MANCHESTER, NH – The 1269 Café was forced to relocate from the former Manchester police station last year after its landlord employed hard-nose tactics including sending in armed security guards to patrol the grounds; barring clients from using common bathrooms; towing a café car from a permitted parking space, and filing eviction papers, though the café was in full compliance with the lease.
Those are the allegations contained in a lawsuit filed in 2019 by the café against its landlord – 351 Chestnut Street, LLC, whose manager and registered agent is Francis P. Rich Jr. Rich is also the developer for the former police station.
The landlord’s actions, according to the café, forced it to relocate and abandon the remainder of its lease incurring moving costs. The café does not say what damages it is seeking. It was paying $4,257.17 per month in rent, according to the eviction papers.
At a hearing Friday morning in Hillsborough County Superior Court Northern District, Attorney Brian O’Shaughnessy, representing the landlord, said the two parties are near settlement with $4,000 separating the two. The case was set to be tried in April.
Judge Amy Messer urged the parties to work out its differences.
The city sold the building in 2015 to 351 Chestnut Street, LLC for $749,000.
That same year, Horizon Outreach Ministries and Evangelism d/b/a 1269 Café rented 4,220 square feet on the second floor to provide services to the homeless including lunches, showers, toiletries and clothing.
The lease was for four years, beginning Oct. 1, 2015 and entitled the café to renew it for another four-year term. The café invested more than $50,000 in capital improvements to the premises, according to court documents.
Seven months later, however, the café filed suit in Superior Court concerning the landlord preventing it access to the second-floor bathrooms; his failure to complete work on the building as required by the lease; his changing locks on the building without giving the café a key, and his threatening eviction even though rent and other charges were paid.
The landlord countersued seeking additional rent and the right to evict 1269 Café claiming it breached the lease by permitting other entities to “occupy and use the Leased Premises” without the landlord’s consent.
After a bench trial before Judge Messer, the court issued an order saying the café had the right to use the common area bathrooms on the second floor, and rejected the landlord’s claim it had breached the lease by partnering with other organizations to provide services to its clients.
In June 2019, the café exercised its option to renew the lease for another four years.
In July 30, 2019, the landlord – he is not identified by name in court documents and the café did not return a message seeking comment on the lawsuit — appeared before the café’s board of directors and asked it to withdraw the renewal notice. The landlord indicated if it was not withdrawn “he would make things very difficult for 1269 Café and discussed measures such as employing armed security guards, searching everyone entering the premises and requiring Café’s guests to provide identification,” according to the Café’s lawsuit.
The cafe rejected the landlord’s request to vacate the premises. In August 2019, the landlord hired armed security guards from Salerno Protective Services of New England to patrol both outside and the common areas of the buildings whenever the café was open.
In a letter dated Sept. 3, 2019, the landlord proposed significant changes to the lease including raising the rent; requiring the café to pay all taxes, common area maintenance (CAM) and utilities for the entire building and property based on its pro rata share of the premises; provide the landlord with a financial report/statement showing its capable of making rent payments; adding a five percent late fee for rent payments or CAM charges made within five days of the due date and another 10 percent late fee if not paid within 10 days of the due date; charging the café to lease parking spots next to the premises which were included in the lease at no charge.
Unsurprisingly, the café rejected the changes to the lease which was in effect until Sept. 30, 2023.
Additionally, in September 2019, the Landlord notified the café that staff members, the landlord, tenants, guests, visitors and clients all had to enter the building through the Manchester Street entrance and sign in and out. The landlord also indicated that “wanding for contraband, weapons and firearms will be required for all people entering the building.” The security measures were implemented on Sept. 9, 2019.
The cafe said the landlord began photographing and videotaping volunteers and guests without their consent with his cell phone as they passed through the security checkpoint.
Despite Judge Messer’s earlier ruling that the café had a right to use the common area bathrooms on the second floor, the landlord “steadfastly refused the café access to them,” according to the café.
In its eviction notice dated Sept. 27, 2019, the landlord requested the café vacate the premises as of Oct. 31, 2019, said it was terminating the lease and not accepting the renewal option based on a breach of the lease by the tenant and “legitimate business or economic need of the owner.”
The landlord maintained the café breached the lease agreement by allowing third parties to use the leased premises without written consent of the landlord and its refusal to comply with reasonable rules of the landlord with respect to security for the building.
“The tenant’s guests have engaged in illegal activity and disruptive behavior on the premises and the tenant has not cooperated with the landlord in attempting to curb the disruptive behavior and illegal activity,” according to the eviction notice. The landlord said the tenant’s use of the premises prevented him from renting out other vacant space in the building.
The café ultimately relocated in late 2020 to the former St. Casimir School on Union Street, 33 months before the end of its lease.
The landlord later rented a portion of the building to the city for a temporary winter shelter for the homeless
The judge set a status conference in the case for April 29.