A local costume company is battling its landlord over its Shockoe Bottom headquarters weeks after a change in ownership and layoffs to more than 100 employees.
The owners of the 85,000-square-foot facility at 2220 E. Main St. filed a lawsuit last month in Richmond Circuit Court against its tenant, dance apparel and equipment maker Wolff-Fording & Co. The landlord is asking a judge to declare that the company is in default on its lease and to clear a path for liquidation of Wolff-Fording’s assets on the premises.
The property’s owner, Sunset Strip Associates, also said that it could demand the balance of the 5-year lease in full, a total of $1.21 million.
The dispute, which stems at least in part from a disagreement over the start date of rent payments, pits Wolff-Fording’s former majority owners against the company that bought control of the firm in June.
Brothers Jeff and Stuart Feldstein were the sole owners of Wolff-Fording until they sold 60 percent of the company to a private investment firm in June. The Feldsteins also control Sunset Strip.
After the Feldsteins sold the majority of Wolff-Fording to Vert Capital in June, the Los Angeles-based firm laid off all of Wolff-Fording’s 118 employees, according to filings it made with the Virginia Employment Commission. The company ended its operations at the Shockoe facility on June 23, the VEC records show.
The Feldsteins then resigned from their positions as president and vice president at Wolff-Fording.
As part of the June agreement, Sunset Strip and Wolff-Fording signed a five-year lease for the East Main Street space. The lease has an accelerated payment schedule starting at $20,000 total for the first year and jumping to $170,000 the next year, followed by an $85,000 increase each year after that, according to court records. Wolff-Fording also agreed to pay utilities and insurance.
Sunset Strip’s suit claims that Wolff-Fording hasn’t paid any rent, utilities or insurance since the deal closed.
“This left the leased premises vacant for all intents and purposes and resulted in the insurance premiums significantly increasing which caused further damages to Sunset,” the suit claims.
Sunset Strip is represented in the case by Williams Mullen attorneys Bill Bayliss and Joseph Blackburn.
Bayliss said that Sunset has the right to collect the total rent amount and remove Wolff-Fording’s assets from the property, according to a letter included in the court record.
Bayliss warned that if Wolff-Fording tried to interfere with Sunset’s rights as landlord, Sunset would liquidate Wolff-Fording’s inventory, finished goods, and any intellectual property.
In a July 18 response to Bayliss’ letter, Wolff-Fording’s attorney Christopher Winslow of Winslow & McCurry, argued that no rent is past due. The company claims that its lease agreement states that rent payments were not scheduled to begin until June 2015, but that the utilities and insurance would be paid for.
A copy of the lease included in the court filing does say that rent payments will begin June 1, 2015. It’s unclear why the two sides are now disagreeing over the payment start date.
Winslow also claimed that Sunset’s presence on the property was an act of trespassing and disruptive to Wolff-Fording.
“Unfortunately, because your client continues to change the locks, and has several persons present at the leased space, my client has had difficulty entering the building,” Winslow said in the letter. “Also, please instruct your client to cease and desist opening items of mail that are addressed to my client.”
The letter asks for a list of all of Wolff-Fording’s assets that have been sold or removed by the landlord.
Representatives at Vert Capital did not return phone calls or emails seeking comment on the case.
No trial date has been set, and Wolff-Fording has not filed its formal response to the case.
“We’re looking at all the available options to solve the matter amicably before proceeding with litigation,” Winslow said.