Embattled Marina Square in legal tussle with ex-tenant

Hit by a spate of problems in recent years — with major tenants leaving, rats scampering around its premises and slow footfall — Marina Square has now found itself embroiled in a new battle, as a legal tussle brews between the mall and a former tenant.

Court papers obtained by TODAY showed that the mall’s operator, Marina Centre Holdings, has launched legal proceedings against Caerus Holding, which manages confectionery Lady M, a former tenant.

In a writ of summons served by its lawyers on Oct 15 last year, the mall claims Caerus Holding had breached the terms of its lease.

Lady M, which occupied a unit on the second floor, had stopped operations on Jan 29 last year, about halfway into its three-year lease, which was to have expired in July this year. The mall then terminated its lease on Mar 23.

Marina Centre Holdings is now seeking S$62,645.33 in compensation from Caerus Holding for, among other things, rent owed from Jan 1 to March 23 last year. It is also seeking damages totalling S$211,149.97 for the losses it claims it suffered, including loss of rent, from Lady M’s exit. The unit has not been taken up since the lease was terminated.

Citing the presence of rats in the mall, lawyers representing Caerus Holding, in their defence filed on Nov 11, argued that the management’s failure to ensure its common areas were “free from rodent activity” and “properly sealed, (in) good order and/or maintained” — causing rats to infiltrate Lady M’s premises — made it impossible for the confectionery to “carry out its business”.

Its franchisor had also advised the business to suspend operations there “to preserve the brand name and image of Lady M”. The firm claimed that it had informed the mall about rat activity on its premises and in the mall since December 2014.

Caerus Holding believed the rodent problem came about because of construction work on the mall’s new wing. For these reasons, among others, it is counter-claiming damages from Marina Centre Holdings, noting that it “suffered loss and damage” as a consequence.

In its Dec 9 reply and defence to this counter-claim, Marina Centre Holdings said rats found on Lady M’s premises were the fault of the tenant, not the mall. It noted that a clause in the lease stated that the tenant shall not hold the mall responsible for “any interference and/or inconvenience” arising from construction-related work.

Last January, news emerged that rodent activity had been detected in the false ceilings of 14 of the mall’s food-and-beverage establishments and at one of its bin centres. The National Environment Agency had conducted inspections after a rat was found in a tray of cooked vegetables at Hotpot Culture, a restaurant at the mall.

When contacted by TODAY, a Marina Square spokesperson said: “Under the tenancy agreement, tenants have no legal grounds to take action against Marina Square, as the landlord has taken all reasonable measures on this matter. We decline comments on any legal matters. Any legal disputes will be presented and substantiated with facts and we leave it to the courts to decide.”

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For the current tenants, they have noticed the slow human traffic at the mall, with some attributing it to the departure of cinema operator Golden Village and bowling alley SuperBowl in 2014.

“There’s no longer a cinema (here), no bowling alley… so people are just not coming anymore,” St Marc Cafe area operations manager Mohamad Ridhwan, 28, said. He added that office workers were also finding the nearby Suntec City mall, which underwent a S$410-million facelift and relaunched last October, “more convenient”.

Manhattan Fish Market’s 34-year-old manager, who gave his name as Mr Raymond, said the fall-out from the rodent problems may have contributed to dampening overall customer traffic.

Seoul Yummy has seen its business dip about half since last March, its outlet manager Airene Santos, 26, said, and Bangkok Jam restaurant manager Francis Ng, 29, said the eatery has seen a 50- to 70-per cent fall in business daily, compared with January 2014.

When TODAY visited Marina Square at lunchtime last Friday, some restaurants were operating at less than half the capacity, with Seoul Yummy filling just eight of its 35 tables and Japanese restaurant Sakae Sushi having just four of its 19 tables occupied.

Addressing this matter, Marina Square’s spokesperson said that the retail sector is facing challenges from “the growth of e-commerce and competition”. To woo patrons and widen the range of offerings, it has held promotional activities and introduced new stores, such as Emporium Shokuhin, a Japanese emporium in the new wing. “These new concepts have drawn more visitors to the mall,” the spokesperson said.

There are tenants who have seen improvements. Three Bistro manager Jon Lucas, 40, noticed that visitor traffic has picked up slightly at the mall since last August. At Hotpot Culture, business has been brisk, with the restaurant running at capacity for the whole of last month.

While most tenants interviewed said their premises have been free from rat activity, Saigon Baguette owner Kok Chiang Loong, 35, claimed that the problem remains even though it had been “reduced significantly”.

A fortnight ago, he sealed a hole with cement in the storeroom through which a pipe runs. Rat droppings were found in the restaurant’s storeroom almost daily and there are rats scuttling about at least once or twice a week, he added, showing photos of the droppings when TODAY spoke to him last Wednesday.

The mall assured that preventive measures were and would continue to be in place. “Pest control is an ongoing process and we continue our vigilant pest control programme with our tenants,” its spokesperson said.

Source : Channel NewsAsia – 11 Jan 2016

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