Landlord Disputes
Home Up First Street Lenox Hill 2009

"The views and opinions expressed in this newsletter are strictly and exclusively those of this writer, and are not to be interpreted as criticism               
of any other person or institution. Nor are they intended to malign or to express any infamous view of any such person or institution."  RJA             xxxx

THE STORY OF THE SSQQ DISPUTES WITH OUR LANDLORD

In January 2007, student tuition will rise for the first time in three years.   2006 was one of the most successful years in studio history.   Why then do we need to raise our prices?   Our Landlord has recently raised our rent by nearly $8,000 a year.

Following a veritable Biblical Plague of problems - the leaking roof, potholes the size of craters in the parking lot, loss of parking space, car towing incidents, and constant headaches - this rent increase is indeed a bitter pill to swallow.  

Much of the increase can be traced to a clause in our lease that gives the Landlord the power to pass on practically any shopping center cost they wish on to the tenants.  According to their lawyer, SSQQ has little or no say so in any of these matters.

THE DOBERMAN INCIDENT

On Monday, July 31, 2006, my daughter Sam and I witnessed a growling Doberman lunge at SSQQ Instructor Bryan Spivey.  The dog is pictured at right.  This incident took place directly under the Sky Bridge on "Chestnut."

I doubt most of you have ever heard of 'Chestnut'.   That is because it doesn't look like a street any more.  'Chestnut' is the parking area that runs directly in front of the studio from Bissonnet to First Street.  At some point in time Chestnut Street was 'loaned' to the Bissonnet Shopping Center for parking use, perhaps back in the Seventies when the studio was once used as a police shooting range.

Even though its identity as a city street has ceased to exist, Chestnut has remained property of the City of Bellaire.  When First Street Surgical Center decided to build a hospital on the former Door Warehouse location, the only way they could connect their two buildings was to add the Sky Bridge over the Chestnut Street area.   In other words, the dog incident occurred on city property.

This area has been under construction since November 2005.

Although the area under the Sky Bridge is public property, people can certainly understand that during construction of the hospital, First Street Surgical would prefer people not walk through that area for fear of an accident. 

Consequently First Street Surgical received permission from the City of Bellaire to seal this area off during the construction phase.

The construction company put up heavy four-foot high plastic barriers to prevent cars from coming through. They also erected a metal fence around the perimeter to further deter people from entering this area.

However by the end of July 2006, the entire area under the Sky Bridge was now completely paved.

On the evening of the Doberman incident, this area appeared ready for pedestrian traffic.  

The metal fence was the major barrier that had roped off the construction area.  This fence had prevented people from walking through.

Now the fence on the First Street side of the hospital had been completely removed.  

A brand new north-south sidewalk which paralleled First Street had taken it's place. In addition, the area had been landscaped.

The only obstacles remaining were the plastic traffic barriers to prevent cars from coming through.

There were no signs posted which prohibited people from walking through. 

Furthermore, if you were walking south on the brand-new First Street sidewalk, the sidewalk directly guided pedestrians  onto the Chestnut area under the Sky Bridge which is pictured on the left.

My point is that any casual observer might conclude the entire area not only appeared safe for pedestrian traffic, but that it was available and permitted.

The Red X indicates the spot where Bryan passed the Doberman.  After the animal lunged at him, he was so intimidated he actually ran up those steps to avoid further contact with the dog.

The time was 7 pm.  Classes started at 7 pm. 

As I parked my car near the corner of First Street and Chestnut Street, I knew I was running late. 

As my daughter Sam and I got out of my car just yards from the Sky Bridge area, I looked up and noticed that SSQQ instructor Bryan Spivey was about ten yards ahead of me.  He too was running late.

Rather than take the long walk around the hospital, Bryan had decided to take the 'Chestnut' shortcut from First Street to SSQQ.

Bryan was walking under the Sky Bridge in the middle of Chestnut when he noticed a Hispanic man glaring at him.  This man had a Doberman at his side on a leash.  The man was likely one of the construction workers. 

Bryan later told me he specifically asked the man if it was okay to walk through. Bryan said the man frowned, but nodded permission.

Bryan continued walking, but he was worried.  That Doberman had begun barking at Bryan during the exchange.

Now the dog began to strain on his leash to get to Bryan.  The man and the dog were perhaps 7 feet away.  The animal was held back only by the strength of the construction worker hanging onto the leash.

Just as Bryan passed the growling dog, without warning, the construction worker appeared to relax his grip on the leash which allowed the dog to lunge at Bryan.

Just as the dog lunged towards him, Bryan reacted instantly.  He quickly jumped to his right, then climbed the stairs to safety.  Bryan had been watching the dog carefully.  Under the circumstances, wouldn't you? 

The dog missed Bryan by less than a foot.  Had Bryan not moved, I imagine he would have either been bitten or barely escaped injury.

The construction worker laughed.  I assumed he was amused at Bryan's instinctual fear reaction, but then I could be wrong.

Bryan paid him no heed and kept walking.  Inside though, Bryan was furious.  After all, he had asked permission in the first place.

Sam and I just stood there watching in disbelief.  It looked like this construction worker had deliberately allowed the dog to frighten our friend.  I shook my head in disgust.   I turned on my camera and took the picture below at right.

I recognized this man from a previous experience.  One night in December 2005 I parked on First Street in front of the plastic barriers blocking Chestnut Street.  This man came out of the darkness to confront me. In a raised voice, he ordered me to move my car.  I pointed to the 4-foot high plastic barriers and explained they had created a temporary parking spot.   Why not use it?  

He told me he would have me towed if I didn't obey.  I told him he didn't have the authority because First Street was city property.  He repeated his towing threat, then whipped out his cell phone to ring the tow company on fast dial. 

So I moved my car.  What was the point of defying this guy?

Thus the dog incident marked the second time I had seen this man operate in a harsh manner.  What kind of person uses a Doberman to intimidate innocent people from walking through the area?    Having learned my lesson how hostile this man could be, Sam and I decided to take the long route around the hospital. 

So maybe it is a nuisance to have people walk through, but they aren't interfering with anything.  The work for the day is clearly over. These people are hardly any threat to steal something.  Nor are they are likely to get hurt.  It is an empty, paved city street with no obstacles in sight.

Actually the only serious threat to their safety was this man and his dangerous dog. 

Whatever his concern was, all the man had to do was sit in a chair and watch as people passed by.  What did he gain by being ugly?

The use of this animal to deter pedestrian traffic on public property was a highly inappropriate action. 

In retrospect, I should have called the police. Unfortunately the thought didn't even occur to me at the time.  I have been overcome with an increasing sense of futility.

For example, every day for past two years, whenever I come to the studio, I glance at the potholes and say to myself, "Why even bother to speak up?  What good does it do?" 

After two years of frustration dealing with the management, I have become so accustomed to being ignored that I was too numb to react with outrage like a normal person would. 

DEFAMATION LAWSUIT THREAT

As a simple example of the 'tension' I have become accustomed to, you need to understand that the following story about the SSQQ problems with the Landlord was written under the direct threat of a defamation lawsuit.

August 1, 2006

I further would like to direct your attention to the laws in the State of Texas regarding defamation, libel, and slander. If you are to publish any untrue statements, on a web site or any other form of publication, that are defamatory in nature regarding Lenox Hill Holdings, Ltd and/or any of its agents, officers, or employees; Lenox Hill Holdings, Ltd will take all necessary legal action to cure such conduct allowable under Texas Law.

If you have questions regarding what constitutes defamation under Texas Law, I would advise you to see the counsel of your attorney or contact me immediately.

Hugh Jones Plummer, Jr

Plummer and Farmer
Attorneys at Law

What do you suppose it means when someone is worried about being defamed?

I have written extensive stories throughout my web site.  Literally hundreds of stories!  I have had arguments aplenty and I have been called ugly things on several occasions.  But you know what?  Not once have I ever been called a liar.

That said, there are a few things you the reader need to understand before we proceed.

1. Everything I say in this article is strictly MY OPINION ONLY.  For example, later on I will say that I found a hole in the roof.  Then I will say that the discovery of that hole led me to conclude that no roofer in the previous year put any sort of patch on that spot.  That is MY OPINION.  It may turn out that some roofer did attempt a repair on that very spot.  Therefore I am simply saying that what I saw and what I photographed does not prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that a roofer hired by the Varons did not attempt roof repairs.

Or I will say "the construction man APPEARED to give the Doberman slack on the leash so it could lunge at Bryan."  I cannot prove the construction man did anything of the sort.  I simply observed the coincidence that the dog lunged at Bryan just as he passed.

In other words, get used to the phrase "in my opinion" and the word "appeared."

2. I will be the first to admit some of my numbers were just estimates and guesses. 

For example, it may turn out that the CAM increase for 2006 is not between $7,000 and $8,000 as I surmised. It was just a guess. I will simply say that every number I published in this article was my best guess given that I didn't have always the facts at my hand.  This is a STORY about why your tuition is going up. It was not meant as a prelude to a legal fight. 

As another example, in one spot I say that the SSQQ dance floor cost $60,000.  In another spot, I said it cost $100,000. 

First of all, I do not know what the floor cost.  It was a long time ago in the days before I computerized my business records.  Those numbers are not at the tip of my fingers. My memory tells me the floor cost about 20 cents a foot. 6,000 square feet.  You do the math.  If my memory is wrong, then please forgive me.  All I can say is that is the number that comes to mind seven years later.

Here is the explanation behind the contradiction in prices:  SSQQ purchased the dance floor on two different occasions back in 1999.  The first time we replaced the surface in Room 1 and Room 2.  We were so pleased with the results, a year later we resurfaced the rest of the studio.   The $60,000 figure referred to the general area specifically under the roof leak when I emailed Mr. Varon and Mr. Mark Ray on February 1.

My underlying point is: Everything I have said in this document is the truth as I know it.  If I discover a mistake, you have my word I will correct it the moment it is brought to my attention and issue an immediate WRITTEN apology if requested. 

I believe the Varons have the right to present their side of this story if they wish.  Therefore I invite Dr. Varon and Mrs. Varon to say whatever they wish.  I will publish it right below my story.

If they inform me of possible errors, I will either correct the mistake on the spot or at least debate whatever objection they may have.

Rick Archer
August 21, 2006

Introduction

The story about the Landlord/SSQQ Disputes is a long and deeply complex story that covers two and a half years of tension.  To help keep track, I will include a Timeline.

    TIMELINE

BOTTOM OF PAGE

00  2004 February  Dr. Jacob Varon and Mrs. Haya Varon purchase the Bissonnet Shopping Center from the Kwans
01  2004 June  I meet with Dr. and Mrs. Varon at their request to discuss renting space next door
02  2004 August  I ask permission to use the parking at First Street Surgical for a special event
03  2004 September  I write a letter about the potholes in the parking lot
04  2004 October  I write another letter about the potholes in the parking lot
05  2005 April  Pool Supply moves in next door. The remodeling causes SSQQ huge problems.
06  2005 June  The Babysitting business threatens to tow the cars of SSQQ students.
07  2005 July  The SSQQ Roof Leak Problems begin
08  2005 October  The first SSQQ-Lenox Hill CAM dispute
09  2005 November  The rains return and cause more leaking
10  2005 November  The Varons take away one-third of the parking lot to use for their hospital construction
11  2005 November  The Awning dispute
12  2005 November  I request a meeting
13  2005 November  The Meeting on November 29th
14  2005 December  I ask the question: Were any repairs ever actually done to the roof?
15  2006 January  Heavy rains reveal that nothing was done over the Holidays.
16  2006 January  I write a "Breach of Contract" letter
17  2006 January  Up on the Roof
18  2006 January  The Case of the Curious Membrane
19  2006 February  The Conclusion of the Roof Story
20  2006 March  Return of the Awning Problem
21  2006 May  The 2005 CAM Dispute over a $5,200 surcharge
22  2006 June  I write a letter to Ms. Varon protesting the CAM surcharge
23  2006 July  The Lenox Hill lawyer demands I pay the CAM and warns about a "Defamation Lawsuit"
24  2006 August  I pay my 2005 CAM, send a letter to attorney, and write this article.
25  2006 August  Conclusion to this story
26    Letters to the Editor

BOTTOM OF PAGE

 


THE STORY BEGINS

1. JUNE 2004: I MEET WITH THE LANDLORDS TO DISCUSS RENTING ADDITIONAL SPACE

Dr. Jacob Varon and his wife Haya purchased the shopping center in February 2004.  They do business as "Lenox Hill Holdings, Ltd".  I have only met them twice.

Within a couple months after they took control of their new property, Ms. Varon phoned me to inquire about the possibility of SSQQ renting more space.  In particular a barber shop next door to us had come free.  I believe it was June 2004 that the three of us first met. 

We explored the abandoned barber shop next door to SSQQ.  I had gotten my hair cut there on many occasions so I was familiar with the space.  Mostly I was meeting with them as a courtesy.  I already knew I wasn't particularly interested.  Of course I would have loved to acquire more space, but not at the price they were asking. Plus my own business did not feel strong.

The truth was that 9/11 had delivered such a shock to the nation that my own particular business had not yet bounced back three years later.  Consequently our attendance was flat.  With the exception of Salsa, overcrowding in our classes was not an issue.  I saw no reason to assume more space until my business began to pick up again.  

Besides, one more terrorist attack or an outbreak of Bird Flu and I would be lucky to stay in business at all.  Given my current income, the slow economy, and the fear of the unexpected, I felt that adding the space was just too risky. 

I suspect the Varons purchased the Bissonnet Shopping Center for at least one specific reason: they needed the use of the parking lot for their hospital expansion plans. 

The Varons and several investors had acquired the building adjacent to Charlie's Barbeque in 2003.  I do not know much about these investors other than they are rumored to be a group of doctors and plastic surgeons.

They remodeled the building to permit day procedures and named it "First Street Surgical Center"

Now that the Surgical Center was ready, the investment group wanted to open up a hospital next door in the area once occupied by the Door Warehouse. 

But first they had to overcome an Achilles' Heel: the Door Warehouse location came with virtually no parking space.

They needed parking to make their investment work.

Therefore the Bissonnet Shopping Center became a very valuable asset to acquire in order to obtain parking.

Speaking of parking, back in the days before the Varons came on the scene, parking was never a problem at SSQQ.  For one thing, our students used to park in the parking lot in the area now occupied by First Street Surgical.

However this parking area was quietly declared off-limits when, as part of the First Street Surgical Center remodeling, they constructed an impressive metal fence.  As a result, ever since then this space has remained totally unoccupied during SSQQ business hours. 

One day I wondered if the Varons would share the space with us for a good cause.   I wrote the following letter: 


BACK TO TIMELINE

2.  AUGUST 19, 2004: MY REQUEST FOR PERMISSION TO USE THE FIRST SURGICAL PARKING LOT

-----Original Message-----
From: Rick Archer
Sent: Thursday, August 19, 2004 2:16 PM
To: Haya Varon
Subject: SSQQ Extravaganza August 28

Haya,

I have a big favor to ask.

On Saturday, August 28, our studio is throwing an all-day set of dance workshops to be followed by a dance afterwards.

the last time we threw one of these parties, it resulted in a huge parking nightmare for all the other businesses in the shopping center. here is the story of that fiasco:  Swing Extravaganza

I intend to do everything in my power to keep our students OFF the Front Row of the businesses all day.

Since the workshops will be over by 4:30 pm that day, would it be possible for our students to receive permission to park in the First Street Surgical Center for this one day only?

I would have them put their name on the windshield so we could track them down and I promise they would be gone by 4:30.

