Years after fighting their landlord in court for the right to stay in their space in the Meadowbrook Shopping Centre, the owners of Anderson’s Carriage Food House decided to close their doors last month and hoped that the decision would put an end to more than a decade of acrimony. Instead, another legal battle is brewing with Meadowbrook owner Clara Belle Wheeler, this time over the Andersons’ desire to terminate their lease two years before it ends.
“She’s been trying to get us out for so many years, we thought she’d let us go,” said Ted Anderson, whose family won a $100,000 judgment against Wheeler in 2006 after claiming she’d tried to harass them into leaving to make way for development on the prominent site at the corner of Emmet Street and Barracks Road. “Now, she’s saying ‘you can go, but you have to pay.’”
At the heart of the new dispute is whether the last five-year lease the Andersons signed on the building where they’ve been located for 18 years has been breached, rendering it invalid. As part of their leases, Meadowbrook tenants pay Common Area Maintenance (CAM) fees for repairs and maintenance of the shared areas, said Anderson, who claims that the condition of the property is a violation of the lease. Evidence of the violation, he said, includes 2’ tall weeds, crumbling brick around the base of the shopping center sign, and a snapped off metal signpost sticking out of the asphalt that he says poses a risk to customers’ cars.
Inside the Anderson’s building, he pointed to disrepair including two holes in the ceiling where he said a leaking roof allowed water to come in. He claims Wheeler is unwilling to repair the damage, and that her refusal makes it impossible to sublease the space, as the lease would allow.
Wheeler disputes Anderson’s claim, describing it as an effort to get out of a legal obligation and insisting she has met her obligations as a landlord and completed necessary repairs.
“The building is no different today than it was two years ago when they asked to stay in the building for five years,” she said. “I had repaired the roof, cleaned out the downspouts before that date. If it wasn’t satisfactory two-and-a-half years ago, then it would have seemed prudent to have not renewed the lease at that time.”
She said that recent heavy rains had delayed mowing, and that a brick mason had already been hired to repair the damaged sign base. (Within days, the base was indeed repaired.)
In their previous lawsuit, the Andersons alleged Wheeler had tried to drive them out to make way for CVS pharmacy, something an attorney for Wheeler denied at the time and which Wheeler still denies. Wheeler says that while she would eventually like to develop the property and see a new tenant in the Anderson’s spot, she was taken by surprise by the announcement and has no potential tenant lined up.
Whether the latest disagreement will land the Andersons and Wheeler back in court remains unclear.
Anderson said his parents’ declining health prompted the decision to shut down the 40-year-old family business, and he doesn’t relish the idea of another drawn out legal battle.
“I don’t know what we’re going to do,” said Anderson. “I just want to be able to move forward.”