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Toronto agency sues bar for $84K, years after it closed during COVID-19 pandemic

A City of Toronto agency is suing the owners of a Toronto bar for $84,000 in back rent, years after the bar was forced to shut down during the pandemic.

And it turns out that agency, the Toronto Parking Authority (TPA), may have gotten in the way of the bar getting certain emergency COVID-19 subsidies that could have saved the business.

“It was a very depressing time for us. We would prefer to keep it going but there was no way,” Tiz Pivetta, one of the co-owners of AAA Bar, told CTV News Toronto, recalling how when the pandemic hit, revenue collapsed leaving them with an uncertain future.

Once a thriving restaurant and music venue, AAA Bar was hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. Public health measures forced it to close in 2020, and without customers, the owners made the decision to shut it down permanently.

The property, near Broadview Avenue on Gerrard Street East, is still closed today, covered in graffiti and does not appear to have a tenant. The Bailiff’s notice addressed to AAA Bar remains posted on the door.

Another AAA Bar location survived on Adelaide Street. The owners thought the sad chapter was in the past, so it was a surprise for them to get a lawsuit from the TPA this year.

“They told us we owed them money and they were going to come after us in court,” Pivetta said.

Many businesses closed during the pandemic – some hung on thanks to emergency COVID-19 subsidies and loans.

But AAA Bar wasn’t eligible for a major program available to commercial tenants, the federal government’s Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance, because its landlord was a government agency.

The City of Toronto did fill the gap left by providing an avenue to write off unrecoverable rent for their own tenants. City staff say in 2020, 22 city tenants received $1.94 million in forgiven rent. On average, that worked out to about $88,000 each.

City staff say in 2020, 22 city tenants received $1.94 million in forgiven rent.

“The City corresponded directly with affected tenants within that specific period to communicate details of the City Council approved process and to co-ordinate the submission of required documentation,” a city spokesperson said in an e-mail.

But Pivetta said he didn’t get any heads up about a potentially business-saving program.

“No one ever mentioned anything about this program. I just found about it this week, in 2023, from [CTV News],” he said.

In an e-mail, a TPA spokesperson said they did contact eligible tenants by phone and email, and even if AAA Bar didn’t receive certain subsidies they were eligible for others, including the Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy.

“The City’s knowledge, the tenant did not apply for the subsidy in order to remit the proceeds towards the outstanding rent,” a spokesperson said, saying it’s up to AAA Bar to apply.

“The tenant elected not to participate in the exercise and did not qualify for the potential rent forgiveness,” the spokesperson added.

Ryan Mallough of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) said the TPA’s attempt to recover this rent is “an awfully tough look.”

He said governments need to remember how devastating the pandemic was to small businesses throughout the country. A CFIB report estimated in 2021 that one in seven businesses in Canada actively considered bankruptcy or winding down.

“It was incredibly chaotic, and as much as we all want to move past it, we cannot forget what that time was,” Mallough said.

The Gerrard Street property remains without a tenant. If it had been rented in the past year at the same rate paid by AAA Bar, taxpayers would have made up the loss alleged in the TPA’s statement of claim.

Pivetta said he wishes the bar hadn’t closed, so they could have found a way to make the numbers work.

“If they had given us $84,000 at the time when we needed it, we would have just stayed open,” he said. Top Stories

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