Lazy Lizard Will Close Due To Dispute
For the past 6 days, residents and visitors of Caye Caulker may have noticed that the Lazy Lizard Bar and Grill, at the Split has been closed.
And anyone who's been to Caye Caulker will know that it's not for a want of business. With all the traffic at the Split, the Lazy Lizard enjoys a constant flow of business.
But it's now closed, and no one can say for how long. That's because the bar owner, who is a lease-holder, is in a battle with the landowner. While they try to fight it out in court as to who's rights are being breeched, thousands of dollars in revenue is being lost daily.
So today, the bar owner decided to make his case to the media as to why his business is supposedly being ruined by the landowner.
Daniel Ortiz has the story:
Daniel Ortiz reporting
The Lazy Lizard, it's a well-known bar and grill at Caye Caulker's iconic destination, the Split.
For the past few days, however, it has been closed, and the proprietor is losing thousands of dollars. His eight employees have also been out of a job:
Immer Perez - Businessman, Lazy Lizard Bar & Grill
"Since this has been closed and the money that I have been making for the day - its slow season, but I never call myself slow in Caye Caulker in the Split especially right here the Lazy Lazard. Everyone comes here, and you are talking about $3,500 - $5,000 daily and on the weekends, more. All of these days that I am losing, I mentioned it to my lawyer and it must be placed to be paid as well because I am losing. I am losing and not only me, we have other families that works for me here as well; I have about 8 persons working here with me and if I am not open, they are losing."
It is currently closed because there is a dispute between Perez and the owner of the property which the bar sits on. The business relationship between Perez and the owner is complicated. Perez has been leasing the Lazy Lizard property, which is where he has been running his bar for the past 5 years. The owner has it on sale for 4+ million dollars, and he claims that he's gotten a buyer. He's trying to evict Perez from the property.
Immer Perez - Businessman, Lazy Lizard Bar & Grill
"The Split is known to the whole world as Split or Lazy Lizard, but it's under the name of Emerald Point in the Lands Department. I recently got a contract of 5 years; last year June 1st, for 5 years. So it's going to end on May 31st, 2018. Three days before Lobster Fest this year 2014, he told me and gave me the news saying that he sold the Split 99%. So I told him that this means that you got your 2.5 million US dollars that you were asking for and he just look at me and smile and shakes my hand and he said yeah and so that means that I am going to get back my money. The money that I invested here was $162,000 since November 1st, 2008 - 5 years now that I am here. The problem started when he told me that the place is sold, but then in August I got a letter of 90 days' notice that I must leave the premises of Emerald Point - that they already sold it. I got to know that the place is not sold. Emerald Point has a caution on it, so that caution means they cannot transfer or they cannot sell the property due to someone else that he had a previous deal with for obtaining the property. My contract that I have it states carefully that the property must be sold for I to get 90 days' notice. So when spoke to my lawyer and he send a power of attorney to the JP, he know what kind of contract I had. They breach the contract, so that's the reason why everything is going to be deal with the court and lawyers now. I have a 5 year contract lease that will end on May 31st, 2018."
No surprises there, business is business, and there is the Supreme Court to settle commercial disputes, especially breach of contract claims. The unusual circumstances of the Lazy Lizard dispute is that Perez caught agents of the landowner breaking into the business place, and removing $25,000 worth of his liquor and other goods. His attorney says that this is actionable criminal behavior, and he's pressing charges against the men.
"These guys came; the JP (I am ashamed to say it), he personally came with these other guys, cutting my locks both from the front and back door and they broke the locks from inside out because I have deadbolt locks. The JP gives them instructions to go ahead and break the locks. I have 7 surveillance cameras inside the establishment. It seems that they notice that the cameras were there already caught them, so they remove the cameras from the original positions and they turn it up to the ceiling of the place and I obtained the footage and I gave it to the police officers for them for evidence that they personally came and cut my locks. I have pictures of the persons who came and cut my locks. I want them to pay for what they did. It's not fair. A Belizean is trying to step up his life to be a better business person and for them to come, especially for the two guys that came from Costa Rica who say that he is a general manager who have restaurants for over 15 years - coming and taking away my stuff - just grabbing my stuff from inside my establishment, taking it and putting it in another building that they already breaking down. It's just a shame to have people come and do that and especially the JP encourage them to do it."
