CLEARWATER – Anybody who has ever been a landlord knows that it is often easier to get tenants into a rental property than it is to get them out. But the situation facing the Clearwater City Council on Jan. 17 had some unique twists.
In 2011, George and Dara Greene entered into a three-year lease for a gift shop in a portion of the city-owned building at the municipal marina on Clearwater Beach. The lease was to expire on Sept. 30, 2014, but Mr. Greene died before then, and Mrs. Greene followed him on July 11, 2012.
The building is undergoing a remodeling to create a restaurant on the second floor, and the Greenes’ gift shop was hindering access to the work site, so it would be to the city’s advantage to terminate the lease. The city adopted the position that since the gift shop was operating under the fictitious name of Marina Gifts and Souvenirs and was not a corporation, the lease ended upon Mrs. Greene’s death.
The Greenes’ daughter and personal representative of Mrs. Greene’s estate, Bobby Zaytoun, asked for time to sell off the inventory before closing the shop. The city attorney’s office prepared an amendment of lease, giving Zaytoun until Dec. 31, 2012 to vacate, but she never signed and returned the document, according to a Jan. 17 staff memo to the Clearwater City Council.
“The Greene estate is considered a holdover tenant, and the city’s legal department met on Dec. 6, 2012, with an attorney representing Ms. Zaytoun to discuss legal questions regarding the Greene lease and options to allow the city to take back the leasehold and the estate to liquidate assets,” the staff memo says. “The city has not heard back from either the attorney or the Greene estate. At this time, staff seeks council consent to proceed with eviction action in court and authorization for the litigation.”
But between the time the council discussed the matter at its Jan. 14 work session and the time it was scheduled for a vote at its Jan. 17 meeting, representatives of the estate contacted city officials. So the question became whether to proceed toward eviction or give Zaytoun more time.
“We are not asking that the tenant close the doors immediately,” City Attorney Pam Akin told the council at its Jan. 17 meeting. She said that the lack of communication was the biggest problem.
“We’re trying to get a timeframe in which they will leave,” added Bill Morris, the city’s marine and aviation directory.
Longtime Clearwater Beach activist Anne Garris urged the council not to evict the gift shop. She said that it and a shop in the same building that sold nautical antiques were the kind of businesses that attract tourists who stay in $400-a-night hotels, but the antique shop is gone and it would be a shame to see the gift shop go too.
“This shop has the most interesting things,” Garris said of the gift shop. “This is a valuable tourist attraction.”
She added that the city bends over backwards to accommodate big investors who find themselves in unforeseen circumstances, and it should do the same for Zaytoun and the gift shop.
“I’m asking for equal opportunity here,” Garris said. “It’s too bad to have this young couple who just lost their parents being in this situation.”
“I would recommend that you move ahead and approve the (agenda) item,” in case the communications with Zaytoun and her lawyer break down again, Akin told the council. When Councilmember Bill Jonson asked if city staffers could then proceed with an eviction without coming back to the council, Akin replied that they could not.
“We cannot institute any litigation without your consent, so you’re just giving us approval (to proceed with an eviction) if we’re unable to reach a satisfactory conclusion,” Akin told the council. “You’re not telling us to go do it today. That is not the intention.”
With that, the council unanimously voted to take the preliminary steps toward eviction in case the negotiations with Zaytoun fall through.