Contract Lessons from Sesame Street

By John B. Swift II posted 05-22-2017 09:26


How many times have you had a client come to you saying, “but I didn’t see that in the contract”? I can think of several clients I had who entered into long-term commercial leases with no idea what the lease said. Additionally, people rarely read the mortgage contract on their house. And you know you never read the “terms and conditions” for anything you do on the Internet.

Generally we have some statutes to protect the average consumer, such as the Landlord-Tenant Act and the Seller Disclosure Act, and of course residential mortgages are “regulated” inasmuch as every originator wants to be able to sell its paper to the secondary market (i.e., Fannie and Freddie). Apart from that, though, the general rule of caveat emptor largely remains the law of the land. The public is often left to assume that the contracts they sign are on the up and up, based mostly on the assurances of the other party.

Honestly, Sesame Street’s short segment about “Grump Tower” from the ’80s does as good a job at breaking much of this down as anything I’ve seen. This 10-minute clip covers inequity in bargaining, lease provisions, oral amendments, liquidated damages, discriminatory covenants, community activism, and even a refresher on counting to 40, among other things. I think there is also something to be said for introducing these concepts to folks early on. I’ve found some resistance to accepting reality when it shows up later on in life.