Food court fight: Cafe crockery stoush ends in legal battle
A DISPUTE over crockery at food court business in Station Square turned into a legal battle over a lease.
The Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal heard the owner of Fresh Made Cafe was at odds with centre management.
According to court documents, Lee Colgrave, a director of Dixi-Lee Pty Ltd, rented Shop 17, known as Fresh Made Cafe, between August 2019 and March 1.
He had taken over after the death of Maryborough businesswoman Georgina Claxton, who had run the shop for a number of years.
According to a recently published decision, in August last year centre manager Doug Sanderson spoke with Mr Colgrave about leasing the business, which was to be used as a coffee shop.
An offer to lease with a base rent of $63,000 a year for three years was signed by Mr Colgrave.
According to the letter, it was not intended to be a 'binding' lease between the tenant and the landlord.
"The tenant acknowledges that this offer may be withdrawn by the landlord until such a time as executed lease documentation has been delivered by the tenant to the landlord's solicitors in a form acceptable by the landlord," the letter read.
"No other act or conduct of any kind will be considered as giving rise to a lease."
According to the documents, Mr Colgrave took over last August and continued to occupy the space until March 1, 2020.
He did so without a formal lease being prepared and signed.
A dispute then arose between Mr Colgrave and centre management after he proposed to use crockery mugs for serving tea and coffee, rather than disposable cups, as required by the centre.
Mr Colgrave considered this to be a disadvantage in the food court, according to the documents, because other outlets were not restricted to disposable cups.
He believed the business suffered a loss as a result.
The issue escalated until a letter was sent from the centre's lawyers noting the history of the offer to lease and alleging the shop had not traded during the hours required by the offer to lease.
The letter referred to emails between Mr Sanderson and Mr Colgrave concerning the crockery dispute and whether a lease was in place.
The letter indicated the offer to lease had been withdrawn.
Mr Colgrave was ordered to vacate the premises by February 28.
At the same time, he applied for an interim order seeking to restrain the centre management from taking possession.
The centre however argued there was no binding lease between the parties.
Still, an order was made stopping the centre from taking possession until further order of the tribunal.
The day after, Mr Colgrave emailed Mr Sanderson, saying he had decided to vacate the shop.
The tribunal found Mr Colgrave had received assurances from Mr Sanderson including being told the lease "was a given" and signing the offer to lease was a "formality".
While it was found those assurances did not go so far as to amount to an acceptance by the centre, they did induce Mr Colgrave to sign the offer, proceed to take possession of the premises and start operating the business.
The tribunal also found that given both parties proceeded after August 2019 on the basis that a lease existed, it would be "unconscionable" for the centre to purport to rely on the right to withdraw the offer when the applicant performed all of its obligations pursuant to the offer to lease.
The tribunal ordered there was a valid and enforceable agreement for lease between the applicant and the respondent in the terms set out in the offer to lease dated August 5, 2019.
But it seems the battle could just be beginning.
The tribunal heard Mr Colgrave believed he had a claim for damages which he intended to pursue after the tribunal reached a decision.
The centre was also said to have a claim for $13,697.74 of outstanding rent and outgoings because it says it did not take possession until the tribunal vacated the restraining order and was entitled to rent up until that time.
"Once again, the determination of this issue will be part of the substantive application," the decision read.