Tenant, landlord at odds over future of Luling youth center
Four Re’s Delight concession stand opened in July 2008 on Highway 90 in Luling, and was followed shortly by the family’s Umoja Come-unity Youth Center in an adjoining wing. The center was to be a place where kids could go after school for homework help and fun activities that would keep them off the streets.
But eight months later the center is facing a second eviction. The property owner, Mona Bailey, claims that Fields is in breach of the lease by not paying rent for three months. Bailey was contacted several times, but did not return calls seeking comment.
“This youth center was seven years in the making,” Fields said. “We’ve received positive feedback from the community, but there’s been a lot going on behind the scenes between us and the landlord.”
Bailey and Fields’ parents first met in May 2008 where a commercial lease agreement for the building was signed. At a rental rate of $3,000 per month, the Fields family also agreed to purchase the building for $400,000 within 12 months. However, with a malfunctioning air conditioning system, additional terms required Bailey to repair the unit within 10 days from the date of the lease.
“After signing the lease and securing the building, we felt really good about finally finding a space that would allow us to start our youth center,” Fields said. “But the air conditioning issue was a problem that never got resolved.”
Fields says that Bailey did send out a repairman to fix the air conditioning unit, but it was not within the 10-day period stated on the lease agreement. When the unit was eventually fixed, it only functioned for one day after that initial repair. Fields made the decision to open in July using fans her family purchased to keep them cool.
In a letter dated July 31, 2008, Fields again contacted Bailey regarding the air conditioning system. The letter stated that the broken unit had yet to be fixed and also notified the landlord of numerous leaks in the ceiling.
She notified the landlord again on Oct. 7, 2008 of these unresolved problems.
“We couldn’t operate under normal business hours,” said Fields. “The air conditioner rarely worked and the water dripping from the ceiling was posing safety hazards for our customers.”
Two months later, a notice to vacate was taped to the door of Four Re’s Delight.
“We were being evicted because Ms. Bailey claimed that we were in the rears with rent from nonpayment of July and August,” Fields said. “However, despite the unresolved repairs, our records indicated that we were paid in full per our agreement.”
Fields filed, and was granted, a suspensive appeal to the eviction.
The granted appeal stated that the eviction should not have been approved because Fields was not in default at the time the notice was posted and because the landlord never made necessary repairs.
“On most days, we could only operate in the afternoons, and we had to cancel many events because of the leaking roof,” Fields said. “We were happy that we were granted an appeal, but it was not honored by Ms. Bailey.”
Fields says that on Jan. 24, Bailey ignored the appeal papers that were posted on the building and removed everything from inside, haphazardly placing chairs, game tables and all other belongings in the parking lot.
“Ms. Bailey claimed that she never saw the posted papers, but I personally taped them to the inside of the door,” said Fields. “We were able to move our things back in that day - with the help of community members - but as of March 6, we are facing a second eviction.”
According to court documents, Bailey said that the Fields are in default of the terms of the lease because they have failed to pay rent for December 2008, and January and February of this year.
“After the first eviction notice, we were advised by our attorney not to pay rent for months that we could not operate as a normal business,” Fields said. “Not only was the air conditioning and heating unit still not working, but the roof was still leaking and now Ms. Bailey was overseeing construction to the exterior of the building.
“With nails, scaffolding and other construction debris in the parking lot, we couldn’t open our doors to customers.”
An April 2 trial date has been set in the St. Charles Parish District Courts for Fields to plead her case in front of a judge.
“If we were holding rent because of lack of repairs as alleged, Ms. Bailey would not have received a cent,” Fields said. “We, however, have held up our end of the agreement. We paid her for a building we have not been able to use at all times of the day because of the lack of repairs and repeated interruptions of business because of exterior construction.”
Fields says that she hopes that the dispute can be worked out.
“I would love for this to work out peacefully and I want the facts known,” she said. “We want to stay in the building until we can build a larger facility. This is not a fight between us and Ms. Bailey, this is a fight for what’s right.
“We provide a safe place where youth can come after school to receive homework help, get involved in recreational activities, watch movies and plan community service projects. We want to get back to work.”
Fields says that if the youth center can’t remain at its Highway 90 location, she won’t give up hope.
“We’ll continue to look for another place to have the youth center,” she said. “I’m doing this for the kids and they don’t want us to give up.”
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