Owners of the Post Office Square Shopping Center can legally evict the Backstage Pub because the local bar violated the terms of its lease agreement, a judge ruled last month.
The plaintiff, Pearl Street Partners LLC, had accused the bar’s owner, Vincent Dober Sr., of failing to maintain the required insurance coverage. Dober refuted the allegation and in a counterclaim argued the landlords violated the lease by forcing him to pay nearly $15,000 in repairs to the building.
The two parties argued their positions during a Jan. 16 trial focused on whether the shopping center has a right to evict Dober. In a written ruling two weeks later, judge Helen M. Toor sided in favor of the landlords, calling the case a “relatively straightforward commercial eviction.”
“Tenant breached the lease by not providing the required insurance coverage, and when given the requisite period to cure, failed to do so,” Toor wrote.
Under his lease, Dober was required to maintain several types of insurance, including general liability, personal injury, property damage and what’s known as “dram shop” coverage, or protection for bar owners against accidents caused by intoxicated customers.
Dober’s landlord hadn’t looked carefully at the coverage during the first five years of his 10-year lease, Toor wrote. But that changed after a story published in The Reporter last April noted the state liquor control had issued a three-day license suspension as punishment for Dober being found intoxicated while working at the bar.
Concerned about potential future liability, the landlords reviewed the insurance coverage and found the policies didn’t satisfy the lease requirements. So they wrote a letter, dated May 1, 2018, asking Dober to upgrade and retroactively adjust the coverage.
Dober provided the letter to his insurance agent but didn’t tell the landlords he had done so and never followed up to make sure the problem was addressed within the 15-day cure period under the lease.
Around that time, problems continued to mount for Dober. He faced another complaint from a separate incident alleging he was impaired on the job, records showed, and the liquor control board obtained evidence showing he pleaded guilty in New York in 2017 to misdemeanor charges of criminally possessing a weapon and unlawfully possessing a large capacity ammunition feeding device. State records showed there also was a civil finding against Dober for driving while his ability was impaired by alcohol.
Meanwhile, Dober failed to make the insurance changes within a 60-day grace period detailed in his lease, prompting the landlords to terminate his lease in early July.
Dober finally provided the revised insurance certificates the following day, but none of the changes fully cured the flaws of the previous coverage, Toor wrote.
Dober’s attorney argued eviction was not equitable punishment for the insurance lapses, given his client had already put thousands of dollars into improving the bar, expecting he would be there for at least five more years. Repairs included $12,000 on building’s plumbing and more than $2,000 for a new fire exit, records showed.
The judge was unpersuaded. “Insurance coverage is never minor, and especially not for a bar,” Toor wrote. She went on to say Dober created the problem in the first place by failing to act reasonably when he received the initial letter.
“A business that does not take a notice of violation of its lease seriously enough to follow up and ensure the violation has been remedied in the alloted time is not in a position to argue it is being unfairly treated,” she wrote.
Following the ruling, Dober’s attorney, Norman Blais, requested a stay on the eviction, arguing that it will irreparably harm Dober by destroying his business before he even has a chance to appeal.
Toor denied the request last week. She explained the first criterion for a stay is a strong chance the requestor will succeed on appeal.
“While it is true that asking a judge to predict that her own ruling will likely be reversed is a hard argument,” she wrote, “there are cases in which a judge knows the case could easily go either way, and in which the court would therefore err on the side of allowing a stay.”
“This is not one of those cases,” she wrote.
Reached last week, Blais said he plans to speak to Dober about a potential appeal to the Vermont Supreme Court.