An art gallery at the edge of RiNo is battling its landlord. Again.
The nonprofit Denver Firefighters Protective Association Building Corp. filed a lawsuit against tenant Knew Conscious last week, alleging the art gallery and members-only social club owes $70,000 for six months of unpaid rent.
According to the lawsuit, Knew Conscious’ lease for the former Denver fire station at 2350 Lawrence St. began in February but the art gallery has only paid the monthly base rent of $12,541 for March.
The nonprofit, whose attorneys couldn’t be reached for comment, asks the court to award it damages and repossession of the property.
Knew Conscious was founded in 2010 by Kurt Redeker and has had two previous homes in RiNo and the Ballpark area prior to this location. It closed in March after the state ordered a shutdown due to the pandemic, and it reopened its doors in August.
Attorney Gregory Creer with Greenwood Village’s Armitage Bickford Creer, who represents Knew Conscious, told BusinessDen that the art gallery has paid rent the months it’s operated in the space: February, August and September.
Creer said that a clause in the lease agreement states that rent can be suspended if an act of God or government regulations prevent the business from being able to operate in the space. He said Knew Conscious plans to file a countersuit in response.
“The lease has what we call a force majeure clause in it, so we’re arguing that COVID-19 would relieve my clients of that obligation to pay the rent under the terms of the lease, and the landlord has a different interpretation of that,” Creer said.
Even before the pandemic, Knew Conscious and its landlord had something of a feisty relationship.
Although the lease began in February, Knew Conscious signed the contract four months prior, with the agreement that the landlord would complete repairs first. In January, the nonprofit sued the gallery for the first time, alleging the company planned to host an event before being issued a certificate of occupancy, didn’t provide proof of property insurance and intended to unlawfully sublease the space.
The art gallery denied these allegations and filed a counterclaim in response. Knew Conscious said it did have an event scheduled for Jan. 18, but that it cancelled it two days prior when the business realized it would not be able to open without a certificate of occupancy.
“They accused Knew Conscious of trying to run an event without a certificate of occupancy and we deny that,” Creer said. “They did have an event scheduled based on when they thought they were going to be open, and as soon as they found out they weren’t going to get the certificate of occupancy, they cancelled the event. But apparently, the landlord didn’t think that was good enough among other things they’ve said about Knew Conscious that are just inaccurate and wrong.”
As far as the property insurance, Knew Conscious said in the counterclaim that its landlord did receive the necessary documents. The art gallery also never intended to sublease the space, but rather rent it out as an event center, which was described in the lease, according to the filing.
According to court filings, the landlord was granted a temporary restraining order barring Knew Conscious from the premises in January, in connection with the original lawsuit.
“These allegations that keep coming up against them that they have somehow breached the lease is really just the landlord here, who is not only difficult but I think they’re trying to save face from their major misstep in January of locking Knew Conscious out of the building without really sufficient evidence to do that,” Creer said.
The landlord amended the lawsuit in April and added an additional allegation that Knew Conscious completed renovations on the property without receiving written permission from the building owner first. Lakewood-based Behm Construction subsequently told the court that the gallery still owes it $201,483 for the build out.
Knew Conscious filed another counterclaim in response and claimed that the landlord was fully aware of the renovations as stated in the lease. The gallery acknowledged that Behm is entitled to additional payment, but disagreed with the amount, and said the landlord is responsible for paying part of it.
Both lawsuits are still ongoing.
“What the landlords really need to do is just pick up the phone and give my client a call and confirm with them first as to what’s really going on,” Creer said. “But they seem to be rather aloof as landlords.”