Business

Teen shelter sues tea shop over broken lease

Bridge Over Troubled Waters, a Boston nonprofit that has long provided shelter and care for troubled and homeless teenagers, has sued a tea shop for allegedly breaking a lease on property that the nonprofit owns.

Argo Tea Inc. agreed in January to pay $11,000 a month starting in June to lease lucrative frontage opposite the Boston Common from Bridge, which owns and occupies much of a building at the corner of Tremont and West streets, according to a suit filed against Argo in federal court on Wednesday

But Bridge alleges that Argo, which has about 50 locations in the US and the Middle East, never got the permits required to build out and operate its tea shop and café, and said the company didn’t provide any updates until its lawyers tried to back out of the lease in June. Bridge argued that Argo could be on the hook for millions because of certain provisions in the 10-year lease.

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The charity claimed in court documents that the Chicago-based chain caused $1.5 million in damages by breaking the lease. Bridge said the rental income is of “vital importance” to its operations, and is seeking multiples of the alleged damages and attorneys’ fees.

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“Argo Tea’s unlawful conduct is steeped in misrepresentation and deceit,” the charity said in its complaint. “When proposing to Bridge its plans to open a retail tea shop and café in the Premises, Argo Tea represented itself as a reputable tenant.”

Wayne Dennison, an attorney at Brown Rudnick LLP who is providing free legal services to Bridge, said a Papa Gino’s pizza restaurant previously was located in the Tremont Street space. Since Argo tried to cancel its lease, though, he said Bridge hadn’t been able to draw another tenant to fill the 1,843-square foot space.

“[Argo Tea] is a company with a multinational presence,” Dennison said. “That corporate decision [to abandon the lease] has real-world consequences, at least for my client.”

Bridge uses the floors above the retail space at 47 West St. to provide homeless and runaway youth with access to shelter, counseling, meals, and life-skills workshops, its website says. It also operates a van that provides young people will free medical and dental care. Its expenses totaled $3.7 million in its fiscal year ending in June 2014, publicly available tax forms show.

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A spokesman for Argo didn’t reply to a request for comment, and it wasn’t clear whether the company had an attorney. Argo Tea also has a shop at Northeastern University, according to its website, although its previous location at the Natick Mall is closed, according to Bridge’s complaint and the website Yelp.

Jack Newsham can be reached at jack.newsham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TheNewsHam.