Judge sides with tenant in sign dispute

A Blair County judge has ruled the owner of a building that houses the Phoenicia Mediterranean Restaurant on Logan Boulevard cannot put up a sign on the property declaring the building is for sale because signage was not included in a lease he has with the restaurant owner.

The owner of the restaurant, Husam Obeid, opposed the “For Sale” sign because he said it gave the public and his customers the false impression that his restaurant was closing. Obeid said he received many phone calls about the restaurant’s future after building owner James Focht installed the sign.

Obeid said he has catering commitments, and his customers were upset at the possibility the restaurant would no longer be in business. He removed the sign.

Focht, operating under the name of J&S Properties LLC, 412 E. Sixth Ave., reacted by asking the Blair County Court of Common Pleas for an injunction restoring the sign and barring Obeid from removing it.

Blair County President Judge Jolene G. Kopriva came down on Obeid’s side in a memorandum opinion issued Tuesday morning in which she clarified the rights of property owners versus the rights of a lessee who is operating a business in the building.

“We find merit in the lessee’s [restaurant’s] argument,” Kopriva stated.

She cited a 1974 state Supreme Court decision that concluded a lease “is tantamount to absolute ownership of the premises for the term [of the lease].”

She determined that the only rights a property owner has “are those he reserved under lease terms.”

In reviewing the lease between J&S and Obeid, which still has 20 years to run, the owner of the building has the right to make repairs and alterations and add to the structure.

But there is no language in the lease that would permit the owner to place a sign on the property advertising the building for sale.

“We do not interpret such language to include signs that would disrupt the business of the lessee,” Kopriva ruled.

The injunction request was filed two weeks ago by J&S attorney James Huff. Attorney Daniel Stants represented Obeid.

As the dust from the case settled, Obeid wanted to make it clear that his restaurant has been operating for five years, and it will continue to operate.

“I have a long-term lease,” he said.

The injunction case didn’t change Focht’s mind. He still wants to sell the building.

According to court papers, Focht wanted to sell the building because the property is listed for sheriff’s sale on April 10 because of a mortgage foreclosure proceeding.

As of Tuesday morning, the Blair County sheriff still had the building listed for sale, but Focht said Tuesday afternoon the proposed sale had been withdrawn.

Obeid said he made an offer to purchase the building, but Focht is asking for too much money.

Focht said that while he cannot place a “For Sale” sign on the property, he intends to advertise the building for sale in the Mirror.

Focht had no comment on the judge’s decision, but he said he did everything he could to accommodate the restaurant stating on the large “For Sale” sign that the restaurant was open and under a long-term lease.

He said he will be meeting with his attorney next Monday to discuss the next step.

Focht said all he wants to do is sell the property, but he complained, “I’m not allowed to put a sign on my own property.”

He said there’s “something wrong with the system.”