The operator of Byron Bay’s La Playa restaurant/lounge bar (now called Soho) is refusing to leave the premises after he was given an eviction notice for unpaid rent.
In a bizarre twist of events, the bar’s owner John Cooper was in the building when locksmiths arrived to change the locks, and now he won’t leave.
He told The Echo that he has no intention of closing the door to lock himself out. ‘My rent is now paid up and was only 16 days late’, he says. ‘Due to the fact that I have invested $350,000 [in renovations] and have ongoing business and bookings there, I have remained in the building to continue to trade.’
The venue at 9 Fletcher St made news late last year when it was sold to strip club operators who opened there briefly but were denied a liquor licence.
Plans were subsequently scuttled by the Office of Gaming and Liquor (OGLR) after the mayor and community expressed outrage.
Meanwhile, a court case between Cooper and landlord Bill Bailey will be heard in a week, according to Mr Cooper. Mr Cooper has complaints about common area improvements, the lease change-over and delays to renovations required so he could re-open and trade.
Court case looming
He claims when he took over the lease three years ago, the building, ‘had been gutted and was in a severe state of disrepair’.
‘[After renovations] We began to wonder why we were been treated this way, especially after we had spent well in excess of $250,000 on renovating to a high standard. Mr Bailey was so pleased with the [renovation] work, that on several occasions he asked to parade members of his family and others through our premises commenting on what a fantastic job we had done.’
Mr Cooper also claims he only discovered much later after negotiations that the new tenants were planning to open a lap-dancing bar.
‘Even though this was not illegal, the town went crazy.’
He says it brought OLGR up from Sydney, who refused to transfer the liquor licence to the prospective couple, ‘as the town didn’t want it’.
‘OLGR insisted that we reopen as La Playa, and in return – providing I did a few alterations, ie extra soundproofing, and installed a noise limiter installation – we would be given a 3am music licence.’
Mr Bailey was asked for comment but was unavailable as he is currently overseas.
It is understood he wanted to evict Mr Cooper after three months of unpaid rent had accumulated, something which Mr Cooper denies. ‘I have improved the building and increased its internal floor area by 30 square metres, and the premises are now worth double the rent,’ said Mr Cooper.
Eviction notice ‘for $3,265’
He added that he invested such a large amount because he had signed a five by five by five (15) year lease. ‘I was served an eviction notice for the amount of $3,265.
‘It’s outrageous this landlord, who has watched his tenant put vast sums of money into his property, can get rid of them for such a small amount.’