Deceptive conduct and the Bower's closure could spell out dark days for customers. Photo Credit - The Bower

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By Michael Hitch

The case of the missing rental agreement proposal heats up as tensions rise again between the Bower Reuse and Repair Centre in Marrickville and the Addison Road Community Centre Organisation (ARCCO) over allegations of a deceptive media release.

In a media release sent days before Christmas last year, ARCCO claimed that a rental agreement offer was refused by the Bower group due to the lease requiring more than the “peppercorn rates” that the Bower currently pays.

Bower begs to differ. In a Facebook post from December, Bower responded to the “deceptive” claims, saying that this refusal occurred in 2016, more than two years ago.

“ARCCO have today put out a deceptive media release. The release, dated 21 December 2018, states that the Bower refused a lease offer, and implies that this is a recent occurrence,” the Bower wrote.

“In fact, this happened over two years ago. It was 2016 when we were offered a new lease on our Marrickville premises with a rent increase of 250% over five years.

“Those issues will be addressed via mediation, as part of the legal action we initiated in the NSW Supreme Court.”

The two organisations have been battling since November last year when ARCCO evicted Bower from its Marrickville location due to disputes regarding illegal structures that were erected at its Hut 34 premise.

However, Bower claims that the decision to evict was also ignited by discrepancies with leasing and rental agreements, including disputes over the length of the lease and the increase of rent.

While the Bower has since re-opened its doors, legal action and mediation are now underway in the NSW Supreme Court to find a solution to the two-year leasing saga, and to Bower and ARCCO’s other disputes.

General Manager of the Bower, Guido Verbist, said that the Bower hadn’t received any proposal from ARCCO prior to the media release and that he is confident the Supreme Court will provide a final fix for the sour situation.

“I don’t know whether it was a Christmas present they tried to give us. I sure hope it wasn’t,” he said.

“It’s a mystery to us. I have no idea what it refers to. We haven’t talked for a long time so definitely no proposal has been put to us … unless you count this two-year-old one. That’s what we responded to on our Facebook page.

“We were concerned that this would make people think we aren’t there anymore, that we wouldn’t exist after the holiday break. I have no evidence for that but that’s the only thing I can think of.

“That’s why we put the statement out, that nothing has changed, nothing will change … it’s all in the hands of the court. They will make a decision now; it’s no longer up to them or us, it’s the court that will decide what is correct and what is fair. That’s the only way we can fix this situation now.”

Mr Verbist also said that the proposed increase in rent was unjust due to the value and nature of the Bower business as a not-for profit organisation.

“We have evidence that the fees shouldn’t be as high as they are. We have an external party that’s provided a value of our premise if it were to be rented out and it’s not what ARCCO claims it should be,” he said.

“Not to mention that they consider us as a commercial organisation, but we’re like any other not-for-profit organisation in the community.”

ARCCO paints a different picture.

While the rental price for the Bower is currently $20,000, ARCCO Chief Executive, Rosanna Barbero, said that these rental prices would inevitably need to rise in order to maintain and support the ARCCO community and its other sub-licensees.

“ARCCO has a responsibility for the upkeep of the whole 9-acre site at Addison Road, and for the sustainability of the site, equitably benefitting all of its sub-licensees and the communities they serve,” she said.

“For example, ARCCO does not receive discounts from plumbers, builders, arborists, electricians, waste removalists etc. ARCCO must pay ever-increasing costs associated with building and maintenance work for a valuable inner-city community resource.

“We understand the Bower wants to continue fulfilling their local government contracts for waste collection as well as all the work they do to help refugees and other vulnerable communities to set up their homes, but ARCCO is a charity itself and is not able to continue to subsidize the Bower at the rate they prefer; it isn’t fair or sustainable for any of us.”

Ms Barbero also noted that the press release was not deceptive, saying that Bower failed to respond to the new leasing arrangements and that the ARCCO community would never willingly expel the Bower group from their site.

“The Bower did not respond by the due deadline of 20 December 2018. ARCCO wants the Bower to stay as it is an important part of the site’s heritage, but Bower management must sign a lease and follow the rules.”