The Parish Files $1 Million Lawsuit Against Landlord After Being Locked Out

Venue says landlord “hatched a plot to commandeer the business”

The stairwell leading up to the Parish on Sunday. (Photo by Kevin Curtin)

Owners of the Parish have filed for a temporary restraining order and a temporary injunction against their landlord, who locked the business out of its space last month. The claims seek over $1 million in damages.

The legal filing, obtained by the Chronicle, explains why all concerts scheduled to occur at the Sixth Street music venue since mid-October have been relocated to other rooms. The booked-out calendar included notable acts like Mannequin Pussy, Arlo Parks, and Paul Wall making returns to Austin after the pandemic pause on touring. Most shows moved to Empire Control Room, which is operated by Austin events company Heard Presents alongside the Parish.

According to the legal filing, the venue abruptly closed last month after their landlord, property owner Matt Reppert (Whimsical Notions LLC), changed the locks and boarded up windows without warning on Oct. 10. Documents state the owner required the venue “pay accelerated rent, property tax rent, and utilities rent totaling over $1.5 million… to reobtain access to its leased property.”

On Oct. 15, the Parish (The Parish Austin LLC) filed the lawsuit seeking monetary relief of more than $1 million for damages to the business, which had shows booked out into 2022. The documents allege: “Just as the venue was poised to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, [Reppert] hatched a plot to commandeer the business by breaking promises, manufacturing a default on The Parish’s lease, then falsely informing The Parish’s business contacts that The Parish no longer operates the venue.”

According to the legal filing, the venue abruptly closed last month after their landlord, property owner Matt Reppert (Whimsical Notions LLC), changed the locks and boarded up windows without warning on Oct. 10.

The lawsuit details an agreement between the Parish and Reppert to delay rent payments during the pandemic. Last spring, after the property’s roof and HVAC system were damaged by the February winter storm, the venue made additional improvements to the space’s bar and bathrooms during the roof repairs. According to an affidavit from Heard Presents founder and Parish managing partner Stephen Sternschein, the landlord “agreed to offset the back rent owed from COVID-19 by the amount that the Parish spent on renovations.”

The lawsuit states: “When those improvements have increased the value of the premises and after numerous musical acts were booked, [Reppert] reneged on their promises and agreements in order to concoct a fictional default in the lease. [Reppert] created this scheme in an attempt to usurp the business that [the Parish] has built and paid for.”

Over the past year and half, Sternschein has publicly advocated for COVID-19 relief funding for music venues with the National Independent Venue Association, which he helped form and previously served on as board treasurer. The group pushed for creation of the national Shuttered Venue Operators Grant, initially administered this summer by the Small Business Administration. Under the program, the Parish received $430,363 total in initial and supplemental grants, and Heard Presents received $1.6 million total.

Government funding is mentioned in an email exchange between Reppert, Sternschein, and Doug Guller of ATX Brands, who owns downstairs businesses BBG's and Happy Chicks. He also launched the now-shuttered breastaurant chain Bikini’s, as well as the Parish’s original concept. In 2018, after Guller posted the club on eBay, Sternschein and partners purchased the Parish for $376,445.

Under the sale, Sternschein and partners acquired the Parish brand, as well as a 12-year lease (plus two five-year options) on the 5,300-square-foot second story space at 214 E. Sixth.

The exterior of 214 E 6th St, where the Parish had operated until last month. (Photo by Kevin Curtin)

On August 26, Reppert wrote via email to his tenants, Sternschein and Guller:

“Please revert back to the utilities agreement we had pre-pandemic as of July 1, 2021. I know the pandemic is ongoing. Hopefully, the government money you all received can get us through. I didn’t get any and tried my hardest to help you guys nonetheless.

So, please no bickering and simply cooperate with each other as we go through this next phase.”

Sternschein replied disputing the Parish’s portion of shared utilities owed to Guller, saying his venue had not been fully operational in recent months. The exchange continued on Sept. 28.

Reppert: “It’s a lease Stephen, [whether] you are operational or not.”

Sternschein: “Matt, I am available to chat at some point about this but my position is not going to change.”

Twelve days later, on Oct. 10, Reppert replied saying the venue was in default of their lease and locked out. The message itemized a total of $1.9 million in owed expenses, including over $1 million in “accelerated rent.” The email added that Kerry Mosser (described in the lawsuit as Reppert’s agent) would take over operations of the business under his company “The Parish ATX LLC” – as opposed to Sternschein’s “The Parish Austin LLC.”

According to state records, Mosser registered The Parish ATX LLC on Oct. 13. Lead singer of the band Human, Mosser previously directed special events and catering at Jazz, the club and restaurant that inhabited the groundfloor below the venue at the time when it changed names from the Mercury to the Parish in 2003. Mosser’s LinkedIn now lists himself as the CEO of the Parish and, according to the suit, he contacted at least one promoter under contract with the Parish to tell them he’s now handling booking.

The Oct. 10 lockout email from Reppert to Sternschein continues:

“If you fail to cure your default immediately, Kerry Mosser, of The Parish ATX, LLC will assume the terms of the lease until you do. As a courtesy, The Parish ATX, LLC has consented to enter into an agreement with you to use the room for shows you already have booked and for future shows, if you so desire, with the following terms of agreement which are not separable:

1. You authorize The Parish ATX, LLC to operate under your TABC permit. It will keep the proceeds.
2. Stephen and [Parish partner Dave Machinist] are not allowed in the building. Your agent may continue to retain ticket sales.
3. Immediately transfer all Parish social media accounts to Kerry Mosser.
4. The Parish ATX, LLC will collect a room charge from you in advance of each show.

I am available to chat at some point about this but my position is not going to change.”

That last line appears to mock Sternschein’s response from a previous email.

Filing a response to the Parish’s lawsuit on Oct. 20, Reppert denied the allegations. His counterclaim seeks over $1 million for damages, citing unpaid rent and other fees. For now, Reppert agreed to the venue’s request for a temporary restraining order, under which Reppert’s team cannot conduct business using names associated with the Parish or move any equipment on the property.

A hearing is set regarding the Parish’s request for a temporary injunction for Dec. 2.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS POST

The Parish, Doug Guller, Stephen Sternschein, Dave Machinist, Matt Reppert, Kerry Mosser

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