Ruling favors former Old City Hall tenants

The Washington State Court of Appeals has sided with two tenants who fled Tacoma’s Old City Hall before their leases were up, ruling the building’s owner effectively evicted them by letting the downtown landmark fall into a state of disrepair.

In a 3-0 decision released Tuesday, the Division II panel affirmed a ruling by a lower court that found the Pierce County AIDS Foundation and attorney Peggy Fraychineaud Gross did not owe back rent to Old City Hall’s owners despite breaking their leases.

“Undisputed evidence in the record demonstrates that conditions in the building had become unsanitary, unbearable, unworkable and unsafe,” the panel said in its opinion.

The building’s owners sued in 2010 after the foundation and Gross moved out before their leases were up. The plaintiffs contended they were owed more than $500,000 in rent payments and fees.

The defendants countered that there were so many problems with the building at 625 Commerce St. they couldn’t safely stay in it. The problems included unpaid utilities, a faulty heating-and-cooling system and substandard security measures.

The foundation and Gross said they complained repeatedly about the problems, but Old City Hall’s owners did not address them.

Old City Hall LLC bought the building in 2005 and offered tenants incentives to move out before their leases expired. The new owners originally wanted to turn the historic building into luxury condominiums but now are considering transforming it into an apartment building.

Everyone but the foundation and Gross complied, but they left the building – the foundation in 2009 and Gross in 2008 – after the building conditions deteriorated.

The building’s owners since have made efforts to make repairs, including sealing the roof late last year.