Two Washington Street businesses are facing a future without a home and are blaming their landlord, City Realty.
But City Realty is saying the two businesses have long known that their locations have been lined up for a redevelopment and it initially helped to relocate the two businesses.
El Embajador Dominican Restaurant, which is located at 3371 Washington St., and De Chain Auto Service, which is located at 3373 Washington St., were both recently served notices of termination of their leases, according to Carlos Espinoza-Toro, the small business program director for the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation. The nonprofit has been helping the two businesses during lease negotiations, according to Espinoza-Toro.
Espinoza-Toro said that negotiations between the two sides have been going on for more than a year and that there was a verbal agreement between El Embajador Dominican Restaurant and City Realty that the company would pay for the restaurant to move to a nearby City Realty property that was occupancy ready. But, Espinoza-Toro said, City Realty recently went back on the agreement and told the restaurant it would have to do renovations at the location itself.
Espinoza-Toro said both businesses expect to be evicted from their locations in January.
Cliff Kensington of City Realty said in a statement released through a spokesperson, “From the time of City Realty’s purchase of the property at 3371-3373 Washington Street, the company has been very open in communicating with the tenants that our eventual goal is to redevelop the property. However, we were motivated to try to help them relocate and we offered to assist and to allow the time needed to make other arrangements.”
The statement went on to say the motivation “dried up quickly” with the auto garage because “we learned that the company was illegally dumping oil and other contaminants right at the site, polluting the ground water that could threaten the health and safety of local residents and which required tens of thousands of dollars in clean-up costs. We issued to the owners of De Chain an immediate notice to stop this behavior, and a second chance. Yet soon after we learned they were continuing to pollute the grounds. Given the circumstances, it is understandable that our company was not interested in relocating this business to another one of our properties.”
Rainfinson Cruz, owner of the De Chain Auto Service, disputed that claim in a statement translated by Espinoza-Toro: “The statement about illegal dumping is a lie. At no moment have I dumped oil and other contaminants at the site. Before I took over this location, the previous owner had it in a very bad shape. He may have dumped oil illegally on the ground. However, I comply with all regulations regarding disposal of oil and chemicals.
A representative of City Realty visited me with a letter saying that there was illegally dumping oil on the ground of my shop. However, I expressed to them that this was a lie. Because, I have never dumped oil on the ground. I told them that the previous owner may have dumped oil illegally but not me. I showed them I dispose oil and antifreeze properly.”
Kensington statement went on to say that City Realty thought it had secured a new location for El Embajador Restaurant at its property at 3381 Washington St. and offered to lease the space for “$1700 per month rent the business had been paying, well below the market rent of $2400 and also offered to provide up to five months of free rent to cover the costs and hassles of moving.”
But, the statement added, “once City Life Vida Urbana became involved, the discussions immediately lost all forward progress. Every time City Realty and this tenant would agreed to a new lease term, additional extreme demands would be added at the urging of City Life. One of the demands, for example, was to allow the restaurant to assign this affordable lease to a future owner if they sold the business. Finally, after over a year of vacancy and no indication that El Embajador had any intention of agreeing to reasonable terms, we agreed to rent the space at 3381 Washington to another local business, a small Dominican bakery, who had been asking us about the space for months.”
City Life/Vida Urbana released a statement disputing that it was involved in lease negotiations.
“City Life/Vida Urbana focuses on housing justice; we have not frequently worked with business tenants. Our organization has not been involved in negotiations between El Embajador Restaurant, De Chain Auto Service, and City Realty Group’s lawyer. Our friends at Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation (JPNDC) have been supporting that process. It was only after negotiations with City Realty Group broke down that we jointly organized a large march and “eat-in” during Thanksgiving week to support the restaurant and the other tenants.”
Ramona Alvarez, co-owner El Embajador Dominican Restaurant, said in a statement translated by Espinoza-Toro that she feel that City Realty was “untrue. They did not fulfill what they promised. They offered to relocate us and to make sure the new location was ready for us to occupy. Instead, we are being evicted.”