I would be so grateful and it would be a terrific boost of good news for our students.

Rick Archer
SSQQ Dance Studio
Houston Texas

 

No response to the above letter was ever received.  I took this to mean "No".

Since my meeting with the Varons regarding the additional space, I had not heard from them in three months.  Other than the monthly invoices, there was no contact. 

In September I included a brief note with my rent payment asking that the bulbs in the light fixtures. I did not receive a response.

3. POTHOLES AND OTHER PROBLEMS I

Wednesday, September 01, 2004


Haya Varon
Lenox Hill Holdings

Ms. Varon,

I spoke with you two months ago about the condition of the parking lot. You asked me to be patient, saying that in sixty days work would begin. The problem has only gotten worse.

Quite frankly, the potholes are now to the point where our customers complain to me daily. I do not expect the entire parking lot to be repaved, but I would certainly appreciate it if the parking lot could be maintained with temporary fixes. It is fairly simple to do a quick patch job.

There are two security lights that are out in front of the building. They are on the lawn that borders Bissonnet Street.

I have many women who go to their cars late at night who have asked me to see if the lights can be fixed. I promised them I would ask.

On a final matter, I emailed you with a question about parking. Whether you received it or not I do not know because I never got a reply. I have your email address listed as xxxx. Is this correct?

Sincerely,  Rick Archer


I never received a reply to this letter.  In the meantime, the place continued to fall apart with neglect.  Here is another letter I sent to Ms. Varon regarding this subject just one month later.

4. POTHOLES AND OTHER PROBLEMS II

Monday, October 11, 2004

Haya Varon
Lenox Hill Holdings

Ms. Varon,

I am concerned over what appears to be an absentee ownership.

The potholes get deeper and deeper.

Even worse, the lights on the property have not been fixed despite my polite request in last month's letter.

I did not receive a written response to last month's letter. Nor did I receive a phone call. Nor did I receive an email.

If it weren't for the rent check request, I would wonder if anyone is even involved in the property any longer.

It remains my wish to conduct the same cordial business relationship that I had with my previous landlord.

If you would be so kind, please email me the date that you intend to fix the lights and an estimated date for the scheduled parking lot maintenance.

My email address is
dance@ssqq.com

Thank you in advance for your prompt attention to this matter.

Sincerely, Rick Archer

To my knowledge, no response to my letter was ever given.  Another six months went by.)

BACK TO TIMELINE


5. APRIL 28, 2005: THE POOL SUPPLY COMPANY INCIDENT

About a year after I turned down the space next to SSQQ, the Varons finally found a new tenant.

In April 2005, I was told that plumbers, electricians, and carpenters needed access to SSQQ space during the day to permit necessary repairs and improvements so a pool supply business could move in next door to SSQQ.

Apparently much of our mutual wall was not up to Fire Department code.  Massive changes had to be made.  Apparently it was much easier to make the repairs on the SSQQ side than on the Pool Supply side.

So, at no benefit to SSQQ whatsoever, for days on end, Linda Cook, who was in charge of SSQQ maintenance, trudged over to the studio to let these people in. 

Here is the story told through email correspondence.

 -----Original Message-----
From: Rick Archer
Sent: Thursday, April 28, 2005 10:17 AM
To: Haya Varon; Mark Ray office buildings
Subject: continued disruption of dance studio business

Mr. Ray and Ms. Varon,

My business has been disrupted now for the past two weeks by the constant presence of various construction workers - plumbers, electricians, and firewall installers.

Currently the ceiling in three of my rooms has been left wide open for three days. As a result, at night during class heat pours through these openings and the temperature is unbearable in each of these rooms. My air-conditioner is completely full of ceiling dust sucked in from the open ceiling. Why these people can't temporarily patch their work each night with plastic is a question that should be answered, but it is too late now. The damage is done.

My attendance is down 20% - I have the statistics to prove it - and the complaints are loud and bitter. I understand why the work is necessary, but am also upset that my business has not been protected!

I am aware the problem is no one's fault in particular. It is not your fault nor the incoming Pool Supply Company nor my fault that someone put an AC vent on the wrong side of the wall many years ago. It was that way long before I ever took over the location, I promise you. The work has to be done. We should all count our blessings that my business is closed during the day. Otherwise we would have an even bigger problem on our hands.

However in order to have access to my premises, the load has fallen on the shoulders of one person. I have an employee - Linda Cook - who has reliably shown up by my count over ten times to let various workers in.

And at least one time she wasted an entire morning trying to help. On Sunday, April 24, Ms. Cook showed up at 7 am in the morning only to be stood up by the work crew. An entire day of construction was wasted as well as this woman's entire morning. How would any of us feel about driving over the dance studio at 7 am on a Sunday morning for someone else's problem?

Think about it.

Since then Ms. Cook has spent entire days at the studio while the construction people tear the place apart. And it is a good thing she is there. Yesterday the workers left the door pried wide open while they went to lunch. By chance Ms. Cook walked in and made the discovery. She closed the door and locked it.

I have many valuable items in my building. I am completely grateful Ms. Cook is keeping an eye on the safety of my business. How would you like to have your house or business treated the same way??

I am writing with two requests.
1) Not only do I want the ceiling repaired when the work is done, I would like for the ceiling where the work was done to look BETTER than before it was torn apart. New ceiling tiles are not expensive. $20 to $40 should do the trick. Please.

2) I would like for you to remunerate Ms. Cook for her time. I estimate she has willingly put in over 40 hours without complaint or any expectation of extra pay.

That said, she deserves to be paid for her service. She sits there the whole day hours on end keeping an eye on the premises.

My business is not open during the day. This is Ms. Cook's free time that she is giving up to cooperate with the construction worker's need to have access to my building. Ms. Cook is not wealthy, trust me. As a single parent, she supports two teenage children completely on her own on a dance teacher's salary. Not only could she use the money, she deserves the money.

I think $300 would be fair. I could pay her myself and deduct the money from the rent. I am asking for your permission. I would explain that the landlord is paying her, not me, so she will know her sacrifice is appreciated.

Thank you.

Rick Archer
SSQQ Dance Studio
Houston Texas

 

-----Original Message-----
From:
Sent: Friday, April 29, 2005 4:55 PM
To: dance@ssqq.com

Subject: Follow up
I wanted to let you know Mark Ray has started looking into the current situation with construction next door.

Mark had surgery yesterday, but I have spoken to him amd he will continue following up on this on Monday.

Have a nice weekend. Haya Varon



-----Original Message-----
From: Mr. Mark Ray
Sent: Wednesday, May 04, 2005 4:16 PM
To: Rick Archer
Cc: Haya Varon
Subject: Re: continued disruption of dance studio business

Mr. Archer,

I just wanted to touch basis with you, Has the work in your space completed? I have put in numerous calls to the contractor and he hasn't called me back.

I will continue to try to get in touch with him but If you would like to call me I can be reached on my cell at 713xxx

I will continue to get this issue resolved immediately.

Mark Ray

-----Original Message-----
From: Rick Archer
Sent: Thursday, May 05, 2005 12:08 PM
To: Mr. Mark Ray
Cc: Haya Varon
Subject: RE: continued disruption of dance studio business

After a three-week ordeal, the work appears to be done. The building inspector still has to be allowed in.

I again respectfully ask you to reimburse Ms. Linda Cook for her time.

She has made over a dozen trips to let people in. She has given up four entire days of her time sitting at the studio for 6-8 hours while the contractors did their job.

Once she drove to the studio on a Sunday morning at 7 am only to be stood up
by the crew.

I ask nothing for myself. The ceiling has been repaired to my satisfaction. At this point I simply wish to see that Ms. Cook is rewarded for her cooperation.

Rick Archer
SSQQ Dance Studio
Houston Texas

I never heard a single word back.

Ms. Cook was not reimbursed for her time.  

Nor was SSQQ reimbursed for the special air-conditioner repair or for the inconvenience to our customers.

This was the first time Lenox Hill Holdings took actions that benefited them, but hurt SSQQ in the process. 

It would certainly not be the last.

BACK TO TIMELINE

6.  JUNE 7, 2005: A TOWING THREAT

In addition to the Pool Supply Company, another business moved in at approximately the same time.  It turned out to be a baby-sitting service.  The first woman I met was extremely aggressive.  She was so angry she demanded I have a car moved immediately or she was going to have the car towed. 

I told her that she did not have the authority to tow a car. I also the punishment far exceeded the crime.  After the confrontation, I wrote a letter to the Landlord.

Here is what I had to say.

 -----Original Message-----
From: Rick Archer
Sent: Tuesday, June 07, 2005 10:48 AM
To: Haya Varon; Mark Ray office buildings
Subject: disturbing incident involving new tenant

On Friday night, June 3, we reopened for business after a two week break.

At 7:15 pm a woman from the new child play business walked into my studio to announce she was about to tow a car she claimed was illegally parked in front of her store.

As a result, we were forced to stop classes in six different rooms till we found the offending customer and gave them the word to move it "or else".

The message was therefore sent to everyone in the building that cars would now be towed from our parking lot. Everyone in the building immediately began to frown. This was not a welcome message.

I handed my class over to an assistant and walked down the sidewalk to speak with the woman. I believe her name was Ani, but I am not sure. She said that she had PERMISSION from the management to tow cars whenever she wished because a car in front of her store ENDANGERED her children.

In addition to defending her right to tow cars, she was verbally abusive to me by telling me I was mean, I was insensitive to the danger that parked car was to her children, and that I was not fit to have children of my own. I did not threaten her or retaliate. My only reply was that towing a customer was an incredibly dangerous and poorly thought out move.

Towing someone's car is an incredibly serious offense, especially someone who is a customer of YOUR shopping center. The message it sends is unbelievably hostile. The monetary cost is well over a hundred dollars.

The cost in time is well over an hour. The cost in aggravation and hostility towards the person who ordered the tow is steep. The humiliation is intense.

The Door Warehouse used to make serious kickback money from towing my studio customers until the City of Bellaire cracked down on them for illegal tows.

I cannot begin to tell you how bitter the victims were, but I will share with you that I drove them myself to pick up their cars over at a lot near Fingers on the Gulf Freeway.

I know very well just how angry they were. One woman even took Joel Loshack to court only to see him escape due to his bankruptcy.

I can guarantee you the punishment in this situation is far more serious than the crime.

There has NEVER been a car towed by another business in this shopping center in 25 years. Charlies BBQ has signs stating the same thing, but they have never enforced them. Radio Shack has never towed a car either. Nor has the Nail Place.

Nor should this woman, but I can't stop her or reason with her.

If it is correct that you have given this woman the authority to tow cars, then I question your management common sense by not warning the other businesses. And if it is correct that you have given this woman the authority to tow cars, I strongly recommend you remove it immediately. She is obviously too immature to be given this kind of authority.

And if it is NOT correct that you have given this woman the authority to tow cars, I think you need to have a word with her.

I acknowledge the woman's right to keep a spot open at all time if that is her wish. A simple solution would be to move your "handicapped parking" spot in front of her store since it is never used at night anyway. This would provide a simple place for cars to park for two minutes while dropping off or picking up their children.  Or put out proper signage asking people not to park there.

But whatever you do, remember that it is a legitimate customer of YOUR shopping center that she was attempting to tow. And that was another business in YOUR shopping center that was disrupted for ten minutes while we did a room to room search.



-----Original Message-----
From: Mr. Mark Ray
Sent: Thursday, June 09, 2005 4:20 PM
To: Rick Archer
Subject: Re: disturbing incident involving new tenant

Mr. Archer,

I have spoken to Haya and we will contact you in the next couple of days to discuss this with you further.

Thanks for your attention to this matter.

Mark Ray


Normally the most common response I get to any email I send is no response at all.  However in this case I did receive an angry call from Ms. Varon a few days later. 

It seems the babysitter had called to complain about our cars and my attitude.  Ms. Varon informed me that if she wanted to give someone the authority to put up towing signs and have the cars towed, that was her right.

Curiously, the problem disappeared soon after.  As soon as SSQQ students discovered the babysitting service, they began to drop their small children off on a regular basis.  For example, SSQQ instructors Ben Liles and Daryl Armstrong have used the service on many occasions.   I am unaware of the details of the transformation, but my guess is the babysitting service eventually realized SSQQ was more of an asset than a problem.

Since the rocky start, we trained them to simply call our Hall Monitor on the phone and we get the car moved.   Now how tough is that?

TOWING SIGNS

The unpleasant outcome of this event was the dawn of the Towing Sign Era.   Soon we saw a profusion of the ugliest set of towing signs imaginable.  Up and down the sidewalk rested one red towing sign after another.

To my knowledge, not one car has ever been towed from any of these businesses.  However there have been many ugly threats.

The hostility behind these messages is undeniable.  

The graceful solution... and aesthetically pleasing as well... would be to paint on the curb a message like "Parking for Radio Shack Customers Only" and remove these offensive signs permanently.   


The sad part is that none of these businesses seems to understand that I totally agree they have a right to reserve the parking spaces in front of their shop.  There is a massive failure to communicate on all sides and I suppose that includes me.

They see all these SSQQ customers park in front of their business and assume that SSQQ condones it.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  The problem is that some customers who are new to SSQQ get nervous on their first visit and prefer to park as close to our building as possible.  The obvious spots are the openings on the front row.   There is no way SSQQ can police the entire parking lot.  Nor do we intend to hire someone to watch the sidewalk!

However we do have a simple solution.  First, each business should put out a professional sign asking people NICELY (e.g. try using the word 'Please') to respect their space.  Then if someone parks there anyway, all the business has to do is phone our Hall Monitor station and we will go room to room until we find the owner and ask him or her to park someplace else. 

All they have to do is call and they will soon discover there are actually civilized, decent people who work at SSQQ.

This screaming and arguing on the sidewalks should have stopped long ago, but it hasn't.  Nor has Management taken any steps that I know of to deal with the problem other than the solution you see above. 

BACK TO TIMELINE

7. JULY 2005: THE ROOF PROBLEMS BEGIN

I think the only way to truly understand the depths of my despair on the roofing issue is to explain my relationship with the previous landlord.

The original owners of the Bissonnet Shopping Center, Mr. and Mrs. Alan Kwan, were two of the most considerate human beings I have ever met. My dealings with them were spread over a dozen years.  In that time, our interaction was always cordial, warm, and respectful.

Any time there was a roof leak, we would call Mrs. Kwan about the problem.  She would have a roofer go up immediately, patch the problem, and that was the end of it.  The problem was usually solved within one week.  In the twelve years, the leaking problem never amounted to more than a small STAIN in the ceiling tile because they attacked the problem before it could get worse.

Sunday night, July 24, after a rainstorm in the area passed through, I noticed a stain in one of the ceiling tiles in Room One.  The picture above, incidentally, is NOT reflective of the problem on July 24.  It is just there as an example.

In fact, the initial stain was very minor.  However Mrs. Kwan had trained me to report all leaks immediately so she could get them fixed before they became a problem. 

Due to her aggressive treatment, this July problem was the first roof leak I had reported in over a year and a half.  That is correct.  We had gone over eighteen months without a stain in the roof. 

In fact, this was the first time I had ever reported a leak to Mark Ray, the building manager. 

-----Original Message-----
From: Rick Archer
Sent: Monday, July 25, 2005 10:12 AM (note: time is estimated)
To: Mr. Mark Ray
Subject: 4803 Bissonnet Roof Leak over ssqq dance studio

The recent storms have punched a hole in the roof so large that we had several ceiling tiles collapse.

