News of the eviction of chef Jason McLelland from Grunt, his tiny Mechanicsville eatery, has prompted a number of individuals to come forward, alleging that they, like landlord Angela Ienzi, are owed longstanding debts of thousands of dollars.

McLelland, who was locked out of the restaurant in mid-December, will fight the eviction in court this week, arguing that his landlord’s actions were illegal.

McLelland and his wife Marie Brislinger, the owner of Grunt, are bringing their case before a judge on Jan. 6, seeking to regain entry to the restaurant. Eric Lay, the couple’s lawyer, said that amendments to the Commercial Tenancies Act, passed Dec. 8, prohibit evictions of commercial tenants without a court order.“You have to go in front of a judge, as I read. There’s not a lot of room for ambiguity. You just can’t do what they did,” Lay said. He added that he believes his clients’ claim will be the first litigation under Ontario’s Bill 229.

In an email, Ienzi said that she understood Bill 229 was meant to protect tenants struggling to pay rent due to the pandemic. “His issues have been ongoing since the beginning of his lease agreement in 2018,” she said.

On Dec. 13, Ienzi changed the locks of Grunt, took down its signs and boarded up its windows, alleging McLelland and Brislinger, who leased her property in April 2018 and opened Grunt a year later, owed a debt of more than $38,000. The couple had repeatedly been in default of their lease since November 2018, Ienzi alleged.

Ienzi provided this newspaper with a Nov. 14, 2019 payment plan signed by McLelland and Brislinger that tallies their debt at $28,578, consisting of $18,578 in unpaid rent and a $10,000 interest-free loan. The document outlines monthly payments running into December 2022, and indicates that McLelland and Brislinger subsequently made three $500 payments before stopping in mid-March 2020.

A Dec. 2, 2020 email from Ienzi to McLelland, provided to this newspaper by McLelland, shows that Grunt owes Ienzi $11,574 for unpaid rent during the second half of 2020, in addition to the unpaid loan. McLelland said he sent Ienzi payments of $1,880 and $1,904 last week.

Grunt’s monthly rent is about $2,650, and for a time, McLelland also rented an apartment in the same building from Ienzi for $1,000 a month.

Ienzi had been told that McLelland, who was born in Scotland, was planning to leave Canada soon for a job in the U.K. McLelland said he had been trying to sell his business and had had conversations about working in London.

Ienzi also alleged Grunt had been closed since Nov. 29, and that it was found on Dec. 13 “in complete disarray” with “rotting food throughout.” McLelland has disputed these claims.

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