BOSTON (WHDH) - A coffee shop scored some rent relief when they had to stop paying after they were forced to close during the pandemic.

In a first-of-its-kind ruling, a judge decided the Caffe Nero on Newbury Street was not responsible for paying rent during last year’s COVID-19 shutdown.

“I think it’s a small win,” said Bob Luz of the Massachusetts Restaurant Association. “If there’s a situation that arises that you’re told you cannot open, how can you then be responsible for paying rent.”

The landlord evicted the coffee shop and sued for rent during the three months when Gov. Charlie Baker shut down indoor dining because of the pandemic.

But the Suffolk Superior court ruled, “Caffe Nero’s obligation to pay rent was discharged while it was barred from letting customers drink or eat inside the leased premises… Therefore Caffe Nero did not breach the Lease by not paying rent for this period.”

Andrea Martin, who served as counsel for the Italian style British coffee house brand said, “This is the first decision of its kind since the pandemic hit and it serves as a reminder and an incentive to landlords to do their best to negotiate with tenants.”

“What we’ve been saying to all the restaurants is Have this conversation with your landlord. Work together to come through this because that’s the only real solution going forward,” Luz said. “The landlord has commitments as well.”

But restaurant owners say there’s still concern about reduced capacity.

“If we were at restricted capacity of say 50 percent capacity since then, does that mean that the restaurant is only responsible for 50 percent of the rent during the last 8 months since we’ve been reopened? And to me that’s an unresolved question,” said Luz.

Caffee Nero ultimately had to close for good on Newbury Street. Luz said many small buisness owners are just trying to hang on until the springtime when the weather warms up and more people are vaccinated.

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