Whatever the outcome of this dispute, this well-known Lazy Lizard proprietor will move on. He says that the relationship with his landlord has been tainted because this man tried to kick him out.
"I want to get paid for the remaining of my contract time and the money that I invested here in the Lazy Lizard. You could see I have pictures about how this place use to look in 2008. November 2008 was the first time I paid them. If the law states that yes my contract is good and they breach it, I just want them to pay me the remaining of my contract and the money that I invested and I will move on, build my own new stuff. I will not stay here because you could never know what they would do; if a JP could come with other investors from Costa Rica coming here cutting my locks. Imagine what they would do if I still stay here in this place, maybe they would burn it, I do not know what they could do."
"The fact remains that the Split is a very commercially viable location. It is very well know both locally and abroad and your business benefits from that. You will lose that prime location spot."
"Yes it is true, it's an icon spot for Caye Caulker. People sometimes do not come for the spot, they come for the service. The way you treat your customers, it's like in every business - there are demanding customers and you have to brake them. It's the same thing with all other business - you could flourish wherever you go if you have a good business knowledge."
We've been informed that the landowner is out of the country, and so today, we spoke with his attorney Naima Barrow. She told us that Immer Perez is wholly mistaken about what he thinks are his rights.
As you heard, a big part of Perez's explanation of why there has not been a sale is because there is a caution on the property. This means that land title can't transfer from one owner to another.
First, Barrow told us that Perez is mistaken, her client has sold the land, and the deal is finalized. When we asked about the caution, she told us that the transfer of title is not the only poof of at transaction. She says that her client will be able to show that the lease agreement has come to a close because of that sale.
As to the allegation that her client's agents behaved criminally when they broke into the Lazy Lizard and removed Perez's possessions, she says that her client's position is that they simply visited his property with his permission and removed his items to put them in storage. Barrow told us that her client's intention was to deliver them to wherever Perez had requested. She tells us that contrary to what Perez says, it was he - not her client's agents who were breaking and entering when he went into the Lazy Lizard, and to the storage area. When we asked about the push that Perez is making to get those agents charged, she said Perez will be hard pressed to prove that those persons were burglarizing anywhere, since they had permission.
Perez tells us that the land owner has entered a verbal contract with him and has promised to reimburse him for all investments to upgrade Lazy Lizard. He claims that he has spent over 160 thousand dollars, and he wants that investment back, along with earnings he would have made had he been allowed to complete his lease in 2018.
The Split at Caye Caulker Under Dispute
Caye Caulker is an island fast realizing its tourism potential, second only to the larger San Pedro but growing. Perhaps the main attraction for tourists on the island is an area known as the split, a natural division caused by Hurricane Hattie in 1961 and enhanced by dredging. It’s officially listed as Emerald Point, and this amazing piece of Belizean natural beauty is actually owned by an American, Dan Nichols. There is a bar and recreation area on Nichols’ land at the split which is rented by a Belizean, Immer Perez, and operated as the Lazy Lizard. And that’s where today’s story starts. Perez is being evicted by foreigners who claim that the property has been sold to them, but he contends that it hasn’t been sold, and his contract is valid until 2018. It’s become nasty, and the establishment has been closed down since November first. Mike Rudon headed to the split this morning and has the story.
Mike Rudon, Reporting
Since land issues are by nature complicated, we’ll try keeping this simple. This is the area under contention – the Lazy Lizard operated at the split and the land surrounding it. Immer Perez is the proprietor, and has been since 2008, on a contractual rental basis. His contract was recently renewed in 2013.
Immer Perez, Owner, Lazy Lizard
“I have my contract right here with me stating right here when I get the contract – 2013 June first, and 2018, May thirty-first my contract is over.”
