Eviction of Colonial Fresh Market Lessee in Essex Delayed
For approximately five months, the former Colonial Fresh Market in Bokum Center has sat empty. The building’s owner, Matthew Prosser of Provident Bokum, LLC, says evicting the lessee, Luis Matos, has been complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s been frustrating,” said Prosser. “We actually did go through the eviction process with the courts. We have a court order that gives us possession of the premises. The...second to last step is actually executing that order.”
Under state statute, landlords are required to abide by a strict timeline in eviction proceedings.
“The day before [being] able to execute the order, the governor issued a halt to the execution of all eviction proceedings,” said Prosser. “So, even though we have the court order, we can’t actually execute it.”
“They were one day away from this being on the docket and it’s just a shame,” said Essex First Selectman Norman Needleman.
On April 10, Governor Ned Lamont issued executive order Number 7X, which prohibited landlords from issuing any new eviction notices and postponed existing residential eviction cases. Lamont’s executive order 7DDD, issued on June 29, extends these provisions to Aug. 25.
In addition, the Connecticut Superior Court issued a temporary hold on the service of all issued executions on evictions and ejectments, which applies to both residential and commercial properties, effective March 20. On June 9, that hold was extended through Aug. 1.
“Right now, we’re in a holding pattern,” said Prosser. “Hopefully, it won’t get extended again. Once Aug. 1 rolls around the courts will start granting orders on evictions but right now, we’re on hold until Aug. 1, unless we can get Luis to surrender the premises, and I haven’t had much luck in that.”
Operations at the store in Essex ground to a halt in early February as Prosser started the eviction process. Matos, he says, was not meeting the financial obligations under the lease agreement.
Empty shelves and other signs of Matos’s financial situation were evident to shoppers in the months leading up to the official shuttering.
Prosser says that the storefront initially garnered considerable interest from other grocers.
“I believe that most of them are still interested,” said Prosser. “Grocery stores are one of the retailers that are doing well right now [during COVID]. I think there is interest, but unfortunately, we can’t do anything with anyone until we know we’re going to get the space back.”
The building is inspected at regular intervals, to ensure that there aren’t any existing or potential hazards.
“It’s our building, so we have to make sure that there is no water leaking…essentially there is nobody going into it,” said Prosser. “We do go and we do check on the whole shopping center to make sure the building is safe, the fire system is working properly.”
A variety of judicial proceedings have been affected with closed courthouses and limited on-site court staff since the onset of COVID-19 in Connecticut.
On July 1, the Judicial Branch announced an expansion of its operations effective July 20, with the opening of eight courthouses throughout the state. This measure brings the number of open courthouses in Connecticut to 25.
“An expansive range of civil, criminal, family and juvenile proceedings are now being processed both by remote technology and within our open facilities. Pursuant to the governor’s executive order extending the residential eviction moratorium to Aug. 25, residential eviction matters are not currently being processed by the courts. Judicial Branch officials are also currently attempting to develop strategies to safely resume jury trials in courthouses,” said the July 1 written statement from the Judicial Branch.