Since there is a valuable wood floor underneath the leak, it is imperative that I ask you to aggressively handle this problem.

Our contact person is Linda Cook. She can be reached during the day at 713 294 5277. Or email her to set up a time for her to show your roof repairmen where the leak is.

Thank you.

Rick Archer


-----Original Message-----
From: Mr. Mark Ray
Sent: Monday, July 25, 2005 11:53 AM
To: Rick Archer
Subject: Re: 4803 Bissonnet Roof Leak over ssqq dance studio


I have spoken to the roofer Bill Parish and he will call Linda to set a time to review damage, I believe it will be today.

Mark Ray


-----Original Message-----
From: Rick Archer
Sent: Monday, July 25, 2005 12:16 PM
To: Mr. Mark Ray
Subject: RE: 4803 Bissonnet Roof Leak over ssqq dance studio

Thank you!

Rick Archer
 

Linda Cook informed me she thought the roofers had been by because she thought she heard someone on the roof.  I asked her if they had called her yet.  She said no.  That worried me.  What kind of roofers had they hired? 

This reason I was concerned is that their lack of contact was a departure from the tried and proven method.

My previous landlord, Ms. Kwan, had always asked the roofer to meet with a studio representative so we could let the man in to see EXACTLY where the problem was.  He would get out his measuring tape and make calculations to orient him when he got to the roof.

Using this "Patch Technique" was very effective.  In the twelve years Ms. Kwan managed the Center, we NEVER had one drop of rainwater touch the floor.  Furthermore, after the Varons took over management from the Kwans in March 2004, it would be over a year before we would see another leak.  The Kwans clearly knew what they were doing.

I wondered how was this new roofer supposed to solve the problem without knowing the location of the leak?  So I wrote another email.

-----Original Message-----
From: Rick Archer
Sent: Friday, July 29, 2005 10:45 AM
To: Mr. Mark Ray
Subject: RE: 4803 Bissonnet Roof Leak over ssqq dance studio

It is my understanding that the roofers have been here this week, but no one has contacted Linda to learn of the exact location of the SSQQ leak.

It is a very bad leak. Last night I discovered warping in my dance floor. It is imperative that this leak be fixed ASAP!

Linda's cell phone is 713 294 5277

Rick Archer
SSQQ Dance Studio
Houston Texas

I was unable to locate any response to my concern above in my email records.

Meanwhile, a long drought in the Houston area was broken with further showers.  For the first time in 27 years, water was now falling on the floor.  Bubbles in the dance floor had developed and the wood curved in places from water damage.  Fortunately as the wood dried out, the wood returned to its normal shape, but scarring from the bubbles remained.  I was incensed!

-----Original Message-----
From: Rick Archer
Sent: Monday, August 01, 2005 10:23 AM  (note: time and date is estimated)
To: Mr. Mark Ray
Subject: RE: 4803 Bissonnet Roof Leak over ssqq dance studio

Mr. Ray,

Friday night/Saturday morning (July 30) it rained very hard in the Bellaire area. When Linda Cook was the first to arrive at the studio on Saturday at 3 pm, she found a puddle of water on my dance floor. The floor was bubbled and badly warped.

I would appreciate it if you would fix the leak as soon as possible. You promised me a WEEK AGO to fix that leak, there was nothing but sunshine all week long, and now I have a damaged floor. Your neglect of this problem is unprofessional and has resulted in serious damage.

A review of my previous correspondence plus the pledge from you to do something about it is listed below.

Linda Cook can be reached during the day at 713 294 5277 to show the roofers where the leak is.

Rick Archer

 

In the following letter below, I read a statement which caused my blood to boil.  In an email to the landlord, Mark Ray actually had the nerve to speculate that I was exaggerating the damage and the threat to the studio.  Unbelievable.

-----Original Message-----
From: Mr. Mark Ray
Sent: Monday, August 01, 2005 12:23 PM
To: Rick Archer
Subject: Re: please fix the roof leak immediately

Haya,

I have spoken to the roofer again and he said he would call Linda by noon today, I have a call scheduled with the roofer to update me after he talks to Linda at 2 pm.

I find it hard to believe that the floor is warped because of water on the floor for 1 day.

I can work it our with Rick.    Mark Ray

I could be wrong, but I have the distinct feeling Mark Ray sent this email to me by mistake.

After all, the first thing he did was address Haya Varon, not me. 

The lack of concern for my credibility and the safety of the floor is quite evident.

-----Original Message-----
From: Rick Archer
Sent: Monday, August 01, 2005 12:42 PM
To: Mr. Mark Ray
Subject: RE: please fix the roof leak immediately

I have no problem whatsoever showing you the floor damage.

I also have insulation visibly hanging from the ceiling where the ceiling tile has collapsed from water damage. There are leaks in three places.

Why would I fib about something this serious?


-----Original Message-----
From: Mr. Mark Ray
Sent: Monday, August 01, 2005 1:21 PM
To: Rick Archer
Subject: RE: please fix the roof leak immediately

that's not what I meant, aren't floors sealed with something to stop them from warping? I will try to get by to look at the damage and the roofer should have spoken to Linda by 12 noon today I will follow up with him to ensure that we get this leak fix asap.


Thanks,  Mark Ray


I discovered it was very difficult to photograph the floor damage.   In the picture above, the white streaks are raised bubbles, but even I have to admit the picture is not very dramatic.   The problem is 'perspective'.  I can't get the camera level with the ground to demonstrate that these small bubbles are actually raised.  Plus the flash from the camera takes away the shadows that might indicate the depth.

Nor is it easy to photograph a water puddle for 2 reasons.  One day a surprise storm dropped an enormous amount of water on the floor.  We had been putting buckets out each night, but on this particular occasion, the Hall Monitor had forgotten.  When I showed up at the studio, I wondered where all the water was.  It turns out the rainwater found cracks between the floor boards and came to rest on the concrete floor below.  But its presence was clear: soon the entire floor swelled up in a gentle arc. If you bounced on the floor, the water below would seep back up.  The naked eye could see the swelling, but not the camera. 

The other reason is what moron allows a ton of water to land on the floor so he can take a picture of the damage? 

The picture at right was taken on a Saturday morning when another sudden storm caused me to rush to the studio to protect the floor.   As you can see, when I got there, a small puddle had already begun to form.  

The late July rains disappeared.  Houston went almost three months without any significant rain. 

During those months, I assumed the roofer had solved the problem.  So I forgot about it.  Silly me.

xxBACK TO TIMELINE

8. OCTOBER 2005: DISPUTE OVER 2004 CAM

In early October 2005, I received an invoice from Ms. Varon in the amount of $3,030. 

I was stunned.  In twelve years under the previous landlord, I couldn't remember any CAM surcharge even remotely approaching this amount.  

2004 was not a good year for the studio financially.  Especially after all the problems with the roof and the neglect of the parking lot, this $3,000 bill was a bitter pill to swallow.

What a headache!  Why so much money?  Surely there had to be some mistake.

I took this statement to my accountant.  It turns out there was a mistake.  In fact, there were two mistakes.

First, Ms. Varon didn't add the expenses correctly.

Second, Ms. Varon didn't look at the lease which specified the amount of space for which I would be responsible.

My accountant reduced my bill from $3,000 to $500.

I don't recall any offer to reimburse me for my wasted time or to reimburse the accountant for his time either.

October 7, 2005
Ms. Haya Varon
Lenox Hill Holdings, Ltd


Re: SSQQ/Bissonnet Shopping Center Common Area Charges for 2004

Dear Ms. Varon,

At Rick Archer’s request, I have reviewed your statement of CAM charges, at it relates to the space occupied by SSQQ. The purpose of my letter is to call to your attention two errors in its computation.

First, the “Total Expenses for Center”, as itemized in your statement, do not foot. Your total should be$53,965.06, and not $57,639.32.

Second, SSQQ’s lease provides that for purposes of Common Area Costs, the leased premises is deemed to be 7,800 square feet, not 8,478. Please refer to lease Exhibit C, paragraph 10, on page 17.

I have substituted these corrected figures into your statement, which results in a revised deficit of $497.04 and have enclosed SSQQ’s check in that amount.

We understand that mistakes do happen and we take no offense at the errors, but we would appreciate your udating the records so that next year’s CAM reconciliation reflects the proper square footage of SSQQ’s space.

 Sincerely,  CM

BACK TO TIMELINE

9. NOVEMBER 1, 2005: RETURN OF THE RAINS

At the end of October, Houston's drought broke. Heavy storms came to the area.

I drove to the studio under a heavy downpour.  I walked into the studio.  There in Room One I saw Linda Cook furiously mopping the floor. 

The leak was back.  In fact, this time there was a new leak as well.  Not only had the original leak gotten worse, this new leak was equally as bad.  A good deal of water had already fallen on the floor by the time I got to the studio. If Linda hadn't been there, the problem could have been much worse.

There were no buckets to catch the water. We were under the assumption the problem had been fixed in August.

I was incredulous.  I thought the roofer had fixed the problem.  Didn't I have email assurances from August that the roofer was on the problem?  Obviously I was mistaken.

Now I was starting to get worried.  These people were NOT doing their job. 

 -----Original Message-----
From: Rick Archer
Sent: Tuesday, November 01, 2005 9:25 AM
To: Mark Ray office buildings; Haya Varon
Cc: Linda Cook
Subject: serious roof leak Monday oct 31 2005

Mark

Last night's rain exposed two leaks. Both are in Room 1.

The first leak is in the original spot you claim to have repaired in early August 2005. Why it was not done properly is a mystery to me.

The second leak was very serious. We had to use a mop to get the water up. A trash can was placed underneath for the remainder of the evening. It was
half full when the night ended. This is the worst leak I have ever encountered in my 25 years at this location.

Let me say again that we have $100,000 worth of wood flooring. If this incident had occurred say at midnight and the water was allowed to sit overnight, it would have caused extensive damage. We have been lucky two times in a row.

I do not enjoy using threats, but there is a potential case for "negligence" developing here.

Please have your roofer take care of this problem immediately.

Linda Cook's phone number is 713 294 5277.

Rick Archer


-----Original Message-----
From: Mr. Mark Ray
Sent: Tuesday, November 01, 2005 4:15 PM
To: Rick Archer
Subject: Re: serious roof leak Monday oct 31 2005

Rick,

I sent the roofer out to your suite this morning. I will follow up with him to ensure that the leak has been fixed a as good as possible as the roof has 4 different old roofs and we are getting estimates to remove all old roofs and replace the whole roof.

I will follow up with the roofer

Mark Ray


Now a horrible thought crossed my mind for the first time.  I realized that I seriously doubted any work had ever been done at all. 

The original leak was much worse than it had been in July.  And now there were two leaks. The new leak was even worse than the first leak!   Any legitimate patch job in the correct place would have probably stopped this problem in its tracks.

When Mr. Ray started talking about the "4 different old roofs", a horrible thought crossed my mind.  What if a roofer had been sent up there, but had decided to tell the landlord that the old roofs were so bad it wasn't worth the money to patch them?   

What if NOTHING had been done at all?

Ms. Kwan had made those "4 different old roofs" work for twelve years by aggressively patching every leak the moment it showed up.  I was sick in my stomach with worry and rage.

BACK TO TIMELINE

10. THE VARONS TAKE AWAY ONE-THIRD OF THE PARKING LOT

About this time, I was having all kinds of problems. 

I was deeply worried why the roof leak had not been properly fixed.  In addition, my life was on semi-hold due to a cancer threat.  My wife Marla went in for exploratory surgery for possible cancer.  Fortunately the surgery discovered that the problem was not serious.  At least here was some good news for a change. 

Including the fears Marla experienced awaiting her surgery, she lived a daily nightmare with Hurricane Rita-related problems from the recent cruise trip (Rita Rhapsody).  Between worrying about her and worrying about this roof, my stress level was off the charts.

As they say, when it rains, it pours.

Adding to my problems was an ominous development:

As you can see in the picture below, a third of our parking lot had been fenced off to permit construction on the new hospital. 

 -----Original Message-----
From: Rick Archer
Sent:
Wednesday, November 9, 2005 10:15 AM  (time and date estimated)
To: Mark Ray office buildings; Haya Varon
Subject: Leak


I am checking to see if the repairs on the roof have been completed. I am concerned that no one contacted Linda Cook to see where the second leak was. How can you fix a leak if you don't know where it is?

On a second issue, I am receiving bitter complaints about the loss of many parking spaces. I don't know why it is so difficult to give us any warning about moves that affect our business.

Just how long do you expect these parking spaces to be unavailable? If it is two weeks, I can be patient. If it is two months, that is a different scenario.

Please clarify the situation.

Rick Archer

-----Original Message-----
From: Mr. Mark Ray
Sent: Thursday, November 10, 2005 10:25 AM
To: Rick Archer
Subject: Leak

Mr. Archer,

I spoke to the roofer and he is contacting Ms Cook today and will repair leak today.

Mark Ray

It appeared to me that Mr. Ray had sidestepped my question about the parking lot.  So I asked again.

 -----Original Message-----
From: Rick Archer
Sent:
Thursday, November 10, 2005 2:15 PM  (time and date estimated)
To: Mark Ray office buildings; Haya Varon
Subject: Leak


Re the leak, excellent and thank you.

Now I would appreciate an answer on the parking lot situation if you would please.

Rick Archer
 

-----Original Message-----
From: Mr. Mark Ray
Sent: Thursday, November 10, 2005 2:57 PM
To: dance@ssqq.com
Subject: RE: Leak

I know that Mrs. Varon has been very persistent in telling the contractor to do everything he can to limit the impact of the construction on our tenants, I will call the contractor to get the latest update on when they will be out of our parking area.

Mark Ray

So what exactly are the SSQQ rights to the parking lot?   Well, you decide.  I will let you read the lease clause that deals with Common Area.  If you can understand it, I tip my hat to you. It could be Greek for all I know.


I am not a lawyer.  I do not know if they had the right to unilaterally close this area.  What I do know is they did it anyway.

All I know is that my landlord removed one-third of the parking lot SSQQ had used for the past 27 years for her own purpose.  This area was now being used for the construction of her hospital.

SSQQ students would have to learn to walk.

This was now the second time that Lenox Hill Holdings had taken an action that benefited them, but hurt SSQQ.   In fact, they didn't even bother to warn us in advance.  Nor would there would be any offer of compensation for the loss of our space.

 

BACK TO TIMELINE

11. THE AWNING DISPUTE

Just days after the fence was erected without warning, I received the following email:

-----Original Message-----
From: Mr. Mark Ray
Sent: Wednesday, November 16, 2005 2:50 PM
To: dance@ssqq.com
Subject: Bissonnet

Mr. Archer,

I have toured the property recently with the owner and there are several items that need to be corrected:

Please remove the wood that covers the window as this looks bad and we have had a complaint from one of our tenants, additionally remove the decorations (Halloween) from around your door.

We have gotten 3 bids to replace the awnings that cover Charlies and SsQq. A small portion of the awning will cover your space and your door, Charlie's is going to pay for their portion and the ownership has asked that you pay for your portion of this awning. I believe that your cost will be low as we have gotten numerous bids to try to get this work done as inexpensively as possible.

Please take care of this items as soon as you can and I will forward you proposal for your portion of this awning.

Please call or email any questions you may have.

Mr. Mark Ray

Asking me to pay for the missing awning was the straw that broke the camel's back.   

As a historical note, this awning was installed by the previous landlord sometime in the 1990s.  I did not ask for it nor was I asked to pay for it.  Mr. and Mrs. Kwan simply put it in as part of their remodeling.  There were no CAM surcharges to speak of. 

