Wednesday, March 28, 2007

CU Moves to Evict M'ville Auto Shop - First Expansion Zone Eviction Due to Rent Nonpayment

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CU Moves to Evict M'ville Auto Shop
First Expansion Zone Eviction Due to Rent Nonpayment
By Anna Phillips
Issue date: 3/28/07 Section: News

Columbia plans to evict a Manhattanville autobody shop from a University-owned building, officials confirmed last night.

The eviction, which would be the first of a tenant in the University's proposed expansion zone, is due to non-payment of rent.

According to Philip van Buren, the lawyer for three auto mechanic shops at 3251 Broadway, Columbia informed him on March 23 that it would soon be serving the 3251 Broadway Auto Center, owned by Juan Javier German, with an eviction notice. Once German receives the notice, he will have 30 days to appeal.

Columbia spokeswoman La-Verna Fountain said that German owes Columbia $117,000 in rent arrears, a sum that van Buren and German are contesting. According to van Buren, German actually owes Columbia $39,000, an amount he arrived at by subtracting rent he believes Columbia inflated, rent German has paid but not been credited for, money lost to a flood that destroyed office property, and an estimated $5,500 in moving costs.

The other two auto mechanic shops van Buren represents have both signed relocation leases with Columbia, providing that one business move to a location on 131st Street and the other remain in the basement of 3251 Broadway. Only the 3251 Broadway Auto Center, the largest of the auto mechanic shops, has repeatedly refused to sign a lease for the space Columbia has offered it at 635 West 125th Street. According to Fountain, the upper floors of the building have to be vacated because the elevator has to be taken out of service for safety reasons. She said that Columbia offered German space on the lower floor of the auto center if he could make arrangements to pay his back rent.

"Where they [the other two auto mechanic shops] have signed leases, they have done so under duress," van Buren said, stating that Columbia had not allowed enough time for negotiations and only offered one year leases, "They're a captive audience, they don't have any choice here." He said that Herman did not want to move to the space on 125th Street because it is in the first phase of Columbia's expansion plan, and he would have to vacate it to make way for University development. But he said that German was reconsidering and might sign a one-year lease for the space on 125th Street rather than be evicted.

At a press conference before last night's Local Development Corporation community forum, German stated his case with the aid of a Spanish translator.

"I've got around 20 people working for me and I'm worried they're going to be on the street," German said. "I'm not against Columbia ... I want to negotiate with them, if they allow me to."Unfortunately for German, Columbia has reached the end of its patience for negotiations.

"The bottom line is that we've been working with them and working with them and it hasn't worked out, and they're $117,000 behind in rent," Fountain said. "Our preference would be to work with them and relocate them and he didn't want that."

German and van Buren say that because of scaffolding erected by Columbia for repairs to the building, German's business has lost 80 percent of weekly its revenue and cannot afford to pay its rent. According to van Buren, German has repeatedly asked Columbia to make repairs and the University has not done so, edging the building toward dereliction. He said that while Columbia initially promised that the scaffolding would be removed after three months, it has now been up for fourteen months. "There's been no evidence of actual repair activity," van Buren said.

"The scaffolding stays up for safety reasons and it's going to stay up," Fountain countered.
Because of the University's alleged failure to make repairs, German feels that he should not have to pay complete rent arrears. Van Buren has appealed to the LDC to compel Columbia to continue negotiations and halt the eviction.

"I know Columbia is going to be sensitive to the political impact of this," van Buren said.

Fountain disagreed. "When a tenant owes you $117,000, eviction is a perfectly reasonable next step," she said. "He doesn't want to work with us and he doesn't want to pay his rent ... How many landlords are going to let you just stay for free?"Erin Durkin contributed to this article.

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