Garage Door Saloon owner, landlord in legal battle over repairs

Garage+Door+Saloon+is+a+popular+bar+located+in+Oakland.

TPN File Photo

Garage Door Saloon is a popular bar located in Oakland.

By Martha Layne, Assistant News Editor

City inspectors condemned portions of the building that houses the popular Oakland bar Garage Door Saloon in August due to ceiling damage which resulted in unsafe building conditions.

But a dispute over building repairs between the landlord and the bar’s owner has resulted in a standstill, with no clear reopening date in sight.

Mark Welshonse, the owner of South Side Sin City Inc. and Garage Door, has rented the space that houses his bar at 223 Atwood St. since 2006. He and Neal Scoratow, the landlord and president of National Builders & Acceptance Corp., have disputed building repairs since March. A lawsuit is ongoing with both sides claiming breach of contract.

Welshonse declined to comment due to the ongoing litigation. But in early September, Scoratow answered some questions about the dispute.

Marco Attisano, a partner at Pittsburgh-based law firm Attisano and Romano, represents Scoratow. Jonathan McCloskey, an attorney at Meyer, Daragh, Buckler, Bebenek & Eck, PLLC, represents Welshonse.

Here’s a look at the key events of this litigation — drawn from legal documents and interviews  — which affects one of Oakland’s most frequented establishments.

Background

Welshonse and Scoratow signed a commercial lease agreement in October 2010 that the parties renewed in 2019 and extended until 2025. According to a brief filed on Aug. 25 by McCloskey, the lease said National Builders is responsible only for roof and structural repairs. It also said if repairs are scheduled, Sin City must give National Builders access to the space — and disarm the security alarm — between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m.

[Read: National Builders’ July 9 complaint and its lease with Sin City]

But the legal dispute formally began about a month earlier, when Scoratow filed a complaint on July 9 against Welshonse for a breach of contract. Welshonse then responded by filing a legal brief in opposition on July 16. Welshonse’s lawyer then filed his Aug. 25 brief, answering the new matter brought up by Scoratow, and filed an additional counterclaim against him. Welshonse filed two more briefs in opposition against Scoratow in early November.

March 2021: Initial incident

According to the legal brief filed on Aug. 25 by McCloskey, who represents Welshonse, the dispute between Welshonse and Scoratow began on March 28.

After COVID-19 restrictions loosened, Scoratow said in a September interview that Welshonse found damage as he prepared to reopen the bar on March 28, which had been closed. He said Welshonse told him part of the suspended ceiling in the bar was bent due to the weight of “something.”

Scoratow said although Welshonse called him “immediately,” he replied that he couldn’t address the damage right away because it was a Sunday afternoon.

April 2021: First recommendation

Dirk Taylor, the founder and project executive of Taylor Structural Engineering, came to the property on April 5 to assess the damage, after Scoratow’s architect recommended him, according to the legal brief filed on Aug. 25.

According to the legal brief filed on July 16 by McCloskey, Taylor wrote in an April 19 report that the structure of the building’s roof “is in unsatisfactory condition and needs to be reinforced … by installing cold-formed metal joists beneath the badly deteriorated sections.”

After receiving the report, Scoratow said he forwarded it to Welshonse “even though he really had no input to the method of repair.” After reviewing the report with a contractor, Scoratow decided to get a second opinion.

May and June 2021: Second recommendation

A second opinion on the building’s repairs came from Michael Cenkner, the president of Cenkner Engineering Associates, on or about May 7, according to the July brief filed by McCloskey. Cenkner didn’t agree with Taylor’s recommendation and suggested that the roof needed less extensive repairs.

Scoratow decided to proceed with Cenkner’s recommendation of less extensive repairs by obtaining a building permit and hiring Vegely Welding, according to a complaint filed July 9 by Attisano, Scoratow’s attorney.

But weeks into the repairs, the July 16 brief said, Welshonse stepped in because he didn’t approve of the methods used to repair the roof. According to the July brief, Welshonse was concerned that Cenkner’s recommended repairs were “insufficient” and dangerous to patrons. Sin City attempted to negotiate with National Builders, the landlord, to implement the original repair suggestions from Taylor.

Scoratow said in his Sept. 8 interview that Welshonse intervened “even though he is not a structural engineer and had no permission to make these decisions.” On or around June 11, Sin City prevented Vegely Welding employees from entering the bar, according to Scoratow’s July 9 complaint. The complaint added that National Builders sent a letter that day to Sin City demanding that it permit the Vegely employees access to perform the repairs.

June 2021: National Builders sues Sin City

Because Welshonse allegedly refused Vegely employees access to the bar, Scoratow said he was “forced” to file for injunctive relief on July 9 to gain access to the bar, according to a Sept. 10 email. The July 9 complaint said Sin City continued to prevent Vegely employees from entering the property.

The complaint also noted that Sin City didn’t allow a prospective buyer for the property, Zukin Development Corp., to tour the building. It also said Sin City stopped paying rent in July 2020, and owed $61,291.37 in back rent and fees.

