Business Oregon’s Commercial Rent Relief Program is meant to help small businesses impacted by the pandemic, but, there’s a hitch: it’s the landlord who has to apply for funding on behalf of the tenant – and the Bodhi Cafe and Bakery in downtown Corvallis says their landlord is using that hitch to extort them.
On Tuesday, March 9, Bodhi Cafe and Bakery published a post to their Facebook page as a public complaint and call to action about their landlords, Beamer Properties LLC.
The post alleges Beamer Properties failed to provide a payment plan for the business’ deferred rent of $5,000 monthly. Beamer Properties also refused to apply for Business Oregon’s Commercial Rent Relief Program unless the Bodhi Cafe agreed to an unexpected rent increase. The only other option the landord is proposing is eviction at the earliest possible date.
The Bodhi Cafe’s first coronavirus shutdown ran from March 17 to June 4. Early on, the state protected commercial tenants from eviction, and later funded the Commercial Rent Relief Program to reimburse landlords — and the Cafe had hoped to receive support from the program.
They claim Beamer Properties was initially supportive, but when the application for the relief program opened, the landlords “stated that they believe our lease rate is too low because prior to Covid, Bodhi Cafe was profitable and on track to be very successful.”
Here, Bodhi Cafe alleges the landlords agreed to apply for the grant only in the circumstance of an increased rent going forward. If the business were to decline this concession, Beamer Properties would evict at the earliest possible date.
In fact, Bodhi Cafe also says Beamer Properties threatened eviction as early as April 2020, but stopped when they realized doing so would be illegal until March 31, 2021. This was due to Executive Order No. 20-13 signed on April 1, 2020 followed by House Bill 4213, signed on June 30.
House Bill 4213 states that commercial tenants are entitled to a six-month grace period for repayment of deferred balances during the “emergency period” of April-September 2020. If a tenant chose to use the grace period, their landlord could not evict or threaten eviction based on unpaid balance accrued during the emergency period until March 31, 2021.
Jennifer Moreland, Executive Director of the Downtown Corvallis Association, said that the only other business she knew about which was similarly affected by landlords relating to COVID-19 was Flat Tail Brewing, which closed on May 22nd, 2020. In a public Facebook post, Dave Marliave of Flat Tail Brewing said that the business’ lease was terminated without cause, and included a message to “Mike, Rob, Brenda, Rand and Cassandra,” accusing them of paying no “attention to the anguish and suffering you would inflict on myself, my family, and the thirty-seven employees of Flat Tail Brewing” by evicting the business.
Moreland said that overwhelmingly, the landlords of the downtown properties she works with have good relationships with their tenants. Flat Tail Brewing was not a part of the DCA, but with reference to Bodhi Cafe, Moreland believes it is particularly worth noting that Beamer Properties is from outside of the Corvallis community. She also stressed the importance of open lines of communication between property owners and tenants to maintain transparency amidst these uncertain times.
Kate Porsche, Economic Development Manager in Corvallis Benton County, said that the economic development office has been in contact with Cody Utzman, the owner of Bodhi Cafe, about this issue. She encouraged other businesses in Benton County to reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org with financial needs or concerns about similar behavior, but also said that “rental contracts are agreements between two private individuals,” and “it is generally not the City’s role to intervene in these private agreements” except when laws are violated by either party.
Bodhi Cafe said in their Facebook post that they did not wish to encourage “anything disparaging against [their] landlords,” and much like Moreland, believed their Portland-based landlords simply did not “understand the impact an eviction of Bodhi Cafe would mean to our community.” They also expressed in a private comment their gratitude for overwhelming support shown by “Corvallis residents, business owners, state and local agencies and Senator [Sara] Gelser.”
Rik Beamer of Beamer Properties LLC was reached out to for comment, but at press time, had not responded.
By Ardea C. Eichner