This awning had been badly damaged by Hurricane Rita which had hit Houston just a month earlier. 

I wondered to myself, "Gee, why wasn't this damage covered by property insurance?  And didn't my CAM include 'insurance' payments?"   So I took a look. Why, Yes, it did! 

My CAM share was one-third of that amount.  I figured I had already paid $2,500.  Why should I pay more?   

I think it is time for an explanation.  I am not a lawyer.  I am a dance instructor.  Although it is correct that I have a college degree, I readily admit I can't read "lawyer-speak" to save my life. It is a foreign language in my opinion. 

The awning problem was another perfect example of our "failure to communicate" relationship.

Over the two year period, there were many emails that were simply left unanswered.  Nor was there any attempt to explain "WHY" they had the right to do anything.  Instead they simply "DID IT".   In this case, they decided it was my responsibility to pay for an awning whether I wanted to or not.

Maybe it is true my lease gave them the right to stick this charge to me.  How would I know?  The lease is 17 pages long and full of lawyer-speak.  If they had taken the time to explain "why" they had the legitimate right to exercise authority in this situation, I would have appreciated it.  It was not the MONEY I objected to.  It was the STYLE

I also wondered why they were more concerned about the awning than fixing my leaking roof!  I grew angrier by the day. 

BACK TO TIMELINE

12. I REQUEST A MEETING WITH THE LANDLORD

-----Original Message-----
From: Rick Archer
Sent: Thursday, November 17, 2005 1:00 PM
To: Mr. Mark Ray
Subject: I would like to meet with Ms. Varon
 

Mr. Ray and Ms. Varon,

In response to your email listed below, I have no problem removing the offensive wood and Halloween decoration. I would have done it two weeks ago, but my wife had surgery on that day. I have been swamped caring for her and running the studio at the same time. However she is back on her feet, so I should be able to get to it on Friday.

Re the awning request, I would never agree to pay to replace the awning without an estimate. If the cost is as low as you say it is, I am curious why I am asked to pay for it.

We are still having leak problems. Tuesday's rain brought more damage to the same area in my ceiling. Why your roofer cannot do an adequate job of repair is beyond me. This problem remains a constant threat to my business. Please ask him to try again quickly. As I have stated previously, one serious rain... the kind Houston is always vulnerable to... in the middle of the night when no one is on the premises to spot the danger could cause untold damage to my floors.
..................

It is time for me to speak up. I am deeply worried about the parking situation. Perhaps you don't realize how badly my business is threatened by the actions of ownership.

I used to have 1,200 customers a week. This month we didn't even make it to 1,000. The mostly likely reason for the decline is the parking situation.

For the past 18 years, my business has filled the parking lot to capacity every night of the week. Until the recent closing of the parking lot, there used to be enough accessible parking, but not now. I get complaints every night of the week. Some of them are bitter and unpleasant. Women speak of the danger of parking on First Street. The reaction of my customers has been immediate. Attendance is way off from this same time last year.

For example, on Tuesday, our busiest night, we once had 300 customers. We are now down to 200 a night. The complaints are loud clear - no one is willing to park all the way down on Bellaire Avenue and walk five blocks to take a dance class.

We are only in the first month of the construction problem. Most people signed up before they realized how bad the parking situation had become. Now that they know better, they will think twice about the next class. I am already concerned about the future because preregistration for December classes is the worst I have ever seen it.

My business depends on parking access. Without parking, my business is literally being choked to death.

I get absolutely no help from ownership on this issue.

For example, about a year and a half ago, I asked Ms. Varon for permission to use the parking space in the medical center area next to Charlies that our students used to have before she and her husband bought the building.

I was never given a response, so I took that as a "no".

Now I am deeply concerned about the loss of 40% of the available parking space. I receive constant complaints about the fact that my customers are forced to park on First Street all the way to Bellaire. This is crippling my business. I have asked on two previous occasions how long this area will be unavailable, but my two previous requests for information have been ignored.

Since there is a total absence of communication from Ms. Varon other than her displeasure at the offensive wood, I am now concerned there may be plans to reduce the overall size of the parking lot as well.

I would appreciate some direct answers please about the parking situation.


I have other concerns as well.

I recall how Ms. Varon refused to compensate my employee Linda Cook for her help in getting the Pool Supply business certified to open. I asked for $300, a fairly reasonable sum considering she made countless trips to the studio to accommodate repairs that had nothing to do with our business.

I also recall how my own business was disrupted for two weeks at the same time despite my protest. There was no apology nor an offer of compensation for the heat caused by the unpatched holes in my ceiling over a two week period and the dust spread everywhere. Let me add I had to schedule a special service call on my air-conditioning unit which stopped working due to the filters clogged with dirt.

I note with great concern the terrible condition of the parking lot and the unwillingness to temporarily patch the extreme holes. I have had several complaints about damaged tires and scraped bumpers. It is my understanding that other businesses have the same concern.

I am worried that work done on the medical center next to Charlies BBQ has blocked an ancient drainage route. During a particularly heavy rain last summer, water in the back alley backed up so high (three feet) that water ran in through the porous concrete block wall and totally covered the floors in two restrooms and our drink area. Had I not been there to mop the water for two hours, the damage to my wood floors could have been significant. I believe it is time to prevent another event such as this. The solution would involve at the most one day of removing the extra earth created by the medical center construction that is now damming up the original drainage route.

I am curious why I did not receive even an apology when I was overcharged two and a half thousand dollars on my 2004 CAM. Would perhaps management be willing to reimburse me for being forced to hire someone to review the bill?

The situation with five different businesses having tow signs displayed in front of their business is unpleasant. For starters, these signs are possibly illegal. Even if they are "legal", they are bad for everyone's business. In most shopping centers, it is common practice to allow customers to park wherever they wish. These tow signs are bad for all the businesses because they send an evil message.

You might be surprised to know that I accept the need for the other businesses to protect the walk-in spaces in front of their stores. However I feel the threat of towing is unprofessional. A sign with wording along the lines of "Parking for Radio Shack (etc) Customers only. Please respect our need to keep these spaces open for our customers" would be preferable.

Furthermore if someone from my business were to violate this understanding, the business could send a messenger down to our business to alert the customer. I will actively support the other businesses in this way. That said, I deeply resent the threat intended in the current messages.

If the day comes when one my customers actually has their car towed, I promise to mobilize every one of my 1200 customers a week to protest.

Finally, I cannot understand why the roof cannot be repaired correctly.
.....................

As I see it, there are two directions we can go. I can show beyond the shadow of a doubt that my business began to suffer the moment the Varons took control. I will not tolerate the neglect and the damage to my business by ownership any longer.

We are at a crossroads.

I wish to see a spirit of cooperation.

Does ownership wish that I move?

I am willing to relocate my business. The loss of the parking spaces makes the current situation intolerable. I have little doubt a business as successful as mine will have any trouble finding suitable new locations considering Houston's depressed real estate market. If no reassurances are given me on the use of the parking lot, I don't see any point in sticking around. I have enough grievances to justify hiring an attorney to break the lease.

Or does ownership prefer I stay?

I am willing to extend my lease if we could improve our relationship.

I wish to schedule a meeting with Ms. Varon within the next two weeks. If this simple request is not met, I will assume it is a message to leave.

Rick Archer
 

-----Original Message-----
From: Mr. Mark Ray
Sent: Saturday, November 19, 2005 11:22 PM
To: Rick Archer
Subject: Re: I would like to meet with Ms. Varon

Mr. Archer,

I have forwarded your letter to the owner and we should be in contact with you in the next several days

Mark Ray


-----Original Message-----
From: Mr. Mark Ray
Sent: Monday, November 21, 2005 2:15 PM
To: dance@ssqq.com
Subject: [Fwd: Meeting with Mr. Archer]

"
Mark: Please try to schedule an appointment with Mr Archer. Due to the holiday this week, it would be best for me to meet next Tuesday, 11/29, after 4:30. Thanks.  Haya Varon"

Mr. Archer,  What time would work for you best?

Mark Ray

-----Original Message-----
From: Rick Archer
Sent: Monday, November 21, 2005 12:12 PM  (time and date estimated)
To: Mr. Mark Ray
Subject: RE: [Fwd: Meeting with Mr. Archer]

Tuesday at 430 next week is fine. Where will we meet?


-----Original Message-----
From: Mr. Mark Ray
Sent: Monday, November 21, 2005 2:51 PM
To: dance@ssqq.com
Subject: RE: [Fwd: Meeting with Mr. Archer]

Is it okay to meet at your space?

Mark Ray


-----Original Message-----
From: Rick Archer
Sent: Monday, November 21, 2005 3:42 PM  (time and date estimated)
To: Mr. Mark Ray
Subject: RE: [Fwd: Meeting with Mr. Archer]

That's fine with me.

PRELUDE TO THE SHOWDOWN: MORE RAINS!

When it rains, it pours.  I keep saying that, don't I? 

Three days before our meeting, another storm came up.  My accountant and his wife were planning to be at the meeting with me.  Here is an email I sent to him:

----Original Message-----
From: Rick Archer
Sent: Saturday, November 26, 2005 12:33 PM
To: CM
Subject: saturday rain leaks at ssqq bissonnet

Linda just called to say the roof is leaking in six places. She says she can barely find enough buckets to catch the water. Marla is making a special trip to film the problems.

As you know, I prefaced my letter last week with this urgent message:

Thu 11/17/2005 1:00 PM

"
We are still having leak problems. Tuesday's rain brought more damage to the same area in my ceiling. Why your roofer cannot do an adequate job of repair is beyond me. This problem remains a constant threat to my business. Please ask him to try again quickly. As I have stated previously, one serious rain... the kind Houston is always vulnerable to... in the middle of the night when no one is on the premises to spot the danger could cause untold damage to my floors."

Obviously nothing was done.  At what point do we fight back??

BACK TO TIMELINE

13:  NOVEMBER 29: THE MEETING

The meeting I requested took place at SSQQ on Tuesday, November 29.  Six people were in attendance: Dr. & Mrs. Varon, Mr. Mark Ray, myself, my accountant and his wife.

Mr. Ray was at the meeting because he was the building manager.  He had been hired by Ms. Varon to directly interface with me over the previous months.   This meeting was the second time I met the Varons personally.

The meeting was a real eye-opener.  As they say, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  Up to now, I had always operated under the assumption that my business was a valuable asset. We paid our rent on time, we provided customers for the other businesses, and we rarely complained about anything (at least to the Kwans, that is). For 12 years I had an excellent relationship with my previous landlord.

But now the tension, the frowns, and the crossed arms indicated to me the cordial relationship I had once had with the Kwans would not be repeated with the Varons.  This was the moment I first realized they would probably prefer that I simply pick up my dance business and go elsewhere.

Viewing the situation from this perspective, I realized there was the distinct possibility my landlord could care less about dealing with my problems.

So what if there are potholes?  So what if the roof leaks?  So what if the SSQQ parking space is reduced? 

Then I tried looking at it from the owner's perspective.   What if SSQQ leaves?  Maybe it would be good riddance.  Maybe the studio could be divided up and rented out as office space for wealthy doctors at a far greater rent. Maybe 5 or 6 small offices could be rented out for a lot more money than one big dance studio with too many cars.

Obviously the most important item on the agenda was the leaking roof.  Dr. Varon said that the roof appeared to have four different layers.  Each time another layer was added, it was laid over the original roof.

He added that this approach would not work any longer because the additional weight might be too much for the structure of the building.  Mrs. Varon said that they were in the process of taking bids to replace the entire roof.

I said this would be good, but a temporary patch was needed in the interim.  However Dr. Varon disagreed. 

He carefully explained his theory that it did no good whatsoever to patch the roof.  He said the water could be leaking at point one, then roll around the different roof layers till it manifested itself ten feet away at point two. 

Why bother with temporary solutions?  It would be a waste of time and money.

I told Dr. Varon that I did not share his philosophy.  Due to my experience with the Kwans, I knew for a fact that "patches" will work on a temporary basis.  After all, I had seen patches work for years!!

I added the situation was far too desperate to wait.   At one point the ceiling tiles had absorbed any moisture.  But now we were way past that!

The recent rains had been so savage that ceiling tiles had literally begun to fall to the floor after absorbing too much rain.  Insulation was hanging out.  

Then I pointed to the valuable wood floors at the studio and reminded the Varons that when water and wood have an argument, water always wins.

If this rain water was allowed to touch the floors, the wood could be badly damaged.  In a worst case scenario my business would be completely disrupted for months until I could get a new floor installed.  We could not wait!

I told them I would prefer they humor me and try patching the problem anyway.   Dr. and Mrs. Varon went to inspect this problem. 

They promised at the meeting to get a temporary patch put up there within days.

The next thing we discussed was the condition of the parking lot.  I said the condition of the parking lot was the worst I had ever seen in twenty-five years. 

Dr. Varon said the plan was to finish the hospital construction, then completely pave the entire parking lot. 

I said that would be very much appreciated, but the holes were so big that cars were in danger of being damaged.   I said that some of the holes were so big they could easily rupture a tire. 

Unfortunately I got the distinct feeling I was wasting my time discussing the potholes.  In fact, I decided it wasn't even worth bringing up my concerns about the constant overflow of trash from the dumpster or the tacky row of different "towing signs" in front of the various businesses.

Instead I decided to concentrate on another serious topic. 

It was time to discuss the recent loss of nearly one-third of our parking space.  The Varons had roped off the eastern side of our parking lot to use for the hospital construction.  This move clearly benefited the Varons, but it certainly didn't benefit SSQQ students one bit.  

I pointed out that not only were many students forced to park further away, they were also forced to walk great distances to get around the hospital if they parked on First Street. 

First Dr. Varon asserted that the loss of parking space was negligible.  I said I disagreed.  This went back and forth.

In the middle of this disagreement, Mr. Mark Ray suddenly blurted out a bizarre question. "Don't you agree SSQQ is using more parking space than it was entitled to considering the amount of rent you pay?" 

I was shocked at his statement.  Nor would I say I was the only one!  It seemed to me that both Dr. and Mrs. Varon were taken aback at his candor.  Did I see a frown on their faces as they stared at him?

It had been a very odd statement.  I mulled it over.

First of all, there was nothing in my lease that restricts my customers' use of the parking lot in any way. 

Why would someone chew me out for using too much parking space when most of the time the other businesses aren't even open at the same time?   The Kwans used to say the parking lot wasn't large enough relative to the space of the shopping center.  They said it was a gift that my business was open at night because now the parking lot was more than enough for their daytime tenants.  (As I said, 'Beauty is in the eye of the beholder')

Mr. Kwan also appreciated the fact that SSQQ brought customers to the other businesses.   In the hour before SSQQ opened, students would eat at Charlie's Barbeque, get their nails done at the Nail Shop and buy things at the Radio Shack.  Lately we had even begun to use the babysitting service further down the walkway as well.

Up till now, I had always held the thought that SSQQ was good for this shopping center.

Mr. Ray's statement indicated he thought otherwise. 

Loose lips sink ships.  The strength of his voice suggested that he wasn't too happy with having my business hanging around.  Furthermore, it seemed to indicate the attitude that the SSQQ rent wasn't nearly high enough in their opinion.

Whether Mr. Ray's opinion was shared by his employers I do not know, but this statement gave me the distinct feeling my studio was not welcome.  My two friends at the meeting who witnessed the outburst said they shared the same conclusion. 

