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Two Toronto Blue Jays baseball players, Ryan "Rowdy" Tellez and Mark Budzinksi are accused of not paying their rent amid the pandemic, according to CBC.
The two players are citing the suspension of Major League Baseball as the reason why they are unable to pay the rent on their downtown Toronto condos. In addition to the season being cancelled, both players are currently residing in the United States.
"I feel I'm being disrespected. I rented out my place to him in good faith," said Linda Pinizzotto, Tellez's landlord. Tellez was given an extra US $85,000 as a signing bonus when he was first drafted by the Blue Jays in 2013, since then, he has made hundreds of thousands more. Tellez rent is $4,1000 a month for condo right beside the Rogers Centre (the team's stadium), which hasn't been paid since March.
"I could easily have put it on the long-term rental market. I didn't do that. I gave it to him for six months in good faith because he's with the Jays and the trust level that goes with that." said Pinizzotto, who claims Tellez has only paid his first and last months rent and nothing else.
Tellez's lawyer on the other hand, claims that the lease Tellez signed is no longer legally binding because of the pandemic. "A basic assumption under which the lease was entered into was that there would be a baseball season and that Mr. Tellez would play for the Toronto Blue Jays," wrote Michelle Austin Pamies, a Fort Lauderdale lawyer, who represents Tellez.
One of the stipulations of the lease between Tellez and Pinizzotto was that if was to be traded or sent down to the minor leagues in another city, either his new team could foot the bill or the condo could be rented out to somebody else. However Tellez hasn't been sent down to the minor league or traded since the pandemic first began.
"He's obligated to pay his rent; I still have to pay the mortgage and the taxes and the maintenance fees and so on. And on top of that I have the wifi, the cable and the hydro." said Pinizzotto, who has now hired a lawyer of her own to help recoup the lost rent money.
"The use of COVID as an excuse for nonpayment or nonperformance may be permitted for 'Joe Public' who works in the trenches, but not for your client, who makes $555,000.00 or more a year, lives a privileged life and works for a multi-million dollar sports organization," wrote Bianchi to Tellez's counsel via email. "Your client left in the cloak of darkness without notifying my client."
In April, Pinizzotto also wrote a 10-page letter to Mark Shapiro, the Blue Jays General Manager, hoping that the team might address the situation with Tellez, writing, "Take control of your out of country players and coaches to ensure they respect the playing field outside of the Rogers Centre, especially with local landlords and other citizens of our fine city,"
Pinizzotto now wants to sell the condo in light of the unpaid rent although she is well aware that it will be difficult to sell in these times. The Toronto market is particularly flooded with condos for sale at present. However even if there is a potential buyer, they would still have to honour Tellez's lease until it runs out at the end of September.
"Who's going to buy a condo where there's a non paying tenant attached to the property?" stressed Pinizzotto.
A separate condo was rented out by Pinizzotto's husband, Derrick Thomas, also to a Toronto Blue Jays' player, first base coach, Mark Budzinkski in January. The condo is on Wellington St. and costs $3,100 a month.
"I decided to do this purely on the assumption 'hey, he's a Blue Jay.' I was excited," said landlord Derrick Thomas, regarding Budzinki's lease, which came into effect on March 24. The condo also overlooks Rogers Centre, where the team plays home games.
Much like Tellez, Budzinki's also paid his first and last month's rent. He also paid for the month of April as well.
"I thought it was going great. First and last months were paid without an issue. And even in April, he contacted me with regards to paying."
Following the April payment, Thomas received a letter from Budzinski's paralegal asking for the all the rent money back, a refund of about $9,300. Thomas also said there would be the additional loss of monthly rent for the remainder of the lease.
Budzinski is now asking an adjudicator to cancel his lease and to also have Thomas refund the rent he's already paid through Ontario's Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB).
"That really rubs me the wrong way," said Thomas.
"As you know there has been an extreme change in circumstances due to COVID-19 and my client indeed is unable to legally enter Canada and to my understanding has not even had the opportunity to pick up his keys," wrote Toronto paralegal Jeffrey Shabes to Thomas.
Shabes said the lease contract was "frustrated" which is a legal term for when the property can't be accesses or used, in this case due to the COVID-19 pandemic and closure of the Canada-U.S. border.
"An application was filed at the Landlord and Tenant Board on behalf of my client and has been scheduled for later this month. My client will of course respect any decision made by the Board," wrote Shabes in a statement.
However not everyone agrees, like Blair Drummie, a Toronto real estate lawyer who feels both Tellez and Budzinki should be paying their rent. "They've signed a legally binding contract and unless there's something that says a pandemic allows us out the contract, they're likely out of luck," said Drummie. "If there was a hurricane, a tidal wave or the house burned down, then for sure the contract is frustrated."
It will be up to either an adjudicator or a judge to decide whether or not the COVID-19 pandemic is reason enough to get out of the lease and payments.
"The legally responsible thing for them to do is sublease to someone else and continue to pay rent until a new tenant is found," said Drummie. "They have a legal responsibility to the landlord to pay rent."
Major League Baseball was halted on March 12 when spring training was suspended and the start of the regular season delayed with no set official return date yet. The league and the player's association are currently trying to calculate how much of their player's salaries should be paid based on a shortened season. The team has also asked its staff to take a 10 percent pay cut for the duration of the season remaining in limbo.
Tellez is among MLB players who are not guaranteed a spot on the major league team's roster and therefore aren't being paid their regular salary but instead receive anywhere between $500 to $1,000 per day in its place. Prior to the pandemic, Tellez 2020 salary was listed at US $550,000.
Budzinki's earnings remain unknown although he works as a realtor in Virginis during the off season.