National Builders requested that a court order Sin City to give access to National Builders for repairs and property showings, as well as pay at least $35,000, plus interest and costs, attorneys’ fees and other relief.

July 2021: Cenkner withdraws report

According to the July 16 brief, Vegely Welding received a statement from Cenkner, the engineer who said the building didn’t need major repairs, on July 13. In the statement, Cenkner withdrew his original May recommendation.

According to the July 16 brief filed by McCloskey, Cenkner’s report said his reconsideration was based on “additional information presented to us reveal[ing] that the existing conditions are far worse than what was observed in the limited areas we examined in May.”

[Read: Sin City’s July 16 legal brief]

Sin City said in the July 16 brief that Cenkner’s withdrawal should void the building permit which National Builders acquired to complete the then-recommended repairs. Sin City also said National Builders’ request to allow Vegely Welding to work on the property based on Cenkner’s now-withdrawn recommendations was “absurd” and “dangerous.”

With Cenkner’s withdrawal letter in hand, Welshonse requested that National Builders’ July complaint be withdrawn, and that it be charged with sanctions and attorneys’ fees for knowingly false pleadings.

A hearing was scheduled for 9 a.m. on July 19, but was postponed, according to a July 19 court order.

August 2021: Sin City claims National Builders breached the lease first

Sin City claimed in the legal brief filed on Aug. 25 by McCloskey that National Builders broke the lease first. It argued that National Builders breached the lease by “failing to perform required structural repairs to the property.”

Sin City’s brief also said Scoratow “rushed” Cenkner through the building, which prohibited him from seeing any of the serious damages that Taylor, the engineer who recommended major repairs, observed in April. It alleged that the landlord “intentionally concealed” important information about the extent of the structural damages.

[Read: Sin City’s Aug. 25 legal brief]

The Aug. 25 brief said National Builders caused them to lose profit damages of $685,228.64 as of Aug. 25, deprived them of use of the property — which entitled them to not pay rent — as well as “substantial annoyance, inconvenience, anxiety, expense and the like.”

In the legal brief, Sin City requested National Builders’ complaint be dismissed with prejudice, meaning it cannot be brought up against them again.

Aug. 30: Building’s rear condemned

The City of Pittsburgh’s Department of Permits, Licenses and Inspections condemned the rear part of the bar on Aug. 30. The City notice on the bar’s doors said the building’s rear was not fit for human occupancy and the structure needed to be demolished or repaired.

The inspection report also noted that there were electrical violations, including a missing panel board cover in the men’s room, several missing covers on electrical boxes and improperly fused extension cords.

The City’s website said on Aug. 31 that Scoratow had secured a minor building permit. But the repairs — due to the structural nature of the damage — needed an additions alterations permit, resulting in a cease on any repairs to the building.

Sept. 1: G Door Facebook post, addition of Zukin Development Corp. as a defendant

In a Facebook post on Sept. 1, Garage Door said it wanted to be open and operating but is unable due to the ongoing situation with the landlord. They said if they could control things, they would have been open “a long time ago.”

“Our landlord has chosen to drag his feet (since April) with the repairs to the structure of his building,” the post said. “We can’t go into too much detail due to pending litigation with said landlord. The condemning of the building does not constitute a need for it to be torn down. It is the City’s way of trying to get our landlord [to] make the necessary repairs, and it helps to ensure that the work will get done properly and by licensed/registered contractors.”

Sin City filed a complaint to add an additional defendant — Zukin, the building’s potential buyer — on Sept. 7. In the complaint, Sin City claimed that Zukin’s “improper conduct” was intentional and harmful to Sin City’s business relationship with National Builders. 

Sin City claimed Zukin’s conduct was improper because the sales agreement, between Zukin and National Builders, offered financial incentive or put pressure on National Builders to “interfere with, breach and wrongfully terminate” the lease with Sin City.

October and November 2021: Requests for dismissals

National Builders requested Oct. 1 that the court dismiss Sin City’s claim that National Builders was aware of the extent of the damages when showing the property to Cenkner.

Zukin requested on Oct. 8 that the court dismiss it from the Sin City complaint with prejudice, which Sin City objected to on Nov. 1.

Sin City filed additional briefs in opposition against National Builders in early November. It filed a claim on Nov. 5 for a breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing — which means that both parties assume the other will act fairly and avoid “shifty means to avoid obligations.” It filed this claim because National Builders would have to terminate the lease with Sin City by entering into a sales agreement with Zukin.

The Nov. 5 brief also said National Builders planned to sell the building for $2.5 million. Sin City said this “sales agreement” sabotages the repair process of the building by “incentivizing” National Builders to perform the repairs in a “shoddy manner” and “evade the spirit” of its lease with Sin City, which is in effect until 2025. Sin City also claimed in the brief that National Builders made a false statement to the City and the public in the building permit application materials. 

Sin City filed another brief on Nov. 9, which adjusted the $2.5 million price tag from the Nov. 5 brief to $2.45 million.

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