Undaunted by Mr. Ray's outburst, I asked Mrs. Varon if SSQQ could be allowed to use the First Street Surgical parking space.  This would be a nice gesture. They could share their space to compensate SSQQ for the loss of its space.   Nor would this be any major sacrifice.

After all, the First Street Surgical Center rarely had more than one car in its lot after 6:30 pm every night of the week and never on weekends.  For example, the picture at right was shot during SSQQ business hours.  Mrs. Varon said absolutely not. Their insurance would not permit it.

It was at this point that Dr. Varon had the last word on the parking subject.   Dr. Varon said he hoped to see the construction wrapped up by the end of December and the parking spaces returned to common area use at that time. 

In retrospect, I cannot imagine what he was thinking.  As I write this story, 10 months after he made that statement, the parking area is still roped off.   Nostradamus he isn't.

Things were clearly not going as I hoped.  I decided to test the water one more time by asking Mrs. Varon if she would consider extending my lease.  She said this was not in her best interests to do so.  Given the drift of the meeting, I was not surprised.

Then I asked Dr. and Mrs. Varon if they had a problem with me exiting the lease prematurely.  At first they seemed a little reluctant, but I got the impression they warmed up to the idea quickly... especially if it was on their terms. 

The writing was on the wall.  The countdown to the end of SSQQ's tenure at 4803 Bissonnet had officially begun.

I thought about moving, then decided we weren't going anywhere.  Our lease did not expire until April 30, 2010.  This place had been my home for 26 years.  I had put up the mirrors, help lay the floors, crawled in the ceiling to string speaker wires, and had extra air-conditioning installed.   I had "removable walls" built throughout the studio, put up pictures, and made the place as comfortable as I could.

This was my home.  I had four more years.

BACK TO TIMELINE

14. QUESTION: WERE ANY REPAIRS ACTUALLY DONE TO THE ROOF?

Two weeks after the late November meeting, another storm appeared in the Houston skies.  This time the leaking problem was worse than it ever had been before. 

Do you ever want to scream at the top of your lungs about a problem that you have no control over?   I had been assured face to face that something would be done shortly, but the evidence indicated nothing had ever been done.  I ripped off another email.

 -----Original Message-----
From: Rick Archer
Sent: Thursday, December 15, 2005 11:28 AM
To: Haya Varon; Mark Ray office buildings
Subject: Serious Leak yesterday

I estimate four to five wheelbarrows worth of water was emptied onto my floor yesterday. There were ponds of water in two places when I arrived. It wasn't just a "drip", water was practically raining inside the studio all night.

Long term solutions like a new roof are called for, but the seriousness of last night's problem leads me to doubt seriously anything has been done since our November 29. Something must be done to fight this immediately. This is the rainy season.

Linda Cook can be reached at 713 294 5277 if you have to get inside the building. Ms. Cook can also be reached by email.   Rick Archer


(Editor's Note:  I did not find any email response to the above email in my In-Box.)

Over the Christmas Break, I hired men to refinish the floors at a cost around $3,500.  Thank goodness all of the previous water damage was repaired by the sanding.  Other than discoloration, the floors were intact.  I wondered how much longer this ordeal would continue.  Now that the floors were fixed, I had to protect them.

Faced with the fact that management appeared unwilling to do anything to the roof on a temporary basis,  I asked my carpenter to build two enormous rain catchers. 

During January, each night when classes were over, I would help the Hall Monitors place these veritable swimming pools on the floor.  What an enormous pain in the butt!

The joke was that I was making a big mistake.  After all, how could I sue for damages and get a new floor if I was working so hard to prevent any damage? 

BACK TO TIMELINE

15: JANUARY 22: THIS HAS GOT TO STOP!

On Sunday, January 22, right in the middle of a Ballroom dance class, the heaven's opened up and a huge rainstorm began. 

During the seven month ordeal, this was the first time it had ever rained during a class.  In retrospect, SSQQ was probably the only business in Texas that actually benefited from the brutal drought that beset our area.   But tonight it was pouring!

Almost immediately two little waterfalls developed in Room One.  Drip Drip Drip!   Right in the middle of dance class, we were forced to put down both of the swimming pools to catch the steady downpour of rainwater.   By the end of the night, those gigantic swimming pools were almost half-full.  I was so mad I wanted to take the water and throw it somewhere at First Street Surgical Center just to show them how it felt. 

During that evening, only half of the room was available for dancing.  I decided to cancel Practice Night for fear someone might slip and hurt themselves or trip over one of the swimming pools.

The students were good sports, but they did have their own way of making their points. One man cracked everyone up by opening an umbrella during class.  Another student suggested we buy goldfish to add to the new SSQQ swimming pond. 

I had had it.  This had gone on long enough - July, August, September, October, November, December, and now January.  My "Patience Strategy" clearly wasn't working.

The next day on my attorney's advice, I wrote a demand letter.  According to the lease, this now gave the landlord 30 days to fix the problem.  I wanted to file a suit on the spot.  Theoretically, the promise made at the Meeting two months earlier (November 29) was all the reason I needed, but the lawyer suggested I give them one more chance to fulfill their obligation. 

In retrospect, I wonder why it took me so long.  I kept getting verbal promises and written assurances, but the leaks just kept getting worse.  After all the evidence to the contrary, why I held on to the hope that this problem could be solved amicably is beyond me.

BACK TO TIMELINE


16: JANUARY 23, 2006: RICK ARCHER WRITES A BREACH OF CONTRACT LETTER

-----Original Message-----
From: Rick Archer
Sent: Monday, January 23, 2006 1:14 PM
To: Haya Varon
Cc: Mark Ray; JS
Subject: Breach of Lease will no longer be tolerated

Lenox Hill Holdings

Dr Varon and Mrs Varon,

I want an EFFECTIVE temporary patch placed on the roof immediately. I want it done by Saturday, January 28, 2006.

The water leak over SSQQ has become intolerable. Last night I watched as a steady stream of water poured down in two different locations - both of which I have written you about on a continual basis since July of 2005.

I have asked politely in the past, but six months of patience has gotten me nowhere. If I had not placed 22 water buckets under the roof last night (Sunday, January 22, 2006), my dance floor would have been completely ruined by the constant drip.

It was humiliating to have 120 customers watch as water poured all night long through two major holes and leaks in four different places. They also didn't appreciate having the room cut in two by my need to rope off the area to keep them safe from harm. Several of them volunteered to serve as witnesses should I be forced to file a lawsuit.

If any one of the students in that room had slipped and hurt themselves, I guarantee you that you would be called upon to pay any claim they might have asserted and would have been a defendant in any lawsuit they might have filed.

I have consulted my attorney regarding this ongoing nuisance. He has confirmed that the lease does indeed require that the landlord is to maintain the roof.

He has also confirmed that, prior to our November 29, 2005 meeting you have already been put on notice, by means of my e-mails and conversations, of the damage being caused to my leased premises due to your breach of the lease by failing to maintain the roof in a watertight condition.

He has further confirmed that with the November 29th meeting and inspection by you of the damage leased premises and your promises at that meeting to make the necessary repairs in a timely manner, you have legally acknowledged your breach of the lease and your obligation to remedy that breach in a timely manner.

However, you have wholly failed to remedy the breach. It rained in the middle of the night on Saturday, December 3, 2005. The water completely saturated my floor before I could get to the studio in the morning. Judging from the extensive damage to my wood floors, it would be evident to a jury, should you not take care of this problem and I have to file suit, that you have not fulfilled your promise to repair the roof.

Additionally, the extensive damage you have caused by your breach of the lease is substantiated by the receipts for repair and numerous photographs, including photographs of the prior December 3, 2005, rain damage.

I spent $3,500 over the Christmas holiday refinishing the floors that were severely damaged on Saturday, December 3, 2005, which are damages for which you are liable and for which you will be sued for if you fail to heed this warning.

I want someone on the roof this coming week of January 23, 2006 and I expect the roof to be fully repaired by the end of the week. Please telephone Ms. Linda Cook at 713 294 5277 and she will show you and your roofer the locations of the newest leaks, as well as the old ones.

Please be advised that if you fail to meet the demand set forth in this letter - stop the water leak completely by the end of this week - I will file suit to recover my damages plus my reasonable attorney fees and expenses of litigation and taxable costs of court.



Rick Archer
SSQQ Dance Studio

Please note you will be receiving a certified copy of this letter shortly.

 

 

 

To my astonishment, I got a swift and positive response.  Although one part of me was greatly relieved to see action taking place, another part of me was sick to think I had to get nasty to get results.   Why did it have to come to this?
 

-----Original Message-----
From: Haya Varon
Sent: Tuesday, January 24, 2006 11:20 AM
To: dance@ssqq.com
Subject: Roof

Dear Mr. Archer:
In preparation of the roof replacement I have asked CH, CEH Architects, Bellaire, TX, to inspect your premises and make note of the leak locations in your studio. This will be helpful with some of the decisions in replacing the roof.

Mr. H will be contacting you soon, your cooperation will be appreciated.
Please let me know that you have received this e mail.

Thank you,

Haya Varon
Lenox Hill Holdings



-----Original Message-----
From: Rick Archer
Sent: Tuesday, January 24, 2006 11:57 AM
To: Haya Varon
Cc: JS; LC
Subject: RE: Roof

Of course I will cooperate with Mr. H. I welcome his presence as long as it isn't being used as a legal ploy to justify further delay.

I have no patience left as the tone of my previous letter indicated. While I invite Mr. H's "long term study", the fact remains that I need and demand immediate remedies.

You should have contacted Mr. H after you personally guaranteed me on Nov 29 that "several bids" were being considered.

While you were busy "considering your options" over Christmas, you allowed the condition of the roof to deteriorate further to the point where it is now an open wound.

Since then I have become increasingly suspicious that ABSOLUTELY NOTHING has been done to the roof since I began to first bring the problems to your attention last July. For your sake, I certainly hope you kept all your receipts to prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that my suspicions are unfounded should this problem fail to be alleviated swiftly.

Therefore I still expect an effective temporary patch to be made on or before this Saturday regardless of Mr. H. Throw some tar up there to humor me, please. Today is the perfect day for just such an adventure.

I cannot and will not tolerate having it RAIN inside my studio. I told you this nearly two months ago.

Please forward Mr. Hightower Linda Cook's phone number 713 294 5277. Her email address is listed at top as well.

Rick Archer


-----Original Message-----
From: Haya Varon
Sent: Tuesday, January 24, 2006 1:36 PM
To: dance@ssqq.com
Subject: Re: Roof

Mr. Archer:
Please do not make any assumptions. I have the three proposals from three different companies, and we have selected one out of those three. Action was indeed taken even before our November meeting.

We are working out final details with that roofing company along with the contractor and architect who will supervise the work on my behalf to ensure a working roof for many years to come.

I am expecting to sign that contract within the next week, if all goes as planned.

I also spoke to Mark Ray yesterday shortly after receiving your e mail and he has received orders to send the roofer out to try to temporarily patch the leak.

Linda will be hearing form Mr. H soon.

Haya Varon



-----Original Message-----
From: Rick Archer
Sent: Tuesday, January 24, 2006 3:32 PM
To: Haya Varon
Cc: JS
Subject: RE: Roof

"to temporarily patch the leak." - Thank you.


Rick Archer


-----Original Message-----
From: Mr. Mark Ray
Sent: Tuesday, January 24, 2006 2:53 PM
To: Haya Varon
Subject: Re: Roof

Hello All,

I spoke to the roofer and he has coordinated a time to meet with Linda Today to determine where the current leaks are.

MR


-----Original Message-----
From: Rick Archer
Sent: Tuesday, January 24, 2006 3:32 PM
To: Mr. Mark Ray
Subject: RE: Roof

Thank you.

Rick Archer

BACK TO TIMELINE

17: JANUARY 23, 2006: UP ON THE ROOF

My lawyer suggested I take some pictures of the roof just in case the good news of permanent action was a delay trick.  After all, there had been several promises before that had not produced results.

On January 23, the same day I wrote the "Breach of Contract" letter, Bryan Spivey and I went over to Home Depot to buy a tall ladder.  I also had recently acquired a camera at Sam's Club.  

Now, armed with the ladder and the camera, Bryan and I climbed up on the Bissonnet roof.  Call us 'The Drifters'.

The first thing I noticed was a brand new air- conditioner positioned over the Pool Supply company.  I also noticed a huge membrane covering their roof.  I was curious about that membrane. Bryan explained it was a modern technique used for roof repair.  Oh really?

However I was much more curious to find the location of the leaks.  Using the measurements we had taken in Room One, we walked over to the area of one of the leaks.

The first thing we noticed was there was absolutely no sign of any repair whatsoever. Bryan and I looked at each other in disbelief.  This was ridiculous.  

We had a tape measure with us, so we quickly found the spot equivalent to the leak in Room One. It was easy to do because both leaks were so close to the edge of the roof.  The moment we made an exact determination of the correct spot, Bryan spotted something.  He got down on his knees to look closer.  There in the tar was a distinct crack. 

Bryan had discovered a distinct crack in the roof.  He was able to poke his finger into a hole below.  But night was falling fast, so we were unable to get a good picture.  That's Bryan's finger just in case you were curious. 

THE NEXT DAY

That hole was suspicious enough to warrant another look. So on the morning of January 24, I visited the roof alone.
 
The first thing I did was take a closer look at the Pool Supply air-conditioner and the membrane.  The air-conditioner was sitting on a grey "membrane" that was a hundred feet long.

This membrane appeared new.   It seemed like there had been recent work up there.  After all, the workman had not even bothered to clear away the debris created when they installed the new air-conditioner (see picture below at right.)

They simply threw the trash off the roof and cluttered up the alley directly behind SSQQ.  I was actually very curious what had been going on up here.

Mind you this is all conjecture, but I remember wondering to myself if the Pool Supply company had received a roof patch and a new air-conditioner as an incentive in their "Welcome to Bissonnet Center" package. 

Before you jump to the wrong conclusion, I would not be in any way bitter if I discovered my guess is correct.  I like the people at the Pool Supply store.  They have been nothing but gracious to me.  And if my instincts are correct that they have a greater gift of negotiation than I do, then my hat goes off to them.  All I ever wanted from the landlord was to FIX MY ROOF.

Now I walked down to the SSQQ part of the roof.  The area you are looking at is directly over Room One where the leaks were. 

Back when Ms. Kwan's roofer fixed the leaks, he would take exact measurements where the leak was, then hit that spot above with plenty of hot tar and pebbles.  Whatever he did, it worked.  We never had a problem.

Using the exact technique I had suggested to Mr. Mark Ray, I got out my measuring tape, I carefully walked off the distance to the worst of the two leaks.  I have drawn a 'RED X' in the spot where I stopped. 

All 3 pictures are different angle shots of the same spot.  The entire area looked totally undisturbed. Look for yourself. 

Do you see any signs of recent work in any of the pictures? 


Actually, I did see one area that indicated some sort of patch activity.   The picture below is a blow up of that rectangle above.


If I am put on the witness stand, I will openly admit I am no expert on roofing.  That said, to my untrained eyes, this picture above fits my imagination of what a "Patch" would look like.   Unfortunately in this instance, the alleged patch is located above Charlie's Barbeque.  I have no idea how long it had been there.

I saw no such patch over any of the SSQQ roof space. 

Now let's take a closer look at the Red X spot although this time I used an arrow.  If you already guessed that spot is where Bryan and I found the hole, you would be correct. 

Please inspect these pictures closely for any sign of a patch job.  While you are at it, keep in mind I received an email promise to repair the leaks in July, another in August, plus a verbal promise to fix the leaks in November. 


