties don’t understand the contents of the contract?

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