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The Ramat Aviv mall in north Tel Aviv applied to court yesterday to have the revamped Hamashbir Lazarchan department store vacate its premises at the mall. Sources close to the mall's management said that the decision to take the matter to Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court followed talks between the parties on rental which failed to reach any satisfactory conclusion.

The suit filed with the court claims that the store continued to operate in the mall despite the objection of the mall's operators, Kanyon Aviv Management and Holdings, and despite Hamashbir owing sums which now stand at over NIS 950,000 to the mall, including fees for not vacating its premises.

The claimant said that in 2002 it had originally been owed NIS 800,000 from the "old" Hamashbir Lazarchan, which had been granted court protection from its creditors, and later sold. "Appointing a trustee manager and freezing bankruptcy proceedings," the claim read, "constitutes a doubtful pretext for canceling the rental agreement by the defendant."

The Ramat Aviv mall added that it had demanded that Hamashbir vacate its premises before being sold earlier this year to Rami Shavit, its new owner, and that it called on the court to oblige the department store to leave.

Shavit's attorney responded yesterday, "Africa Israel's suit is intended to put undue pressure on owners of the new Hamashbir Lazarchan in order to raise the rental fees, and this, after coordination with the mall's management, a great deal was invested in the store, new merchandise was brought in and the branch was changed into one of the chain's flagship stores." He added that he did not think there was any basis for a legal battle, and that an amicable agreement could be reached between the parties.