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Kearns church fighting back after building owner tries to force them out

Posted at 10:55 PM, May 17, 2021

A small church in Kearns is in a legal battle with its building owner after being given just 15 days to move out in the middle of what they thought was a five-year lease.

The church pastor and members at Iglesia de Jesucristo are now weighing the options after refusing to leave, which led to a lawsuit filed by the building owner.

On 5415 South, an unassuming strip mall houses several businesses, including a Mexican sweet shop, Mexican import store, salon, nutrition business, barbershop, and a loan agency.

Right in the middle sits Iglesia de Jesucristo.

Every Monday, volunteers at the church wheel out boxes of food donations to families in need. They offer the weekly food pantry in partnership with the Utah Food Bank.

Hilda Quezada said it's been a huge help to feed her family during the difficulty of the pandemic. Plus, she loves how friendly the church is and attends services there.

"They ask if you need help. They always say hi to you, asking about your family," she said.

Ignacio Cambray is the pastor, and his daughter Joana Cambray is active in helping. She keeps track of the families who come to the food pantry and serves on the worship team.

Lately, the people who stopped by have had more on their minds than needing a few boxes of meat, produce and grains.

"I couldn’t believe it," Quezada said of the news she heard a few weeks ago. "I say, 'How come? How [did] that happen? We can maybe do something?'"

Joana Cambray explained that they showed up for Sunday service one week to find a notice on the front door.

"Everyone did start to... get stressed and worry, like, 'What's going to happen?'" she said. "Where are we going to go? Because everything now with the rent has gone up, like everywhere."

The notice was titled, "FIFTEEN DAY NOTICE TO VACATE," with the first line reading, "The last day of your rental period is April 30, 2021."

"I was in shock, really, because I thought it was way too soon," Cambray said.

There was no way the church was going to be able to move their operations -- including the food pantry -- in so little time, she indicated. Not to mention, they'd have to find a new place to rent ASAP.

"We don’t have the money to put a down payment for some other place," Cambray explained.

The notice to vacate was signed by the new owners, who had just purchased the building. Cambray and her father Ignacio explained that the old owner suddenly sent them an Estoppel Certificate, claiming that Cambray needed to sign it for the building to sell. The document states that the church's rent is on a month-to-month basis.

Ignacio said he was promised that the paperwork was just for the sale, and nothing more. He said he was told that his original five-year lease that ended in 2023 would transfer to the new owners and still be honored.

The Cambrays also received an email from the new building owner that indicated the lease agreements would be honored as well.

"Moving forward, your current Lease Agreement and Payment Terms will remain in effect," the email said, later stating, "My goal is to make this transition as seamless as possible."

"She did say everything will remain in effect like the lease, and it was fine," Joana pointed out. "And so we were more comfortable, we're like, 'OK, we’re fine. They’re not going to move us anywhere.' So we didn't really worry."

Then, every business in the complex said they got the Fifteen Day Notice to Vacate, including Iglesia de Jesucristo. The owner of Deb's Salon told FOX 13 that it left her no choice but to close her business of 34 years in order to comply and vacate the building that quickly.

The salon still has its sign on the door that says, "Due to circumstances beyond our control. Our salon will be closing permanently."

Other businesses in the complex told FOX 13 that they are now working out agreements with the new owner, and the owner is allowing them to stay for now. Multiple businesses explained that the building owner wanted to move everyone out to make renovations.

But for Iglesia de Jesucristo, the situation spiraled into a lawsuit filed by the new owner, against the Cambray. They call Cambray an "unlawful detainer," and the lawsuit claims he owes $170 for every day past May 1 that the church doesn't move out.

That would add up to nearly $3,000 at this point.

FOX 13 reached out to the new building owner, but the owner declined an interview because of the ongoing lawsuit.

Joana said they simply wanted extra time to figure things out.

"That's where we really started to worry because, not just the families and the church, but also what we do for the community with the foodbank," she said. "Because that’s not really easy to move."

She said church members now worry about where they could meet instead, and wonder if the church will have to split up. They have looked into renting other places, but Joana indicated that the rent is double or triple what they are currently paying.

"I don’t know what’s going to happen with the people like me, used to come and grab food, food pantry for their families," Quezada said. "I don’t know, it made me so sad."

As the Cambrays figure out the next steps, there's a new notice they posted on the front door, asking the owner to "cease and desist" efforts to kick Iglesia de Jesucristo out of the building.

"This is home. It definitely is home," Joana said. "And it’s sad to think that, what are we going to do now?"