Despite Santa Clara County's ban on evictions amid the pandemic, Flights Restaurant founder and CEO Alexander Hult is being sued by his landlord in Mountain View for back-rent payments.
The county ordinance allows tenants impacted by COVID-19 to pay back rent payments within a year with no late fees and prevents landlords from evicting residential and small-business tenants for non-payment of rent. For Hult, those payments on the Mountain View property total $27,000 per month.
"We've always paid our rent on time before," Hult told San Jose Spotlight. "But there has not been a single dollar in sales since mid-March."
Landlords for the three other Flights locations in the Bay Area, located in Burlingame, Campbell and Los Gatos, have all given Hult breaks in the rent. Unlike the Mountain View location, which has been shuttered since March, the other three restaurants have patio seating.
Hult said the lawsuit, which he was served on Saturday, "came out of nowhere," as he had been in the middle of negotiating with his Mountain View landlord.
"I just think it's so wrong in this time," Hult said. "I understand that it's tough for (landlords) too, but filing a lawsuit in the middle of all this is unfair."
Business interruption insurance has been no help either, Hult said. Most insurance providers have told customers that interruptions from the virus don't qualify for coverage after they were overwhelmed with claims.
"This is not the small businesses' fault," Hult said. "We've done everything in our power to do business."
When the lockdowns first forced Hult to close his restaurant and created unprecedented need, Hult created the FeedtheNeed Bay Area campaign. He used community donations totaling $150,000 to provide 12,000 meals for hospital workers, low-income families and seniors sheltering in place. The community service work allowed Flights and other Los Gatos restaurants to keep some employees on payroll.
"We were able to get through the hardest parts (of the lockdown)," Hult said. But as other restaurants reopened for outdoor dining, his remained dark and business dried back up.
Now, Hult plans to fight the lawsuit "to ensure this unjust and ruthless tactic will not be tolerated by us or other small businesses in the same situation," he wrote in a Facebook post.
"The big picture is that every single independent restaurant will close its doors ... people will lose their homes," Hult said. "I think we just need to send a very strong message to the politicians that they need to figure it out with the landlords."
Hult has launched a GoFundMe campaign to collect donations for legal fees. His Facebook post about the lawsuit was shared almost 200 times and Hult said many law firms have offered to represent him pro bono. He is planning a demonstration outside of the office of Peninsula Land & Capital, which owns the building where Flights resides in Mountain View, on Friday.
The landlord did not return calls for comment.
"At the end of the day, there needs to be a bigger discussion about what's going to happen because a million small businesses will be in this situation," Hult said.