Did you spot any obvious signs of recent roofing repair in this area?   Bryan and I saw nothing that would suggest any work had ever been done in this area.  That is what I would testify in court if Mr. Plummer decided to follow through on his threat.  And let me add that in addition to Bryan and myself, two other men came up with me on different occasions.  Both men saw the same area and both men agreed with me there was no sign of activity.

I saw no sign of recent tar.  There was nothing special about the pebbles.  And there was no raised area that was higher than the adjoining surface to suggest extra tar had been put down as a patch.  

That is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth so help me God.

THE HOLE

On the previous night, Bryan and I had carefully walked the distance from the edge of the roof over to the same place where the leak was in the SSQQ ceiling tile.  In the darkness, Bryan got down on one knee and poked around.  To his surprise, he immediately found a spot where his finger went straight in. There was only soft sand below!

When I came back the next day, I decided to dig a little with my bare hands.  Mind you, I did not use any tools, just my finger tips.  I discovered the same thing Bryan did - there was nothing but sand underneath covered by a thin veneer of tar.  There was a clear crack in the tar.

It took only moments to excavate a hole the size of a baseball.   This is a flat roof.  The water takes the path of least resistance.  The baseball hole was an open wound. 

Why was there no evidence of work at this spot?  

Seven months had passed. I had been assured the roofers would be up on several different occasions.  Now as I stared down, I could not see one shred of evidence of an attempt to patch this spot even though the most rudimentary  measurements would guide anyone directly to this area.

Bryan found it.  I found it. Two of my friends saw it.  We are amateurs. Why didn't the professional roofers find it? 

Look at the sand.  It is soaking wet.  Imagine that.

In our final pictures of the baseball hole, you can see the layer of tar around the baseball hole is wafer-thin at best. 

In my opinion, the thought that someone had thrown any tar around this area in the past few months was totally preposterous.

This hole was directly over the leak in my studio's ceiling. 

In my opinion, someone didn't do their job.

And if Mr. Hugh Plummer thinks that is slander, then put me on the stand.


AN EMAIL I SENT MY LAWYER REGARDING THE HOLE


-----Original Message-----
From: Rick Archer
Sent: Tuesday, January 24, 2006 4:56 PM
To:
Subject: RE: Your Roof

Thanks for the advice, Coach!

You obviously see that my emails have an edge to them.

At your suggestion, I went back up on the roof at 7 AM this morning to take pictures in the light. Good move. The pictures from last night proved worthless. So much for the flash.

The point is, I went back and stepped off the paces to one of the problem areas. As we discovered last night, there was a sandy spot that was so weak that I dug out a hole larger than a baseball with my bare hands. Water would immediately attack that spot! It is the weakest link in the area.

A roof is supposed to have a hardened surface. I have a difficult time believing ANY WORK has been done up there at all. They sit there and piously talk about how hard it is to find the leak. Nonsense. That hole clearly is the start of one of the roof leaks. Nor could they miss it… it is practically dead center over the leak area below.

Any simple tar job would fix it in a moment!!

I cannot figure these people out. If it is true that they haven't been fixing these leaks, they have an exposure a mile wide.

On a personal note, my style with authority figures has always been to be respectful, reasonable, and courteous. I have a hard time with a relationship like this. I feel like I have no choice but to go on an adversarial path of confrontation.

Thanks for the support.

Rick Archer

BACK TO TIMELINE


18: THE CASE OF THE CURIOUS MEMBRANE


Earlier I said I didn't have any hard feelings toward the Pool Company.  While that statement is true, I should admit I did feel provoked about something.   First, take another look at the picture above to get a good idea of just how long and wide the Pool Company's beautiful 100-foot membrane really was. 

Second, look at the picture below.  Please note that the area with the two water puddles is directly over my dance studio. 

I just shook my head as I made the comparison between the nice dry membrane area and the water hovering like a dagger over my wooden floor below.  The Pool Company stays high and dry while SSQQ stays wet and wild. 

I thought to myself, "Why couldn't they have just put a membrane over the two leaks on my side of the roof and be done with it?"  

We faced the constant threat of a catastrophic water leak on my $100,000 dance floor every day for 7 months!  

In the days before the Bucket Brigade began, water fell on several occasions. Each time the floor bubbled and buckled.  You don't believe me?  Any time you want, come look!  Despite the sanding we did over Christmas, there are still scars on the floor for anyone to see. 

It was only my constant use of rain buckets every night of the week that kept the problem from ruining my main dance floor.  This damage would have CRIPPLED MY BUSINESS.   What good is a warped dance floor to a dance studio?

After all, the two leaks were only twenty feet apart.  And the hole was only 8 feet from the edge of the roof.  One membrane might have done the trick. 

How difficult would that have been?
 

As I wrote this story, thoughts of that membrane just kept making me angrier and angrier.  Then by a strange coincidence, I made a discovery.  Back in November 2005, I was faced with the dilemma of the $1,000 Potty Leak.  Thanks to a stupid mistake caused by the City of Bellaire, a toilet handle that tended to get stuck ended up costing me a thousand dollars.   (Yes, 2005 was a tough year.)

One day I decided to add the story of the Potty Leak to the SSQQ web site.  Curious to know the Pool Company's side of the story, I phoned one of their employees to ask how they had finally figured out what the problem was. 

The conversation was friendly.  After all, the Pool Company never did anything wrong.  During our talk, I decided to get something off my chest.  I asked the employee how they had ever talked the Landlord into giving them that wonderful protective membrane on the roof. 

The phone went silent.  Then came the response.  "What membrane?"

That answer confused me.  I asked them again about the membrane. 

"I don't know anything about any membrane. I don't even know what a membrane is."

A sinking feeling came over me.  It seems I had made a false assumption that they had negotiated roof improvements as part of their new lease.

I asked if there had been anything installed up there that they knew of.  After all, what was that debris on the ground in the alley behind my studio?

"If there is something up there, I am not aware of it. If we did get any roof improvements, they certainly didn't help much.  Gee whiz, it leaked in here all the time!"

Now I was really confused.  "You mean it leaked in your store?"

"Are you kidding?  We had leaks all the time!   We still haven't been reimbursed for all the damaged ceiling tiles!  And we had to move all our merchandise around to keep it from getting damaged by the rain.  We had buckets all over the floor!   It took them forever to replace the roof!"

I was crestfallen.  All this time I had believed that the Pool Supply was the teacher's pet, but in reality they went through the same miserable experience that SSQQ did.  What a shame. 

But I was very confused about one thing.  Bryan had told me the membranes were the latest and greatest thing in roof repair.  But the employee said they suffered terrible water leaks.  Something didn't make sense.

Later on I went back to my pictures.  I found exactly what I had been looking for - I had a picture with water clearly sitting right on top of that impenetrable membrane. 

The next day I called again.  I had another question.

"Just out of curiosity, were those leaks in the front of your building?"

"Why, yes they were?   How did you know?"

"Because I have a picture that shows the front of your building was not covered by a membrane."

It turned out Bryan was right. Those membranes worked like a charm.  And that is the moment when a powerful wave of
déjà vu came rushing over me.

Why couldn't they have just put a membrane patch over the two leaks on my side of the roof and have been done with it? 

I didn't need a new roof.  I needed one single unit of membrane in the right spot.  What utter nonsense.

BACK TO TIMELINE

19: JANUARY 30, 2006: THE CONCLUSION OF THE ROOF STORY

My assistant Linda Cook phoned me to say that she had met with the architect and that he had been up on the roof to make inspections.  I decided to share the fact that I was now pretty sure no repairs had ever been made to the leaks I kept reporting.

-----Original Message-----
From: Rick Archer
Sent: Monday, January 30, 2006 10:20 AM
To: Haya Varon; Mark Ray
Subject: update on the ssqq roof problem

I appreciate that someone did appear to be on the roof this past Wednesday. The only problem is that ABSOLUTELY no tar was found by me in either area where the leaks are.

Consequently both of my "swimming pools" were filled with water after Saturday's rains.

Indeed, there is a hole right over where one of the leaks is located the size of a baseball. Obviously this is where the water goes whenever it rains.

Have you given any thought to hiring someone who knows what they are doing? Or perhaps explaining the concept of looking where the leaks are inside the dance studio then putting down the tar right above it?

Those "membrane patches" I see on top of the roof would probably solve the problem nicely if you gave them a try.


I will take Linda Cook up on the roof and show her where I found the hole since obviously your roofer doesn't have a clue. Then I expect the roofer to actually phone Linda so he can be shown where the problem areas are located.

I know you don't appreciate threats so I won't make any. I deeply appreciate that attempts were made. However I can not wait for a permanent fix re Mr. Hightower. It RAINS in my studio. Therefore I respectfully ask that your roofer try again this week unless you have a better idea.

Rick Archer




-----Original Message-----
From: Mr. Mark Ray
Sent: Wednesday, February 01, 2006 12:17 PM
To: Rick Archer
Subject: roof problem

Mr. Archer,

I have forwarded your letter to the owner and I am delivering a letter today that will bring all of the tenants up to date on the time frame for the roof replacement.

We must insist that you and your employees stay off of the roof as this roof is a very high and we don't want anyone to get hurt. Additionally, people walking on the roof could cause additional leaks.

Thanks for your cooperation in this matter.


Mr. Mark Ray



-----Original Message-----
From: Rick Archer
Sent: Wednesday, February 01, 2006 1:59 PM
To: Mr. Mark Ray; Haya Varon
Subject: ssqq roof problem

Mr. Ray,

I will NOT cooperate on your request that I stay off the roof. You have my word on that.

However, rest assured I acknowledge you have given me written documentation asking me not to go up there.

I appreciate your concerns for my health and safety. I assure you when the roof no longer leaks, I will no longer be up on the roof.

If it makes you feel any better, I hereby waive my right to sue for damages if I fall of the roof. That is a risk I take of my own accord because I need to understand why a problem I first told you about in JULY 2005 has not been fixed to my satisfaction. Please keep this email for your records.

However if I fall THROUGH the roof - a serious possibility given the poor condition of the roof - that's another story.
................

I climb up there for several reasons.

First, I am trying to solve the mystery of why your own roofer can't do his job.

Second, I go up there to take pictures as evidence for a possible law suit. I believe I could sue today if I wanted to and that I would win. Did I mention I take witnesses up there so a jury won't have to just take my word for it? While I am up there, I take their picture too.

Third, I am pleased to report I discovered a hole up there. It is right over the spot where one of my leaks is. Why a dance teacher could find it and a trained professional like your roofer could not is beyond me.

There are four explanations:
1) He never tried in the first place until last Wednesday. Based on my photographs, this is a strong possibility.
2) He didn't try very hard.
3) He isn't very good.
4) He never went inside my studio to get a tape measure to get bearings on the two leaks first before going up on the roof like I did.

The bottom line: Someone isn't doing their job and I have proof.
...............

Mr. Ray, it rains inside my studio. IT RAINS INSIDE MY STUDIO.

I am angry because I told you this face to face on November 29, 2005. You PERSONALLY saw evidence of my problem with your own eyes and I doubt seriously you did one thing about it afterwards. I saw no evidence anything was done prior to my certified letter and email 10 days ago.

My lawyer has made one thing perfectly clear to me - the Landlord is currently in breach of contract. Your apathy and neglect is difficult for me to fathom.
...............

However I would rather you simply fix the roof and I will walk away. Please do your job in a timely manner like you are supposed to and this nightmare will go away for all of us.

That said, your current email is NOT VERY ENCOURAGING. It sounds to me like you think emailing us about a time table for a "final solution" is going to win my patience. IT RAINS INSIDE MY STUDIO.

Please throw some more tar up there now. A temporary solution is preferable to doing nothing because I have a $60,000 dance floor right underneath your leaky roof.

I highly recommend you don't wait for the "Final Solution" you allude to in your email below. That questionable strategy is what got you into this fix in the first place. If it rains today and I receive damage, I will sue.

As it stands, have the landlords given any thought to how they wish to compensate me for the damage I have already received?

I have witnesses, I have receipts, and I have pictures. And then there is the penalty for the neglect. If you continue to dilly-dally, you put me one step closer to taking the next step.

So, how about another stab at a temporary patch? If you wish, I will climb up there and personally show you where the problem is. There is a hole up there.

Rick Archer



-----Original Message-----
From: Mr. Mark Ray
Sent: Wednesday, February 01, 2006 3:02 PM
To: dance@ssqq.com
Subject: roof update

I just delivered these notices to the other tenants, there was no one in your space so I will just email it you.

Mr. Mark Ray

February 1, 2006
Lenox Hill Holdings, Ltd.

Dear Tenant:

We are pleased to inform you that we have selected a contractor to replace the existing roof in the shopping center, many of you are aware of the need to do this.

Work will probably start next week, and we are hoping this will cause minimum disruption to your business, with the exception of noise and having people walking on the roof. I have been informed the work will take from two to three weeks because of the amount of work needed to be done.

Should you have any questions please call Mark Ray at (713) 828-0320 or you may reach me at (713) 784-8292. We will try to keep you informed throughout the process.

Best wishes,

Haya Varon
Lenox Hill Holdings, Ltd.

-----Original Message-----
From: Rick Archer
Sent: Wednesday, February 01, 2006 3:57 PM
To: Mr. Mark Ray
Subject: RE: roof update

Excellent. I am very pleased.

In that case, I will stay off the roof.

Rick Archer


-----Original Message-----
From: Rick Archer
Sent: Saturday, February 11, 2006 6:12 PM
To: Mr. Mark Ray
Cc: Haya Varon
Subject: RE: Question

I realize on several occasions I have lost my temper and patience.

However I am also capable of saying thank you.

I deeply appreciate that the problem seems to have been solved.

Assuming there are no further complications, I am prepared to go about my business and put my anger and threats to rest.

Take care.

Rick Archer

Not surprisingly, I received no response to my 'Thank You' note.  I was getting used to no responses.  Oh well.  At least I said 'thank you'.  And I meant it. 

Years ago, I had personally gotten down on my hand and knees to help install that floor.  It was an incredible amount of hard work that lasted a week two different times.

The thought of ever having to put down that massive floor again just because someone couldn't be bothered to patch a simple hole in the roof was a recurring nightmare that scared me to death for seven months. 

Thank goodness it was over.  Maybe my nerves could get some rest now.

 

BACK TO TIMELINE

20: MARCH 27, 2006: THE RETURN OF THE AWNING PROBLEM

-----Original Message-----
From: Mr. Mark Ray
Sent: Monday, March 27, 2006 2:37 PM
To: dance@ssqq.com
Subject: Awning

Mr. Archer,

I am sure you are aware the awning that you share with Charlie's Barbecue has been missing for several months, we believe the hurricane as one of the reasons. As per the lease, the awnings are the sole responsibility of tenants.

In an effort to work together, the ownership has agreed for this time only to split the cost of replacing the awning with tenant's whose space utilizes this awning: Charlie's and SSQQ. The cost will be based on the actual percentage of the awning used by each tenant.

Total cost of the awning: $2,676.00

Charlie's Portion $1,093.02

SSQQ Portion: $244.98

Owners: $1,338.00

Kindly remit payment of your percentage of the awning to Lenox Hill Holdings, Ltd.

I am sure you have noticed there has been a great deal of money and time expended by all parties to improve the physical appearance of the center, and this repair will help to achieve that.

Please email any questions.

Thank you

Mr. Mark Ray


-----Original Message-----
From: Rick Archer
Sent: Monday, March 27, 2006 5:28 PM
To: Mr. Mark Ray
Subject: policy Awning at Bissonnet Center

Mr. Ray, let me be direct.