But owner Dan Nichols told Perez a few months ago that he had sold the Split, and that Perez would have to vacate the premises. Perez says that the property has not been sold, so his contract is being breached.
“It says as well that the property has to be sold for me to get a ninety day notice and the property is not being sold…not being sold because it has a caution on it. The JP knows that what they are doing is wrong because he is the power of attorney for Dan Nichols’ properties here in Caye Caulker, and he should go over the contract and read it carefully.”
The JP Perez is referring to is Javier Novelo, who has power of attorney for owner Dan Nichols. On Monday, Novelo and some others who are allegedly the new operators at the Split broke into the Lazy Lizard and removed all Perez’s items from his bar and store-room.
“On Monday, five minutes after twelve midday I was going to Belize City to have a meeting with my lawyer, and I took the twelve o’clock San Pedro Belize Express ferry, and not even five minutes after I took the ferry the JP and these other three guys that you can see on the cameras that I have, came in and broke my locks and took my stuff. You can see the JP just telling them go ahead with his finger, go ahead and break the locks. It’s a shame to say this…you have Belizeans trying to work hard to go up, to live a better life, and then you have foreigners who have just come here like these guys coming, breaking down these locks and saying that they have more balls than we Belizeans…something is wrong with them.”
The guy you see here in the surveillance video cutting the locks with a grinder and breaking into the establishment is Peter Schmidt, seen here on this picture. He is being helped by another man identified as Robert Cain. The Justice of the Peace, Javier Novelo, is also caught on video inside the establishment. That matter is in Police hands, since it is breaking and entering and a criminal charge. But let’s get back to the split – where Perez says he has invested nearly two hundred thousand dollars in the past few years.
“This place was in a mess…a mess. The water in front, facing the east side or facing the reef was way up close to the big building. I had to put a seawall and refill it with my savings. I took my savings and I started to fix the place, the property, because every time we had a bad weather coming, a little tropical wave or tropical storm, it would erode more and more. On the east side of the property facing the reef I filled that up and put boulders in front of the sea wall and filled it up with sand. On the west-southwest of the property, I filled that up as well. And that took me two years now.”
Perez also built a new bathroom at a cost of twenty-five-thousand as well as a deck around the property where tourists can hang out and sunbathe or, as these locals and foreign visitors are doing, catch some snappers. We got the impression that Perez knows he’ll have to go eventually, but he wants it to be on what he says are fair terms.
“What I want is to get paid for the rest of my contract and for the days that the business is closed, so my lawyer will deal with that for me with them, if they have any lawyer, or with the owner himself. The owner is supposed to be coming this month, I don’t know which date, but he is coming this month. That’s what he told me the other day when I spoke to him and he said he wants to negotiate.”
Charles Rubio Jr.
Charles Rubio Jr., Treasurer, Caye Caulker Tour Guide Association
“It is a shame, because I have known Immer for so many years running this place, and he actually saved my son’s life when my son was drowning a year and a half ago. And sometimes I pass here in my boat and he would be dumping loads and loads of sand in this place, putting in infrastructure, making it nice. This place wasn’t like this many years ago.”
Miriam Magoon, Hair Braider
“He fill the whole place up, because the place wasn’t really nice for tourists to come lay down on the ground and stuff. He built the seawalls, made it nice and neat for people. He put the foundation so they can lay on and stuff. He is a nice guy, and I don’t want them to take away the split from him at all.”
Apart from the illegal breaking and entering, Perez’s liquor license was also revoked, since it is in the name of owner Dan Nichols. So the business is effectively closed, though Perez isn’t going anywhere just yet. Mike Rudon for News Five.
On the matter of the entry into Perez’s establishment, we confirmed with Police sources that those persons had no authority to do so and broke the law. Caye Caulker Police are awaiting instructions from the Coastal Executive Officer to arrest and charge those involved. Other than that, the fate of the beautiful piece of property known as the Split on Caye Caulker will be decided by attorneys.