Brioni Connolly, owner of The Poor Creature, poses for a photo in her shop in Yukonstruct on Nov. 1 — the first day she was supposed to have been moved out. The Yukonstruct Society filed a petition to the Yukon Supreme Court on Nov. 7, naming Connolly as the respondent. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Yukonstruct taking legal action to have Poor Creature café owner evicted

The society filed a petition to the Yukon Supreme Court on Nov. 7

Yukonstruct is taking the owner of The Poor Creature cafe to court in an attempt to evict her from its downtown Whitehorse building, the latest in an escalating stand-off between landlord and tenant.

The Yukonstruct Society filed a petition to the Yukon Supreme Court on Nov. 7, naming Brioni Connolly as the respondent.

The society is seeking an order declaring that, as of Nov. 1, Connolly has been an “overholding tenant” who shall pay rent “at the rate of double the yearly value” for as long as she stays.

It’s also asking that a court clerk issue a writ of possession — essentially, an eviction notice — and for legal costs.

Yukonstruct and Connolly have been publicly at odds since mid-October, when Connolly shared on The Poor Creature’s Facebook page that Yukonstruct would not be renewing her lease.

In interviews and on social media, Connolly has alleged Yukonstruct’s decision was unfair and that she had been under the impression that the lease would be renewed.

She has continued operating The Poor Creature following the lease’s expiry on Oct. 31, with the cafe still open as of the morning of Nov. 8.

Yukonstruct’s court filings, however, tell a different side of the story.

In its petition, Yukonstruct says it entered a lease agreement with Connolly on Nov. 8, 2018 for a one-year term from Nov. 1, 2018, to Oct. 31, 2019.

The lease, the petition says, contained a clause stating the tenant has the “first right of refusal” for a renewal if the tenant gives notice in writing at least 90 days before the lease expires.

Connolly, the petition claims, “provided no notice of her intent” to have the lease renewed “verbally or otherwise.”

Yukonstruct gave Connolly written notice on Oct. 11 that her lease would not be renewed, deciding it would not lease out the location again but “use it as common workspace to be made available to its other tenants.”

Connolly, however, has “refused to vacate the Premises and … continues to refuse to vacate the Premises.”

Two affidavits from Yukonstruct executive director Lana Selbee were filed with the petition.

The documents appear to indicate issues between Yukonstruct and The Poor Creature arose on Day 1.

According to Selbee’s first affidavit, Yukonstruct spent approximately $50,000 on improvements and building a kitchen “to Connolly’s preferred specifications” without asking or requiring her to repay the money.

The Poor Creature opened in December 2018, the affidavit continues, and Connolly and her husband, Traolach Ó Murchú, brought their child with them on the first day.

“Their child seemed unsettled and upset and cried and screamed from approximately 7 a.m. until noon,” Selbee wrote, adding she was approached by Yukonstruct members working in the adjacent co-space about the noise.

Complaints about the child’s noise would become an ongoing point of contention.

The child would “cry and scream for extended periods of time, usually measured in hours,” Selbee alleges, writing that in January, five Yukonstruct members approached her saying they would cancel their memberships if the noise didn’t stop.

Yukonstruct tried a host of measures to resolve the issue, Selbee wrote, including consulting with an acoustic engineer, buying headphones for members and ensuring it communicated that co-space “is a lively and active space” and that the cafe was noisy.

Yukonstruct also tried to work with Connolly and Ó Murchú, according to the affidavit, but the couple was “confrontational” and unwilling to compromise.

“Each time a complaint or attempt at discussion regarding noise has been brought to the attention of Connolly and Ó Murchú, they have responded by suggesting that the complaints amount to harassment and that the complaints and Yukonstruct are discriminating against women entrepreneurs and children, which has prevented all efforts of productive discussion, problem solving or collaboration,” Selbee wrote.

Attached to the affidavit is a private letter from Yukonstruct’s board of directors to Connolly dated Oct. 16.

“Seeking resolution through the imperfect and inflammatory intermediaries of social media and public opinion does not advance Yukonstruct’s objective of building respectful dialogue and community,” the letter reads in part.

“… In the past year, our attempts to resolve various concerns with you have resulted, in our experience, in confrontation and an unwillingness to engage in the dialogue we needed to arrive at consensus around our shared vision of the future. Accordingly, we have made the difficult decision to not renew the lease between Yukonstruct and The Poor Creature.”

In an Oct. 21 email to Connolly, Selbee wrote that Yukonstruct recognized it would “likely be impractical” for her to vacate by Oct. 31, and that it would be willing to let her stay until Nov. 30 at no cost provided operations ceased by the end of October.

Selbee’s second affidavit is about an email she sent to Yukonstruct members the morning of Nov. 7, updating them on the situation with The Poor Creature.

The email says, among other things, that Yukonstruct does not tolerate “disrespectful behaviour of any kind,” and that the board chose to not renew The Poor Creature’s lease because the “relationship was not sustainable or healthy.”

Less than two and a half hours later, the affidavit says, Selbee received an email from Ó Murchú with the subject line, “Cease and Desist: Defamation.”

Connolly has not yet filed a reply.

The petition is scheduled to be heard next week.

Contact Jackie Hong at jackie.hong@yukon-news.com

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