Report: Starbucks sued for late rent

SEATTLE Starbucks Corp. has been targeted in lawsuits by landlords who claim the coffeehouse giant owes them money in connection with either leases the chain has backed away from or leases at shuttered units, the Wall Street Journal reported Monday.

Earlier this year, Starbucks said it would close more than 600 under-performing locations and reduce future growth plans — moves that typically can be followed by lease discrepancies and legal wrangling.

According to the Journal, at least seven lawsuits have been filed against Starbucks since last year, with some landlords alleging that the Seattle-based company is paying rent late or closing stores before the specified dates.

Starbucks officials denied the allegations and said the company, in general, is in compliance with lease obligations. It also said it is not aware of any locations that are behind on rent payments. Starbucks also floated the possibilities that certain landlords may not have upheld their responsibilities, or that Starbucks was acting within its rights under lease negotiations.

In July, Starbucks said it planned to spend $120 million to $140 million by next year on lease terminations, though the company has not yet disclosed how many leases it had signed for locations it no longer plans to open.

Landlords say they are reluctant to let Starbucks out of leases because the coffeehouses usually garner high rent and their spaces are customized, but also because the economy has dampened the commercial real-estate market, making replacement tenants hard to find.