Landlord Steve Croman, typically on the receiving end of lawsuits, stepped into the plaintiff’s position this week, suing the operator of the historic White Horse Tavern for back rent.
Bar owner Eytan Sugarman is on the hook for over $650,000 and counting after struggling to make payments through much of the pandemic, the lawsuit claims. A ledger of the tenant’s payment history shows Croman helped Sugarman by offering a monthly concession that covered half his rent for a year and a half.
But that goodwill ended last month when the landlord demanded Sugarman repay the 18 months of concessions, ballooning his arrears.
In the Thursday filing, Croman demanded a judgment against Sugarman to the tune of his total rent debt, plus at least $15,000 in attorney’s fees.
Court documents show Sugarman struggled to pay rent on time since the early months of his tenancy.
The restaurateur signed a 15-year lease at the White Horse in March 2019 and Croman bought the building the next month, property records show.
In April, Sugarman shuttered the bar for a month to make repairs, sinking $1 million into renovations, WestView News reported.
He then debuted a glossier decor and pricier menu: a $12 burger became $16, according to a Gothamist review.
WestView News justified those raises as the cost of doing business: “After all, the rent needs to be paid every month,” the paper wrote this February.
Not by Sugarman, it turns out.
A ledger of the tavern owner’s expenses in the complaint shows he began making late payments in August 2019. By February 2020, when Covid arrived, he had racked up $11,500 in fees.
When the city shuttered dining rooms, Croman worked with the tenant, offering $38,000 concessions that all but covered Sugarman’s monthly rent from April through June, court filings show.
Those free months stopped in July and Sugarman failed to make another payment until mid-November when he put $60,000 toward his then-six figure debt.
Like most restaurants and bars, the White Horse Tavern struggled through 2020. That summer proved particularly tough for the West Village watering hole: The tavern shut down in July when the state suspended its liquor license for violating social distancing rules. It didn’t reopen until September, Curbed reported.
In December 2020, Croman seemed to have worked out another arrangement with the bar owner, knocking $19,140 off his monthly rent of $39,140. Sugarman made $20,000 payments on time through November 2021.
But the late payments resumed in December, and this May, Croman stopped offering concessions. At the time, Sugarman owed nearly $200,000 in rent.
Though Croman was no longer offering a reduced rate, the tavern owner continued to pay just half of his monthly rent through August.
As a result, his landlord started to hit him with a double late fee: 5 percent on the rent he’d failed to pay each month, and 1.25 percent on his total growing debt.
Then, on Aug. 30, Croman voided the 18 months of concessions he’d offered — sticking Sugarman with over $400,000 in additional arrears. Next week, Croman expects his tenant’s debt to top $690,000.
Sugarman did not return a request for comment.