A Spokane-based appellate court panel has rejected an effort by Baton Rouge, La.-based Lamar Outdoor Advertising Co. to overturn the termination of a lease for a prominently located downtown billboard.
The panel upheld a Spokane County Superior Court judge's default judgment in favor of Joseph and Kristi Harwood, Bell Franklin LLC, Bel Condominium Owners Association, Bel Franklin Apartments LLC, and Spokane Housing Ventures Inc.
Those named defendants have or had an ownership interest in the four-story building located at the southwest corner of Division Street and Spokane Falls Boulevard. The legal dispute involved a Lamar-owned billboard that sat atop the building and was visible to motorists using adjacent arterials.
Fast Eddie's All Purpose Pub occupies space on the first floor of that building. The upper three floors are low-income apartments administered by Spokane Housing Ventures, which has owned them since July 2008 through Bel Franklin Apartments LLC. The Harwoods have had an ownership interest in the property for a number of years, most recently through Bell Franklin LLC, court documents indicate.
After Spokane Housing Ventures bought the top three floors of the building in 2008, with the purchase including all interests in the billboard roof lease, it informed Lamar that the billboard would have to be removed to accommodate renovations and due to structural damage it was causing. Lamar didn't remove the sign following that request, believing that its lease remained valid because the Harwoods still had an ownership interest in the property, and Spokane Housing Ventures removed it that October at a cost of about $13,800.
Lamar subsequently filed suit, and in November 2008 was granted a $529,000 judgment that later was vacated due to other parties in the case not being given sufficient notice of the hearing, court documents say. In early 2009, the parties filed cross motions for summary judgment, after which the trial court dismissed Spokane Housing Ventures and the condominium association as defendants, then ruled in favor of the remaining defendants.
The appellate court held that the lower court's decision to set aside the initial judgment in Lamar's favor was proper and also agreed with its finding that the lease of roof property for the billboard was terminated legally.
Pridemark Outdoor Advertising originally leased the billboard space on the building's roof in 1994, and the contract stated that the 10-year lease would automatically renew unless terminated, or could be terminated if the property was sold, court documents say. Lamar eventually took over Pridemark's interest in the lease, and the initial 10-year period passed without either party terminating the lease, leading to its renewal.
The appellate court found the pertinent contract language to be ambiguous, but said Lamar's interpretation of it "effectively left the roof owners without the ability to fix its portion of the building or otherwise use its property for its intended purposes."
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