Evictions prompt Portland to look at landlord's other buildings
PORTLAND — Homecoming could be weeks away for residents of 193 Congress St., who were evicted Aug. 5 after city inspectors discovered code violations in renovation work.
Although work began in early July, the city did not receive an application for the electrical permit until July 28, according to its records. City officials on Monday were checking for unpermitted work or violations in other buildings purchased recently by the same owner.
"Everybody is very anxious to get back in there, and looking forward to working with city and getting the permit done,” attorney Nate Huckel-Bauer said Monday on behalf of Brandon Cooper, a Bates College graduate who is a principal in the building owner, a limited liability company called I-95 Portland Portfolio I.
The company was incorporated in Maine on June 5, with Huckel-Bauer as its legal agent.
The tenants found themselves suddenly evicted after inspector Brian LaFlamme ordered power shut off because plaster had been removed and wires left exposed and dangling in hallways and apartments.
City Hall spokeswoman Jessica Grondin said Tuesday the city is working with nine of 12 tenants who were living in the building.
"Housing staff are providing assistance with locating new apartments and coordinating services with other housing subsidy program providers," Grondin said in an email.
Grondin said five tenants are staying at the Oxford Street shelter "on either a nightly or sporadic basis." Five tenants were receiving Maine State Housing Authority subsidies and city staff and the agency are looking for new apartments for them.
On Aug. 8, two tenants who requested anonymity said they spent Aug. 5 at the Oxford Street Shelter, less than two months after leaving the shelter for their new apartment.
They stood on the sidewalk just after noon, their possessions piled on a shopping cart, and said they would now be able to stay with friends living just down the street, although it might mean sleeping on the floor.
Huckel-Bauer said the repairs to comply with electrical codes can be completed quickly, it is just a question of how soon the city will issue a building permit to get the work done.
The city website shows the building permit is being sought to install new drywall, insulation, and a drywall grid ceiling. The application was received Aug. 7. On Monday, Grondin said the Fire Department needed additional information before the permit process can move forward.
The three-story brick building, built in 1900, sits between Sheridan Street and Washington Avenue.
Tenants said electrical work by Old Orchard Beach-based East Coast Electric of Maine began days after the building was sold to Cooper and his LLC. Cooper is also a partner in Maroon Peak Partners, an Aliso Viejo, California, real estate investment firm.
Grondin confirmed their accounts.
"The contractor told us that they had just removed it as they began their work," she said.
According to its website, Maroon Peak was founded in 2012, has an office in San Francisco, and specializes in "value-added assets in secondary and tertiary markets anchored by a well-established and growing university or college."
Maroon Peak has about 300 units worth an estimated $19 million, including two housing communities in Albuquerque, New Mexico. On July 1, I-95 Portland Portfolio made a $5.6 million leap into the city peninsula real estate market, buying buildings at 193 and 229 Congress St., 43 Chestnut St., and 28 High St.
According to listings compiled by CBRE Boulos, the buildings have 56 apartments. The 229 Congress St. building extends around the corner to include five Montgomery Street addresses, and has commercial space on the first floor facing Congress Street.
Cooper hired city-based Dirigo Management to oversee 193 Congress St., but Huckel-Bauer said I-95 Portland Portfolio was responsible for hiring the contractor who removed plaster and left wires and connections exposed.
"He was engaged by one of the principals of I-95," the attorney said. "He was a little overzealous."
The violations were not discovered by the city until the Portland Fire Department responded to an activated fire alarm on Aug. 5.
According to the report compiled by Inspections Divisions Director Tammy Munson, "Arriving companies found common area hallways and stairs on all three floors under extensive renovation. Electrical wires were obstructing egress in the hallways and from the units. Pull station, notification and detection devices for the fire alarm system were removed from the walls and ceiling in the hallways and laying on the floor."
Grondin said some residents may be eligible for city assistance because of the evictions.