Thursday, August 7, 2008

Paying rent to the landlord is as basic a legal and business premise as there is. If there are disputes about the property — bad plumbing, water damage, leaky roofs — you work with the landlord to get them resolved. But you still have to pay the rent. Not so apparently for the Washington Nationals.

The Lerner family refuses to pay the District $3.5 million in rent this year, contending the stadium was “substantially” incomplete when the team moved in March 1 because the executive offices were incomplete for the first three weeks. There also are structural items that the Lerners deem incomplete, including the lack of LED lights in the scoreboard. The Lerners’ lawsuit wants the city to pay $100,000 a day in damages.

The least the Lerners could do is what every disgruntled renter should do: Put the money in escrow and work out their differences.

The Lerners have already benefited from D.C. taxpayers, who were forced to foot the $611 million bill to build the stadium for Theodore Lerner, his family and his $450 million baseball team. Fan support has been averaging 29,000 tickets per game, while the team is a last-place-in-the-league joke in almost every category. Mr. Lerner should consider the fans for supporting the franchise — especially as he continues to say he is following the letter of the contract and exercising good business savvy. Do the Lerners really and truly not understand what team spirit means?

City Hall’s response is neither helpful nor fiscally prudent. Their plan is to hire a “special” lawyer to oversee the arbitration talks. The second part, raising taxes from 10 percent to 15 percent on concessions and other goods sold at the ballpark, is unconscionable. Tax increases hurt everybody, and in this case they would hurt the very people and businesses they intend to help - small business owner and the workers in their employ. At this juncture we could say, “We told you so.” For now, we leave it at “Watch this space.”

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