Through Mai Hart
A Picton aquarium has 20 business days to vacate its waterfront building after a Supreme Court attempt to stop the eviction failed.
A decision by Judge David Gendall, released today, said EcoWorld’s claims that it had a 10-year right to extend its lease were “dismissed in its entirety”.
EcoWorld owner John Reuhman had built his case “solely” around a letter from his landlord, Port Marlborough, in 2015 offering him the right to renew EcoWorld’s lease.
But once Reuhman made a counteroffer to — as his attorney accepted — “turn his hand for better terms,” that offer was “extinguished,” Judge Gendall said in his decision.
It was a basic tenet of contract law that a counteroffer was a rejection of the original offer, Gendall said.
Talks between the two over the next three years discussed a number of “potential changes” to the lease, including the “possibility” of a right to renewal, the decision said.
But through all the talks — in which Reuhman sought “better rents, future development and early termination terms” — a new lease was never agreed upon.
Justice Gendall said Reuhman should have known he was being evicted on July 22, 2021 when the lease expired, but instead refused to leave the country.
“Mr. Reuhman himself accepted under cross-examination, the parties negotiated the terms of the lease, but no agreement was ever reached on a change to the lease, and in particular no right to renewal,” the decision said.
Evidence was heard from both sides during a six-day Supreme Court trial in September. Port Marlborough filed its own action, seeking possession of the property and costs to cover rehoming or release of wildlife and removal of the building.
Justice Gendall described Port Marlborough as a “careful, compliant and patient” commercial landlord throughout.
He said Reuhamn’s claims of carnage were “unfortunate to say the least”, after the port complained that Reuhman had deliberately made inflammatory and misleading comments to the wider Picton community and media.
“They appear to be unsubstantiated and in any case, from my understanding, there does not appear to be any evidence of bad behavior on the part of the port here,” the decision read.
Justice Gendall said he was satisfied that Port Marlborough had fulfilled its obligations under the lease, and was “going to great lengths” to try to negotiate a new lease with EcoWorld.
“The most that can be said is that the port made EcoWorld an offer – indeed, numerous offers – for a 10-year renewal right, which EcoWorld never accepted.”
He said the “evidence is clear” that the port has offered several times to assist in a “sustainable and effective” relocation of the animals and marine life.
“On this, to his credit, it [Port Marlborough] has worked with Te Papa Atawhai / the Department of Conservation, the Zoo and Aquarium Association and other expert bodies on this.”
According to the decision, the only time the port “bordered” on “somewhat unfair” was in April 2021, when it made a $75,000 offer to get EcoWorld out of the building and gave Reuhman just two weeks to consider the offer. .
Meanwhile, it was “unlikely” that then-council members David Oddie and Nadine Taylor, now mayor of Marlborough, told Reuhman that, as he claimed, the port would “never kick EcoWorld out,” Judge Gendall said, as both knew the Marlborough The district council could not interfere in the affairs of the port. The port was owned by the municipality.
Justice Gendall gave Reuhman four weeks, or 20 business days, to clear the country.
“I have no doubt that the port will actively and properly carry out the safe and effective redeployment, as it has assured the court it could do should the need arise,” the decision read.
Justice Gendall said the port was entitled to damages for the cost of removing any goods, including the aquarium and stock left over after the 20 business days. Reuhman must also pay all legal fees incurred by Port Marlborough in connection with the proceedings.
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