The negligence on the part of landlord in fixing the leaks in my roof cost me at least two thousand dollars in damage to my floors.

The decision to remove valuable parking spaces has caused tremendous ill will among my customers as has the constant threat of towing.

The condition of the parking lot has been deplorable.

I asked for the sum of $300 to reimburse my employee Linda Cook for two weeks of her time helping Sweetwater Pools that was ignored.

I had to pay an extra $500 in maintenance fees to fix my air conditioner after the wall work and electrical work that involved the swimming pool company next door caused so much dust that the AC system stopped working.

I was over-billed several thousand dollars on last year's CAM and no apology was made for the negligence nor was any offer made to reimburse me for the need to hire an accountant.

There has been little good will shown towards my business from the onset.

And now you want me to absorb the cost of an awning?

Do you have a problem with me billing for the expenses above?

Rick Archer

I received no response.  So what's new?

BACK TO TIMELINE

21: MAY 2006: THE 2005 CAM DISPUTE

One month later in May 2006 I was informed my 2005 CAM payments (short for Common Area Maintenance) had come up over $5,000 short.   Or to be specific, $5,177.04. 

Suddenly I was supposed to give the landlord an extra $5,000 in return for "Maintenance" which included

  • my leaking roof,
  • a parking lot full of crater-like potholes,
  • a dumpster constantly overflowing with trash,
  • the loss of one-third of our parking space,
  • threats to tow my customers
  • the Pool Company problems.

And now this. 

CAM is an acronym for Common Area Maintenance.  

SSQQ is responsible for the upkeep of the area we lease.  But outside our doors, the landlord is responsible for the upkeep of the building and the premises.  Since all tenants have area that they share - the parking lot, the trash collector, the roof, outdoor lighting, property taxes - the landlord agrees to maintain these areas, then charge each tenant their share of the expenses.

The Bissonnet Shopping Center is approximately 23,500 square feet.  SSQQ is the largest tenant. We occupy nearly 8,000 square feet.  As a result, the studio is responsible for one-third of the entire CAM.  This explains why the studio is so vulnerable. Any time there is an increase in the CAM bill, it affects the studio directly.

The CAM is paid in two ways.  First, the landlord estimates what the next year CAM will be, then divides by 12 months.  The landlord tacks 1/12th of the bill onto the monthly rent. 

Then at the end of the year when all the bills are paid and the dust settles, if the landlord finds the expenditures are greater than the monthly charges, they then tack on a "Surcharge".

Mind you, SSQQ had already paid approximately $17,280 in CAM expenses for 2005.  This was obviously not enough. Now they needed another $5,000. This ran our total to $22,464.  We were now paying practically $2,000 a month in CAM charges.  And this $5,177 surcharge was nearly equivalent to an extra month of rent.

ACCOMPANYING LETTER FROM LANDLORD
May 12, 2006

Re Bissonnet Shopping Center Common Area Maintenance 2005

Dear Mr. Archer:

Attached please find the statement of Common Area Maintenance expenses for the year 2005. As you can see from the statement, we have done everything possible to maintain the expenses as low as possible.

However, many expenses are out of our control, such as the increase in property taxes, insurance premiums and charges from other vendors, which unfortunately are reflected in this statement. The taxes are now under protest. If they are successful, a refund will be credited to you. We will keep you informed.

As you are aware when we acquired the shopping center it was in great need of repair and maintenance. As many of you requested, new lighting was installed to illuminate the parking lot, showing in the statement under electrical for over $5000, which was the best proposal we received.

Another improvement was the replacement of the roof and removal of all layers of old roofs. A new roof of the best quality was installed. This was an expense of close to $90,000 which was paid completely by Lenox Hill Holdings, Ltd, at no cost to you. Further enhancements of the shopping center are planned for your benefit.

Shown in the statement is an expense of $5,850.00 for management fees, a valid CAM charge as per your contract. As a token of good will in order to help you with this year's expenses Lenox Hill Holdings is absorbing this cost for 2005.

In an effort to minimize the end of year adjustments due to increased cost in CAM charges, such as taxes, insurance, etc (a complete list of these expenses can be found in your original lease), the new CAM charges will be $0.24 per square foot. This number will be more in line with the actual expenses that we are currently incurring and adjusted to the cost of living for 2006. Your rent invoice will reflect this.

You account shows a deficit of $5,177.04 In accordance with the lease provision, we attach herewith an invoice for this, and shall appreciate your attention and prompt payment.

Sincerely,
Lenox Hill Holding, Ltd

Haya Varon
Vice President

 

COMPARING THE 2004 CAM BILL TO THE 2005 CAM BILL

According to the details, the operating costs of the Bissonnet Center rose $15,000 during fiscal year 2005.  Since SSQQ pays 1/3rd of all costs, this is where the unexpected $5,000 came from.

That is a 27% increase. 

According to Ms. Varon, "
As you can see from the statement, we have done everything possible to maintain the expenses as low as possible."

I shudder to think what the cost would be if she hadn't been trying so hard.

Now why would expenses increase this much in one year?  

One explanation is that the value of the Bissonnet Shopping Center rose when the Varons purchased it in 2004.  Rumor has it that they paid a pretty penny.  However the sale did not take place in time to affect the 2004 property taxes.  

Taxes rose $6,000 in 2005, an 18% hike. SSQQ paid $2,000.  Lucky us.

Trash removal rose $1,000.  That's a 33% hike.  Dare I speculate why this cost rose so much? 

The big ticket item was "Elec/Mech Maintenance.  This rose from ZERO in 2004 to $5,793, an increase that approaches infinity.  It seems that Ms. Varon installed a light fixture and passed the cost onto SSQQ.  That's another $1,900.

The costs had risen 27% while the condition of the center had deteriorated.  I was disgusted.


I have to tell you though, the statistic that absolutely stunned me into total consternation was the 2005 budget for "parking lot repairs and maintenance".

ZERO for 2005.  I guess that's one way to do everything possible at keeping those costs down.

They didn't spend one dollar in 2005 on parking lot upkeep. 

Surely this is a misprint.


If not, what were they thinking?

xxBACK TO TIMELINE


22: JUNE 2006: RICK ARCHER SENDS A WRITTEN RESPONSE TO THE LANDLORD

The $5,000 CAM surcharge was difficult to accept.  I had many objections.  After all the problems the studio had faced - in particular, the negligent way the roof problem was handled and the way the parking lot had been appropriated - I felt the studio was due an adjustment. 

So I decided to speak up.  Here is what I said in a letter to the landlord.


Monday, June 27, 2006

Mrs Varon,

After consulting with my accountant and my lawyer, I think it is in my best interests to contest your recent CAM bill.

Common Area Management responsibilities are your job as landlord. I pay you rent and you in turn are expected to manage the property in a prudent fashion. These responsibilities do not entitle you to a blank check to do whatever you wish.

As your largest tenant, I am obligated to pick up about one-third of the total CAM bill. According to your calculations, this amounts to an increase of over $5,000 from last year. This increase is unconscionable.

ISSUE ONE - ROOF

My first issue is the negligent way you handled my request to repair the leak in my main dance room. While I do appreciate the good job on the final repair, this does not in any way excuse the delay.

It took you over six months to repair two gaping holes in the roof. Pictures I took up on the roof will prove it is likely either nothing at all was ever done or any work that was done missed the spot.

In addition I took two different witnesses who are prepared to support my claim there was no evidence of any repairs done prior to the final repair.

Here is an excerpt from my letter to you of January 23, 2006:

"If I had not placed 22 water buckets under the roof last night (Sunday, January 22, 2006), my dance floor would have been completely ruined by the constant drip.

It was humiliating to have 120 customers watch as water poured all night long through two major holes and leaks in four different places. They also didn't appreciate having the room cut in two by my need to rope off the area to keep them safe from harm. Several of them volunteered to serve as witnesses should I be forced to file a lawsuit.

If any one of the students in that room had slipped and hurt themselves, I guarantee you that you would be called upon to pay any claim they might have asserted and would have been a defendant in any lawsuit they might have filed."

ISSUE TWO - PARKING PROBLEMS

Second, for over eight months you have deprived me the use of approximately 30% of the parking lot. I have a picture of the parking lot in my lease which entitles my business to use the entire original parking lot. I have a hunch you had absolutely no legal right to use that area without my permission. Furthermore you refused to offer any compensation.

You forbade even the simple use of the Surgical Center's unused evening parking space, which would have helped ease the problem considerably.

The construction to your hospital has forced many of my customers to park as far as a mile away. You could not even bother to offer a short cut through the Surgical Center parking lot. Instead you close the gates and they had to walk the huge u-turn from First Street all the way to Bissonnet, and then back around to my studio.

Several students have been towed for parking at other businesses. Other students have suffered damage to their cars due to the potholes in the remaining parking lot. These problems and the long walks have taken their toll. As a result, the anger and frustration level of my students just grows and grows while there is no end in sight.

May I remind you that your husband promised the construction would be done by Christmas 2005?

This construction has greatly hurt my business. Here is a typical email to illustrate the problem:

-----Original Message-----
From: l knight
Sent: Sunday, April 30, 2006 7:39 PM
To: dance@ssqq.com
Subject: lack of parking

Hey Rick, it's L Knight and I tried to come to the 7-9 p.m. Rhumba Rhapsody class on Sunday night, 4/30/06 and I could not find any place to park. After I got back on that side street I just decided to go home. Maybe next week I will not be such a wimp and park on the street by the new surgical center. I saw various towing signs and got a little cowed too, worrying about getting towed.



---Original Message-----
From: Rick Archer
Sent: Monday, May 01, 2006 5:25 AM
To: l knight
Subject: RE: lack of parking

Parking is a serious pain in the butt these days, but the west side of First Street is legal. When the hospital is done, things should improve. They are only a few months away from completion.

Rick Archer
SSQQ Dance Studio
Houston, Texas

My records show that this woman never signed up for the class. Here is a simple example of a situation where the parking problems you have created have in turn cost me business.

Were I to ask my students to write letters about the parking problems you have caused, I would estimate I could get a thousand complaints.


ISSUE THREE - FAILURE TO COMPENSATE FOR POOL COMPANY CONSTRUCTION

My third issue is the disrespectful way you treated my employee, Linda Cook, last summer, when you expected her to show up for two straight weeks on her own personal time to permit entrance to the studio so the Pool Company could have their construction problems handled. Not only did you fail to reimburse her for her time, this work covered my studio with dust and gaping holes in the ceiling for two weeks. The studio was hot and dirty. My students were miserable.

After the work was completed, I was forced to schedule a special air conditioning repair to clean the dirt out of the air filter.


ISSUE FOUR - LAST YEAR'S CAM PROBLEM

My fourth issue deals with your CAM bill of 2004. Serious mistakes in your statement forced me to hire an accountant to review the bill. His findings reduced the bill by several thousand dollars. I would imagine you might be willing to reimburse me for the expense your error cost me, yes?


ISSUE FIVE - THIS YEAR'S CAM BILL

My fifth issue deals with your current CAM bill of 2005. In your cover letter, you made the following statement:

As you are aware when we acquired the shopping center it was in great need of repair and maintenance. As many of you requested, new lighting was installed to illuminate the parking lot, showing in the statement under electrical for over $5000, which was the best proposal we received.

I was completely unaware of any added lighting. Your letter was the first I have ever heard of this action. I know for a fact that I never made any such request. Until the recent addition of the baby-sitting service, SSQQ was the only business open at night. I find it curious that your largest tenant and the only business with a valid interest in the lighting was not consulted about this addition, yet is expected to help foot the bill. May I ask which lease provision entitles you to make this improvement without consulting me first?


CONCLUSION

Since an increase of $5,000 is a significant increase and the problem is likely to become even worse in the coming years, I will most likely be forced to raise my rates at my own business and pass the expense on to my already aggravated students.

I will inform them of the reason for the raise in tuition in my monthly Newsletter. After being towed, walking miles, dodging potholes in the parking lot, and being rained on, I can't imagine that this news will be greeted favorably.

There are two directions we can go.

I can pursue legal action on the issues above as a means to ameliorate the burden of your exorbitant CAM bill. I can also request an audit. And I can write a letter to my students explaining how this problem will affect them.

A second option is to let you sit down with my accountant and negotiate a compromise settlement that will fairly compensate my business for the damages caused by your construction needs over the past year.

Or if it is acceptable to you, I will simply write a check for $2,000 as a compromise. In addition I will forget about the past problems as water under the bridge and let it be. A fresh start is probably what we both need.


Sincerely,

Rick Archer
 

BACK TO TIMELINE


23: RATHER THAN NEGOTIATE, LENOX HILL HIRES A LAWYER TO ANSWER MY PROTEST LETTER

I never heard a word from Ms. Varon regarding my protest.  But I did receive this response from Mr. Plummer, her lawyer.

August 1, 2006

Dear Mr. Archer,

You are hereby placed on notice that SSQQ, Inc.'s account with Lenox Hill Holdings, Ltd, is currently past due. The outstanding balance on your account is $12,883.04. This amount includes your outstanding July rent of $7,706 and your outstanding CAM balance of $5,177.04. Your July rent was due on or before July 1, 2006, and as of this date your account is thirty (30) days past due. Your outstanding CAM balance is over forty-five (45) days past due.

Additionally, I am in receipt of the letter that you wrote to Ms. Varon, representative of Lenox Hill Holdings, Ltd, on or about June 27, 2006.

Lenox Hill Holdings, Ltd, rejects your offer for a $2,000 settlement on your outstanding balance. Please be advised your letter can constitute an anticipatory repudiation of your lease agreement. As such your letter can be taken as notice of your intent to breach your lease contract with Lenox Hill Holdings, Ltd.

In light of the forgoing, Lenox Hill Holdings, Ltd. wishes this matter to be resolved amicably. Therefore, Lenox Hill Holdings, Ltd will allow you the opportunity to make good on your contractual obligations and will allow you to pay the amount currently outstanding. If payment is made within ten (10) days of your receipt of this letter, no penalty will be assessed.

It is the desire of Lenox Hill Holdings, Ltd to accommodate its tenants and to resolve disputes, such as this one, in as peaceful and as friendly a manner as possible. The amount your company owes, however, is significant and is severely past due.

Further, I would direct your attention to the lease agreement you signed on the 13th day of July, 1998. The lease your company signed was assigned to Lenox Hill Holdings, Ltd when it purchased the property. You are bound by the terms of that lease agreement. If you wish to no longer be bound by this lease agreement, please pay your outstanding balance and give Lenox Hill Holdings, Ltd the requisite written notice of your wish to terminate your lease agreement. All terms and conditions of the lease agreement are set forth in the lease agreement.

Regarding the remainder of your letter and the other issues you raised therein, I would direct your attention to the lease agreement. Specifically, I would direct your attention to article three, section 3.3, article five, section 6.3; and article eleven. The aforementioned sections of your lease agreement should adequately address the questions and/or issues you raised in your letter.

I further would like to direct your attention to the laws in the State of Texas regarding defamation, libel, and slander. If you are to publish any untrue statements, on a web site or any other form of publication, that are defamatory in nature regarding Lenox Hill Holdings, Ltd and/or any of its agents, officers, or employees; Lenox Hill Holdings, Ltd will take all necessary legal action to cure such conduct allowable under Texas Law. If you have questions regarding what constitutes defamation under Texas Law, I would advise you to see the counsel of your attorney or contact me immediately.

