Banquet Hall Leaves Couples Scrambling

Jose Rivera and Maria Pappa’s love story started almost two years ago.  They’ll tell you they were a perfect match from the start.  At first, he lived in Albany and she in the Hartford area.  After a few months Jose moved to Connecticut and, after a year of dating, they were engaged.
It wasn’t long before they had their wedding plans lined up; the music, the photographer, and the venue.  They chose La Renaissance in East Windsor.  They liked the venue and the deal they were offered.  After putting down a $2,000 deposit, Jose and Maria were booked for July 12, 2013.
“It was pretty quick,” said Jose Rivera.
“We thought it was like really easy.  We found out it was a little too easy,” said Maria Pappa.
On January 19, 2013, the couple handed over their second required deposit of $2,000.  They thought they were on course for their dream wedding, until they received a phone call in early February that derailed their plans.
“We get a call from Maria’s mom saying that a friend of hers saw an ad in the paper that said La Renaissance is in foreclosure and that it would be auctioned off on the 9th,” said Jose.
Court documents obtained by the NBC Connecticut Troubleshooters show foreclosure proceedings with La Renaissance began back in June of 2012.  A sale by auction was scheduled for February 9th, but because of the massive blizzard it had to be postponed.  The Troubleshooters have learned a new date has been set for April 27th.
Meanwhile, Rivera and Pappa tell NBC Connecticut that they had no idea the venue for their wedding was in foreclosure.  After learning the business was in trouble, they went to one of the owners, Atulkumar Vachhani, to ask for their $4,000 deposit back.  The couple says Vachhani refused to refund their money.
“I told him the only way I feel comfortable is if you can give me something in writing guaranteeing that if you can’t have our event, that we can have our money back,” said Jose.  “He wasn’t willing to do that. He said he’d have to speak with his attorney and he’d get back to us, which he never did.”
NBC Connecticut reached out to Vachhani by phone and in person.  He declined to speak with us.  We were later referred to his attorney, who has not yet returned our calls.  We wanted to ask Vachhani why they would accept deposits for events after the foreclosure process was started, including one deposit that was made when La Renaissance was just days away from being sold at auction.
“That’s unfair and that’s deceptive, and there are consumer protection laws to protect against that type of thing,” said consumer attorney Daniel Blinn.
But getting their money back may not be that simple. 
“They can sue them in small claims court or in regular court,” said Blinn, “but the problem – is that company going to be around to pay the judgment afterwards?”
The Attorney General’s office tells NBC Connecticut they have two similar claims against La Renaissance and they are investigating.  The Department of Consumer Protection is also looking into the matter. 
Jose and Maria are looking at new venues, and it appears they may not be alone.
”A couple of places, when we’ve mentioned the name, have actually cringed and told us that they had a couple other brides in the same situation,” said Pappa.
With the new search for the perfect venue, Jose and Maria say their questions aren’t just about the food and ambiance.
“What their credit is like?  Are they in foreclosure?” said Maria.  “We feel weird doing it, but I’d rather feel awkward and be able to have my wedding than get screwed.” 
“We don’t want to make the same mistake twice,” said Joe.

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