A court battle that included allegations of teenagers riding Segways across Langley Airport runways and secret residential suites has ended in legal victor for the Township.
Justice Warren Milman ruled against Airside Event Spaces on Wednesday, dismissing the company’s attempt to overturn an eviction notice that pushed them out of Hangar 17 at the Langley Regional Airport at the end of August.
The court battle was the end of a long and increasingly acrimonious relationship between Airside’s owner and airport management.
Milman’s judgment summed up the history of the hangar’s lease.
Howard Nielsen and his wife developed an interest in flying, took lessons, and bought their own airplane in 2013. Nielsen, searching for a suitable place to store it, leased a hangar with two bays at the Langley Regional Airport, which is owned by the Township.
The lease was with Airside, a company owned by a trust Nielsen controls.
The 14-year lease included clauses that the tenant could not use the hangar for anything other than aircraft storage and repair, without written permission, and that subletting also required prior permission from the Township.
Alterations and additions to the hangar required proper permits and advance permission, and the Township had the right to inspect the hangar at any time during normal business hours.
All of those clauses would be violated, according to the Township.
By September of 2014, a group called Youth Unlimited was using the hangar for programming for at-risk teens and young adults. They would stay there until the Township cut off the lease at the end of this August.
“The Township received complaints that members of the youth group were using restricted areas of the airport, such as using Segways to cross active runways and other actively used flight areas,” the judgment notes.
Yet Milman also noted that the Township never served Airside with a written notice asking them to remove the youth group.
Nielsen and a manager for Youth Unlimited suggested their presence was tolerated by airport management for years, but current manager Carol Madill told the court via a deposition that there had been multiple conversations asking them to move out over the years.
Then there was the illegal residential suite, which had been installed in the hangar before Airside took over the lease.
Milman noted that Nielsen admits to allowing it to be used three times, including in 2014 and 2015 for a family of refugees, again from 2016 to 2018 for a family from his church, and in 2020 by a couple who were paying $1,000 a month in rent.
In 2018, then-airport manager Guy Miller sent an email to Nielsen making it clear residential tenants were not allowed, Milman wrote.
Finally, Airside rented out much of the hanger to the Langley Flying Club in June of 2020, again without getting permission from the Township.
Nielsen’s evidence was that the LFC was dealing with seeking permission for the sublease from the Township.
In June of 2020, the Township’s lawyers contacted Airside and served formal notice of a variety of breaches of the lease contract.
That led to a lengthy series of contentious emails between Nielsen and various Township lawyers and staff members.
Milman noted that Nielsen directed “vitriol” at airport manager Carol Madill in particular, ending emails with #carolmustgo!
“The unmistakable impression one gets from reading them, and from Airside’s course of conduct generally, is that Airside was disdainful of airport management and of the Township’s rights under the lease,” Milman wrote.
Airside’s lawyer argued that it was unjust to terminate the lease because of the crushing financial loss would be out of proportion to the breaches of the contract.
The lease was set to run until 2027, and Airside estimated it had poured more than $2 million into construction improvements, including a larger second hangar, on the site.
But Milman said that it is “problematic” for Airside’s case that some of those improvements were made without permission from the Township, another lease violation.
The judge also pointed to repeated refusals to allow Township staff to inspect the hangar over the summer of 2020.
“Finally, I also agree with the Township that the gravity of that misconduct was exacerbated considerably by the offensive content and tone of Mr. Nielsen’s communications in response to the Township’s legitimate efforts to enforce the lease,” Milman wrote.
He dismissed Airside’s petition to overturn the eviction and cancellation of the lease.