Please be advised that all rents outstanding, such as your August rent, are to be paid timely, and pursuant to your contractual agreement with Lenox Hill Holdings, Ltd. you should be in receipt of an invoice for your upcoming August rent. If you have not received your August invoice, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Lenox Hill Holdings, Ltd would like to thank you in advance for your cooperation regarding this matter. If you have any questions or comments regarding this letter or the amount you owe, please do not hesitate to contact me directly at 713 524 2400.

Please forward all further correspondence and communication regarding this matter to myself or my office. Please do not contact Ms. Varon or Lenox Hill Holdings, Ltd about this matter until this matter has been resolved.

Hugh Jones Plummer, Jr

Plummer and Farmer
Attorneys at Law

Hugh J (Pete) Plummer
Michael D. Farmer
______________

Hugh J. Plummer, Jr.
 

BACK TO TIMELINE


24: AUGUST 2006: UNDER THREAT OF LAWSUIT, I SEE NO CHOICE BUT TO KNUCKLE UNDER AND PAY UP.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Hugh J. Plummer, Jr.


Mr. Plummer,

I hereby submit my 2005 CAM payment in the amount of $5,177.04.

The outstanding rent problem of $7,706.00 has also been paid. My wife sent a check in this amount to Ms. Haya Varon on Friday, August 4. It turns out that Ms. Varon billed us for our monthly payment twice in an eight-day period. Typically requests for monthly payments come in a month apart. Therefore the second bill confused my wife because she had just finished paying the first bill a couple days earlier. She assumed the second bill was a "second request" for payment and consequently overlooked it.

In the past, our landlords have typically billed us once a month, not once every 8 days. Nor have we ever received a threatening letter from an attorney like you before to collect. A simple phone call would have been a nice courtesy. Nevertheless we acknowledge our mistake.

My wife has already apologized to Ms. Varon for the mistake by phone. I too regret the incident since we make an effort to pay all bills in a timely fashion… that is, bills that are not under dispute.

A CAM overcharge of $5,000 places a serious burden on my business. I deeply resent the manner in which the building is being managed. As an example, a light fixture was installed without my knowledge and billed to me… as part of my pro-rated CAM responsibility, I would estimate this raised my bill over $1,700 for something I wasn't even consulted on. This kind of unilateral action has very disturbing implications.

As you know, I wrote a letter dated Monday, June 27, 2006, asking the landlord Ms. Haya Varon to consider abating the cost considering the hardships her business actions have placed upon my business over the past two years. However her solution was to solve the problem in a peaceful manner - rather than sit down and discuss the problems with me, she found it easier to resolve things in an amicable way by hiring you to write me a threatening letter.

Your letter is very effective. I consider myself warned. Therefore I will pay up.

That said, I would like for Ms Varon to furnish my accountant the opportunity to audit the CAM bill. As you know, the right to audit is a common provision in leases with a CAM feature. This is an important request. Last year, Ms. Varon made an error of $2500 in her 2004 CAM bill to SSQQ, Inc. Based on this history, perhaps the exorbitant $5,000 CAM overcharge could be reduced by an audit.

In the meantime, Ms. Varon's refusal to negotiate leaves me little choice but to pass these costs on to my customers. Like any significant rate increase, I risk a customer backlash unless I carefully explain the reason behind the increase in tuition for 2007.

I of course acknowledge your well-written threat of a defamation lawsuit and understand you have instructed me to stick to the truth. You have my promise that it is important to me to tell the story about the CAM dispute in a truthful manner.

Mr. Plummer, you were even kind enough to offer your advice on said matter ("If you have questions regarding what constitutes defamation under Texas Law, I would advise you to contact me immediately"). I appreciate that offer and I think I will take you up on it.

I would like your opinion on the CAM Protest letter I wrote to Ms. Varon dated Monday, June 27, 2006. In your opinion, was there any phrase or passage in that letter that would constitute defamation under the laws of Texas? If so, please enlighten me

Your prompt response to my question would be appreciated. On the other hand, if you have no objection, then I intend to print that June 27 letter in my next Newsletter in its entirety. My customers have a right to know why their tuition is being increased.

Thank you,

Rick Archer
SSQQ Dance Studio


As of Tuesday, August 22, 2006, there has been no response to the letter above.

BACK TO TIMELINE

25: CONCLUSION

NEGLIGENT

IN MY OPINION, the first word that comes to my mind regarding Ms. Varon's management style is "Negligent." 

This word can be defined as:  To pay little or no attention to; failure to act in a timely manner; disregard of one's duty.

Exhibit A would be the Roof. 

I was told on more than one occasion that the plan was to get a new roof all at once rather than waste time (and money) on little bitty patches along the way.  This time-consuming long-range plan involved inspections, taking bids, comparing differing offers, making counter-bids and so forth.  The problem with this strategy is that it might be compared to planning for Junior's college tuition while forgetting to change the diapers.

On the one hand, I can see their point, but let's face it, it wasn't very practical.

Their "Big Picture" strategy might have made sound economic sense, but in the meantime it caused enormous disruption for a lot of people.

A couple of quick fixes (e.g., a simple membrane patch over my two roof leaks) along the way would have alleviated a great deal of stress.  

That said, let me add I really do appreciate the peace of mind that has come with the addition of the new roof. 

 

Exhibit B would be the Parking Lot.

Similar to the Roof strategy, I have been told that Management plans to repave the entire parking lot at once after the hospital is finished. 

Why waste time (and money) on little bitty patches along the way?  

This grand strategy, by the way, is now in its third year. 

You can find letters dating all the way back to September 2004 complaining about the potholes.  The "Zero Dollars" for parking lot maintenance in 2005 is almost too absurd to believe.

The parking is another area where some quick fixes along the way would have made a big difference.

That said, there are signs that maybe someone decided it wouldn't hurt to experiment with the "quick fix" technique.

In August 2006 a half-hearted attempt was made to fix some of the gaping craters in the parking lot.  As the story was related to me, one day they had some left-over concrete from the hospital construction, so they decided to use it to fill some of the holes. 

One problem - no one bothered to rope off the concrete while it dried.  Consequently cars driving through splattered the concrete hither and yon. 

Nevertheless, I appreciated the effort.  In fact, it made me smile. 

Has Godzilla visited the Shopping Center?

 

AUTHORITARIAN

IN MY OPINION, I believe the second word that best describes Ms. Varon's management style is "Authoritarian."    This word is used when someone expects unquestioning obedience to authority.

Let me cite four previous examples.

The Pool Supply Story
The Towing Story
Removal of One-Third of our Parking Space
The Awning Story

In the Pool Supply story, SSQQ was told to make our studio space available to constant construction for two solid weeks.  This construction seriously disrupted our business every evening and occupied 30 hours of Linda Cook's free time.  When the construction was over, no thanks was given, there was no offer to compensate us for the inconvenience or the expenses caused by the disruption, plus my request for $300 to pay Ms. Cook for her time was totally ignored. 

In the Towing Story, we found that Ms. Varon was not open to any discussion on how the parking problems would be handled.  Her mind was set on the Towing Threat as the ideal solution.  In other words, her decision was dictated, not negotiated.

When Ms. Varon removed one-third of the studio's parking space, no warning was given.  No estimate was given as to how long the space would be removed.  No apology was offered.  No promise was given if the space would even be returned.  No offer of compensation was forthcoming.  Even more curious, a simple request for use of her precious First Surgical Center parking lot during the construction period was denied.  This is the way it is going to be.

In the Awning Story, I was expected to pay for the awning whether I liked it or not.  No response was given to either of my emails requesting more information.  "Unquestioning Obedience to Authority".

However, it is the mysterious Light Fixture that bests captures the spirit of how this Shopping Center is managed.  The Light Fixture is installed without my knowledge and I get billed approximately $1,900 whether I like it or not.  No explanations are given, but a lawyer is hired to collect.   "Unquestioning Obedience to Authority".

Okay, so I was spoiled by the warm, hand's on approach management style of the Kwans.  I admit it.

But the Kwans also fixed the roof when they said they would.  If the Varons had done their job like they were supposed to, you would have never seen this story.
 

WHY THE LANDLORDS BAFFLE ME

IN MY OPINION, what makes the problems I have experienced with my landlords so mystifying is that both Dr. Jacob Varon and Mrs. Haya Varon are clearly very talented people.  They have every right to be proud of their accomplishments.  I know very little about them, but I can see that they have acquired three valuable properties right in the heart of prosperous Bellaire. 

That is a very impressive achievement!

Furthermore there is a clear indication that they have a sense of style.  The remodeling work done on the First Street Surgical Center and the design work on the new hospital is gorgeous.  Both structures are very attractive and so is the landscaping. 

That sky bridge idea was very creative.  I imagine the politics involved to get permission to build this structure could have been complicated, but there it is as a living testimony to their negotiating skills.  

Both Dr. and Mrs. Varon appear to be very successful people. 

IN MY OPINION, when they want to get something done, there appears to be ample evidence that they have the ability to accomplish it.  

Let me add that Mrs. Varon strikes me as a shrewd woman.  Maybe a little distant, but definitely smart.  So why did it take seven months to get the problem fixed? 

To this day I remain at a loss to understand certain aspects of the roof leak problem.  In preparation for this story, I spoke with the SSQQ building manager Linda Cook about the roof.  She recalled meeting with a roofer on at least two occasions.  This means someone was sent out there at least twice when I complained, possibly even more times.

Linda told me she remembered one occasion where the roofer got up on a ladder and pushed the rotten ceiling tile out of the way.  Then he got his flashlight and peered up to the "bottom" of the top of the building to see if he could identify any problem.  Linda added that the roofer never got out a measuring tape.  Nor did she ever see any materials brought to the studio to fix the problem.  It appeared to Linda that they didn't come prepared to fix the problem on the spot, but perhaps to simply inspect.

At one point, I wrote to Ms. Varon:

-----Original Message-----
From: Rick Archer
Sent: Tuesday, January 24, 2006 11:57 AM
To: Haya Varon
Subject: RE: Roof

....Since then I have become increasingly suspicious that ABSOLUTELY NOTHING has been done to the roof since I began to first bring the problems to your attention last July. For your sake, I certainly hope you kept all your receipts to prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that my suspicions are unfounded should this problem fail to be alleviated swiftly.
 

Ms. Varon rarely responded to anything I said, but on this particular occasion she said this:

-----Original Message-----
From: Haya Varon
Sent: Tuesday, January 24, 2006 1:36 PM
To: dance@ssqq.com
Subject: Re: Roof

Mr. Archer:
Please do not make any assumptions. I have the three proposals from three different companies, and we have selected one out of those three. Action was indeed taken even before our November meeting.

So my question is simple: did anyone ever go up there to patch the problem or did they simply go up to inspect?

It is my theory... repeat THEORY... that they looked at the problem and estimated how much it would cost to replace the roof.  I do not believe any work was done as a quick fix, at least not in the area of the leaks. 

All I know for certain is what my own eyes tell me: the leak problem APPEARED to get steadily worse for seven months. 

If you don't believe me, I shouldn't have much trouble getting several hundred dance students to sign a petition supporting my position. 

I don't think the Landlords completely ignored the problem.  For the life of me, I just can't understand why it took them seven months to fix the leak when my previous landlord used to get job done in two weeks or less.

IN MY OPINION, it appears nothing was done to solve the problem from July 25, 2005 to February 1, 2006.

And you know what, I don't care if it turns out I am wrong.  I would rather know the truth

Since 'Open communication' is not one of the phrases I would use to describe my relationship with Mrs. Varon, I doubt I will ever know the answer to my mystery.   But if I learn more, I will add the information the story.

In particular, if I discover I am mistaken, you the reader have my firm promise I will print the FACTS PLUS MY APOLOGY right here in this spot:

(THIS SPACE RESERVED FOR RICK'S POSSIBLE FUTURE ROOF REPAIR APOLOGY)


CAM CALAMITY

In the meantime, the CAM costs keep rising and rising and rising.

In July 2006 our rent invoice magically jumped another $400.This marked the second time this year that our rent has increased without warning or explanation.  If I were forced to guess, the latest increase was invoked to cover further CAM increases for 2006. 

Who knows when the rent will jump again?   No warning and no explanation is ever offered.

These 2006 increases have taken our overall rent from $7,060 at the start of the year to $7,700 at present.  This projects out to an increase between $7,000 and $8,000 for 2006.  And to think I resented the jump of $5,000 last year! 

Looking at this another way, the SSQQ rent has risen at least $13,000 in two years... an increase that averages out to over a thousand dollars a month... with no end in sight to the increases. 

Yes, SSQQ is a successful business, but if left unchecked, the rate of these CAM increases threatens to turn us into a non-profit organization. 

THE FINAL WORD

If you are an SSQQ student, please forgive me for raising your tuition in 2007.  The new prices will be $50 for men and $40 for women.   $36/$26 will rise to $40/$30 and Crash Courses to $25 couples/$15 individuals.

I hope this story has adequately explained the reason behind this unpleasant move. 

I doubt very seriously this is the end of the story.  But it is the end of Chapter One. 

By the way, if you have something to say about this story, send it to dance@ssqq.com   Please be aware I may publish it in the Newsletter.   I promise to remove your name and publish your letter anonymously unless you specify otherwise. 

Thank you for reading.

Rick Archer
August 25, 2006 

 

ONE MORE THING: MY PROMISE TO THE VARONS

I do not wish to fight further with my Landlords.  I have better things to do and I am sure they do too.

It is my belief that the Varons have the ability to be good landlords.  At this point the roof is fixed and a little concrete has begun to show up in some of the potholes.  These are good omens.  If they let us use the hospital parking lot when the construction is finished, we should be in good shape.

And I have paid my 2005 CAM bill.  I love my new awning and maybe I will love my new light fixture if I can ever figure out where it is.

We don't have to be friends to coexist.  At this time I have no animosity. I would shake the hand of both Dr. and Mrs. Varon if the opportunity presented itself.  And let me add I hope the new hospital does well and that their real estate investments go well for them. 

That said, we have obviously not gotten off to a very good start.  If they knew me better, they would understand that I respond better to dialogue than to silence or demands.

I know very little about what the Varons think about the issues I have raised in this article. My ignorance is mostly due to our lack of communication.  For this I feel regret. I believe that dialogue would have solved many of these problems in a far more graceful way.

At some point in time the Varons may wish to share their point of view with you the reader.  After all, if I were in their shoes, I would want the right to defend myself in the court of public opinion. 

Therefore, if the Varons  (not their lawyer) wish to present their side of the story, I promise to publish whatever they say right below my name.

Rick Archer
August 25, 2006 

BACK TO TIMELINE

26: LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

-----Original Message-----
From: SL
Sent: Wednesday, August 23, 2006 10:34 AM
To: Rick Archer
Subject: SSQQ-Landlord Disputes

Dear Rick,

Let me begin by saying that your stories are certainly not defamatory or libelous. In fact, they recount in painful detail a litany of misfeasance on the part of your landlord that I would not put up with as a business owner.

Everyone has the right to put their stories into print without fear of a lawsuit. Of course, any one can bring suit for anything, and you would have to defend it. That would cost you money. That said, anyone foolish enough to bring a suit for defamation on such flimsy grounds would run the risk of your certain countersuit . Thus he might well rue the day that he provided you a forum to tell your well documented story.

That letter from their lawyer is just a tactic to try to intimidate you. Don't let them . But do refer such correspondence to your lawyer and have him deal with it. Don't respond to it yourself. This will convince them that you are serious.

With the record you have assembled there is little question of the jury appeal of your case against this guy.

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