Portland landlord faces 2nd lawsuit over fire deaths

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PORTLAND — While clearing a nearby building of tenants, landlord Gregory Nisbet is facing a second wrongful-death lawsuit from a Nov. 1, 2014, fire at the building he owns at 20-24 Noyes St.

On Jan. 8, Nisbet and 10 tenants of the duplex he owns at 188 Dartmouth St. reached an agreement in the Maine Unified Criminal Court requiring the residents to move by Feb. 15.

“I don’t like it,” Stephen Soldan said Jan. 9 about agreeing to move out of 188 Dartmouth St. “We all agreed it gave us more time. We took what we could get.”

The agreement continues an eviction complaint filed by Nisbet Dec. 17, 2014, to Feb. 19, attorney Katie McGovern of Pine Tree Legal Assistance said. McGovern represented seven of 10 renters in the building. Had a judge ruled in favor of the eviction order, the tenants would have had nine days to leave.

Soldan said the eviction order was in retaliation for complaints he and other tenants filed with the city, which led to a Dec. 15 inspection of the building by Fire Department Capt. David Petrucelli and Code Enforcement Officer Chuck Fagone.

David Chamberlain, who represents Nisbet in the eviction matter, said Tuesday the tenants created the conditions leading to the violations and the agreement allows Nisbet to get them out more quickly instead of facing a court appeal that could last six or eight months.

“It was so not retaliatory, it was ‘thank you for reporting this to the city so I know what is going on here,’” he said.

Nisbet’s complaint claimed tenants changed front-door locks, clogged a toilet that overflowed and caused electrical damage in the first floor, allowed unauthorized people to move in, ran extension cords through hallways, and failed to refill the oil for the furnace, which led to illegal use of space heaters.

Soldan said Nisbet was informed of the problems, including plumbing issues, at least six weeks before the city inspection that led to a notice of violation requiring repairs within 32 days or an action plan specifying when repairs would be addressed.

Chamberlain said none of the tenants signed leases, and the home has never been operated as a boarding house.

“It is a duplex operated as a three-story apartment,”  he said.

Two days before the Dartmouth Street agreement, Nikki J. and Louis Thomas Jr., the parents of Ashley Thompson, who died from smoke inhalation in a third-floor bedroom at 20-24 Noyes St., filed a $2 million wrongful death suit against Nisbet in Cumberland County Superior Court.

The complaint filed bases the minimum of damages on projected future earnings by Thomas, who was pursuing a career as a wedding photographer. Her family also seeks $25,000 in damages for lost personal effects, and computers and equipment used in the photography business.

Thomas shared a third-floor apartment with Nikki Finlay, who also died in the fire. The Thomas’ complaint suggests the apartment violated Chapter 10 of the city code because it lacked two clear exits to the outside.

The question of the illegal use was brought to the attention of city inspectors in August 2012. Thomas moved to the building in April or May 2014, according to court records.

The lawsuit notes Nisbet has $300,000 of insurance on the building and seeks attachment of his other assets, including his partnership in South Portland-based Downeast Realty Partners.

Superior Court Justice Joyce Wheeler ordered Nisbet’s assets frozen as part of a wrongful death suit filed by Ashley Summers on Nov. 21, 2014. Summers is the widow of fire victim Steven Summers, and is seeking at least $1.6 million in damages.

The suit filed by the Thomases makes similar allegations, including negligence due to a blocked second-floor stairway and the lack of a working fire alarm system in the house, despite “numerous” complaints to Nisbet.

The fire also killed tenant David Bragdon, and visitors Maelisha Jackson and Christopher Conlee.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.