Promise over rent remains central to Obermeyer Place eviction case
The owner of a print shop testified in court Wednesday that she “was shocked” when she found that her rent was increasing even as she was forced to move the business to make way for the future Obermeyer Place development.Mona Long, owner of Main Street Quick Print & Copy Center, said officials from Obermeyer Place Holding Co. sent her a letter in January 2004 stating that “my rent wouldn’t change. That was my impression.”Obermeyer is redeveloping the site on Bleeker Street where Long’s and several other businesses were located. As part of its redevelopment plan, Obermeyer paid for many of the firms to relocate this summer, including the print shop. But company officials, including local ski-wear manufacturer Klaus Obermeyer, contend Long stopped paying rent and refused to sign a lease, leading to eviction proceedings and this week’s trial.Long explained that she continued making rent payments that went into an escrow account at Krabacher & Sanders, her local law firm. She is also represented by Boston attorney Alex Furey. Long said she didn’t sign the new lease because it was going to “increase my rent by 85 percent after the first year.”The trial’s second day was tense as Furey and Obermeyer lawyer Matthew Ferguson repeatedly fought over evidence. At one point an angry Judge Thomas Ossola sent the jurors out of the courtroom before chastising both attorneys. A major point of contention was the mention of Lars Bart, who works for Long as a consultant.Ossola ruled that any statement made by Bart when he was acting as an “agent” for Main Street Printing is admissible. Furey had argued that Bart was not an agent but only a good friend, so his statements were hearsay.”It sure looked like he had apparent authority,” the judge said.Also at issue when the jurors were out of the courtroom was whether Long signed the new lease and other documents. At this, Ossola again assailed the lawyers.”You both amaze me,” he said. “You are taking up the lives of seven [jurors] in debating an issue that you both agree on. You both agree that Mona Long didn’t sign the lease.”Mr. Ferguson, get over that opening statement of Mr. Furey’s. It may have made you furious, but it was just an opening statement.”Yesterday’s proceedings opened with Ferguson showing a letter the copy center sent to Obermeyer; it explained that Long and her attorney needed more time to study the terms of the new lease. The letter also said Obermeyer needed to compensate Main Street Quick Print & Copy Center for loss of storage space and other expenses related to the move.The letter “continued to rattle us,” Tim Belinski, Obermeyer’s chief financial officer, testified. “We were frustrated.”In his cross-examination of Belinski, who was on the stand yesterday ahead of Long, Furey brought up the $57 million business loan given to Obermeyer to build Obermeyer Place and asked about the planned residential condominiums. Noting that the condos would be priced at $1 million and higher, Furey asked Belinski if the company was developing the Bleeker Street site to make a profit.”I wouldn’t say that,” Belinski said.The copy center lawyer next asked why Long’s rent was increased $800 a month upon moving to the new site. He said the shop’s rent would increase by nearly 50 percent after the first year. Belinski responded that it seemed a fair price given the quality of the new space on Hopkins Avenue.Furey then showed the letter from Obermeyer to Long written last January stating that her rent and lease would be similar to prior agreements. He also asked about the temporary lease and a relocation agreement.”We could not come to a meeting of the minds,” Belinski said.With the jurors out the room for a second time, Furey asked that Obermeyer’s case be dismissed. He said the company had back-dated documents in an effort to force the copy center out and not given enough notice for eviction.”It’s undisputed that Main Street Printing has a right to possession,” Furey said. “The plaintiffs have not met their burden of proof.”Ossola rejected the motion, saying jurors could make their own decisions about Belinski’s testimony.On the stand later, Long called the case “retaliatory.” Asked about her agreement with the plaintiffs, she said “they were going to move me back after Obermeyer Place was finished. My understanding was that my rent wasn’t going to change.”When she read in an e-mail from Obermeyer about the rent increase, she testified that she sent a letter back saying “we have a major problem.” She also said she tried to halt the moving process.”I think they were anxious to get me out of Bleeker Street because of the demolition,” she said. “They were in a rush.”Testimony may wrap up this morning and jurors could start deliberating this afternoon.Chad Abraham’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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