Legal battle keeps Hidden Hills campground closed

Staff Writer
Published: 7/8/2018 5:41:55 PM

WORTHINGTON — A lease dispute between the manager of the Hidden Hills Escape Family Campground and his landlord has escalated into a legal battle that has forced the camping site to remain closed pending resolution of litigation.

In a complaint filed in Western Housing Court in May, Worthington resident Jason Tomaskowicz, the campground’s manager, alleges that property owner Carolyn Jacobson “acted unfair and deceptively in her business practices” by enticing Tomaskowicz to make improvements to the campground and then trying to evict him and put him “out of business,” according to court documents.

Hidden Hills Escape is a popular 33-acre campground at 350 Harvey Road with a camping season of May to October. The campground offers more than 60 tent and recreational vehicle campsites both in rustic locations and open fields.

Tomaskowicz’s attorney, Patrick J. Melnik Jr. of Northampton, said “(Tomaskowicz) has been working on the campground for the last two years and now she wants to get rid of him now that he’s fixed it up. We think he has a right to stay there based on the contracts they have.”

In response, Jacobson filed a motion to dismiss the case in housing court, claiming that the court has no jurisdiction over the case due to the lease being a commercial one, not residential, meaning district court would have jurisdiction.

Jacobson’s attorney, Edward D. Etheredge Jr., declined to comment on the lawsuit.

On June 4, Jacobson sued Tomaskowicz for eviction from the property due to a dozen alleged violations of the lease, as well as an outstanding balance of at least $6,290.37 in rent and electricity, water and other utility bills.

In the lawsuit, Jacobson alleges that Tomaskowicz used one of the buildings on the premises as his residence, which does not have a certificate of occupancy from the town and is in violation of the town’s zoning rules. She also alleges that Tomaskowicz does not have the required permits to operate the campground from the state Department of Environmental Protection, and has failed to provide proof of required insurance despite requests by Jacobson, according to the eviction notice.

Melnik confirmed Tomaskowicz is living in a building on the premises based on a verbal agreement he had with Jacobson.

As for the DEP permitting, Melnik said Tomaskowicz had no intention of opening the campgrounds this season without them.

The permitting issues have to do with access to a water well, Melnik said, and Tomaskowicz has not obtained the permits because he has been trying to resolve the lease issues first.

Jacobson and Tomaskowicz entered into a five-year commercial lease in June 2016 that contained an option to purchase the campground property for $250,000, and then another one-year lease in May 2017 that did not, according to court documents.

Jacobson claims in her eviction notice that Tomaskowicz was in violation of the 2016 lease for failure to pay late fees for rent as well as real estate taxes. She also claims that the 2017 lease is the “operative” contract and that it “replaced and superseded” the 2016 lease.

As part of Tomaskowicz’s complaint, he argues that a 2017 lease with Jacobson is “null and void” and that the original 2016 lease should be reinstated.

Tomaskowicz argues that the 2016 contract is still in “full force and effect.”

He claims that the 2017 contract was entered into after Jacobson “threatened to prohibit” him from opening the campgrounds for the season unless he signed the new lease.

“The plaintiff felt he had no choice but to sign the new lease,” the lawsuit states.

“We are asking the court to void the second lease and enter an order to say the first lease is the one that applies,” Melnik said. “He was forced to sign it because he was fearful he would not be able to open the campground after all that work. Our position is that the second (lease) should not be the one at play.”

On Jan. 22, 2018, Jacobson indicated that she would not be renewing Tomaskowicz’s lease through a notice of nonrenewal for rent, real estate taxes, and utility bills still outstanding, among other alleged violations at the campgrounds.

In a letter dated April 27, 2018, Tomaskowicz indicated that he disputed the 2017 lease, that he would come current with moneys owed once bills were produced by the landlord, and that he intended to renew the lease. A portion of the 2017 lease agreement indicated a one year renewal clause.

On May 4, 2018, Jacobson served Tomaskowicz with a notice to quit informing the business owner he is a holdover tenant and to vacate the premises within 14 days.

The Board of Health agreed to refuse a campground permit based on a letter sent on April 23, 2018 by Jacobson to the board. Should Tomaskowicz remain a tenant at the property, he could still acquire a camping permit from the board if he meets all their criteria, said Diane Brenner, chairwoman of the board.

The case was taken under advisement by Judge Robert G. Fields on June 18.

Luis Fieldman can be reached at lfieldman@gazettenet.com




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