Eduardo Maura of Ayala Law in Miami has filed a putative class action lawsuit on behalf of a string of businesses that claim that landlords Sterling Retail Services Inc. and SC Mota Associates Partnership, which own the Miami Mall of the Americas, favored Costco’s side of the retail center over theirs.
The named plaintiff is Ulises Ruiz, owner of Mota Pizza Rustica Corp., which opened in September 2015 with a $200,000 investment.
It’s a tale of two malls, according to the complaint.
There’s the “Good Mall,” where retail giants Costco and Home Depot have set up shop, and there’s the “Bad Mall,” on the other side of a recently erected wall, with a flurry of small businesses, which Maura claimed are suffering “unlivable” conditions.
“The Bad-Mall tenants do not fare as awesome as the Good-Mall tenants—not at all,” the complaint said.
According to Maura, “the sentiment is unanimous” among all tenants at the “Bad Mall.”
The contrast between the two is allegedly “so stark, as to make it almost seem as if there are two, intentionally and consciously separated malls within one,” the complaint said.
Click here to read the full complaint:
“After the mall entered into a deal with Costco, they paved that area, they made it nice for them,” Mauro said. “The mall pretty much lost interest in all the little stores.”
The allegedly “unlivable conditions” include portable bathrooms outside the mall, exposed grease traps, unsightly scaffolding and a food court with no air conditioning.
“You eat there and you sweat,” Maura said.
Counsel to the defense, Jeremy E. Slusher of Slusher and Rosenblum in West Palm Beach, did not wish to comment on specific allegations, but said the lawsuit seemed like “retaliation” against Mota Pizza’s impending eviction.
“We have a previously filed claim against them for eviction and unpaid rent, and suspect that this lawsuit they have filed is more of a defensive mechanism than anything else,” Slusher said.
According to Slusher, the pizzeria owes $24,000.
Maura said sales at Mota Pizza are one-fourth of what they used to be, and that tenant Ruiz can’t pay the rent and will “likely soon be evicted.”
Roughly one-third of the tenants at the mall have packed their bags since Costco was built, according to Maura, and foot traffic has taken a dive over the past year.
“These little businesses shouldn’t be bullied by a bigger mall who just wants to cater to one big tenant that is more profitable for them,” Maura said.
Maura said his investigation has taken him on seven or eight separate trips to the mall, where he took pictures and spoke with tenants.
“As a consequence of these crazy conditions, there’s been a mass exodus,” Maura said. ”Most businesses, when they rent space in malls, do so because human beings walk in there and buy stuff. If that wasn’t a factor, they wouldn’t rent it.”