Nova Scotia

Restaurateur breaks into his own business to reopen after being evicted

A Halifax restaurateur who was locked out of his restaurant by his landlord is now back inside. He's not sure what's ahead.

Sanjay Saini locked out mid-June despite evictions being illegal during pandemic

Sanjay Saini, left, and his wife are shown in The Feasts. (CBC)

A Halifax restaurateur who was locked out of his business by his landlord is now back inside.

Sanjay Saini, owner of The Feasts on Quinpool Road, said getting back in was as simple as going on YouTube and learning how to use a wrench to jimmy the lock.

"It's quite scary," Saini said. "We don't know what is going to happen tomorrow. We don't know. But we don't have any other option."

Saini's landlord, North Atlantic Trading Company Limited, changed the locks last month. They claimed Saini was falling too far behind on his rent.

But commercial and retail evictions during Nova Scotia's state of emergency are essentially illegal after a ministerial directive issued by the province in March 2020.

Bob Crane, the president of North Atlantic Trading Company, said at the time that he wasn't aware of the directive.

Owner says landlord refusing rent payment

Saini said the landlords entered his restaurant in mid-June, ordered staff to leave and changed the locks.

He said he became more upset later that month when the landlords took down a large sign hanging on the front of the building.

He took a wrench to the new locks the next day.

"We have not done anything where it should be terminated," said Saini, who noted that he is prepared to settle accounts with the landlord.

Saini's restaurant, The Feasts, has reopened. But he said his attempts this week to pay as much $20,000 in rent have failed.

"I'm happy to pay the rent," Saini said.

"But he needs to tell us how. We can go to his office, we can hand over the cheque, we can do the transfer. We are happy to pay the rent. But he's not accepting. I mean, it's like I don't know what else I can do."

Owner likely fined, says industry association

Crane declined to comment except to say that "everyone knows the proper way to pay rent."

Evicting commercial tenants during the current state of emergency carries a fine of $500 to $10,000 for an individual landlord per incident, and up to $100,000 for a corporation.

Crane declined to say how much, or even whether, he was fined.

However, Gordon Stewart, the executive director of the Restaurant Association of Nova Scotia, said it's likely he was.

Gordon Stewart is the executive director of the Restaurant Association of Nova Scotia. (CBC)

"We assume he was fined. He was delivered a notice and we assume that was accompanied with a fine.

"It's tough on the landlord because the landlord has obligations to meet, too," Stewart said. "But the landlord usually has a bank or something behind, which is a little bit more tolerant because they have a lot of assets they can draw on to control that, whereas restaurants don't have that capability."

Saini's restaurant is open this week. He said he has no idea what's going to happen.

He is, however, offering to return the locks he removed, undamaged, to the landlord.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Preston Mulligan has been a reporter in the Maritimes for more than 20 years. Along with his reporting gig, he also hosts CBC Radio's Sunday phone-in show, Maritime Connection.

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