LEWISTON — The Maine People’s Alliance has called out three of the city’s biggest landlords with a rally and a 19-page survey, attacking the owners for operating slums.
“Fires, foreclosures and neglect have caused this area to be littered with abandoned and condemned properties,” Gen Lysen, lead organizer for the alliance, said. “The actions of this small group of callous slumlords has dragged this city down. This is an issue that affects all of us, all residents of Lewiston and not just those forced to live in deplorable conditions like the building behind us.”
A group of about 10 gathered on the steps of 32 Horton St. on Tuesday morning to allege unsafe and unhealthy living conditions in that three-story building and 70 more around downtown.
Two of the landlords targeted by MPA denied the group’s accusations, saying that tenants who are complaining either have not let them in to make repairs or are retaliating because they were evicted.
32 Horton St. is one of several owned by landlord Rick Lockwood’s Investment Properties LLC, and first-floor tenant Shawn Greeley said the building was unsafe from the moment he moved in.
“A month after I moved in, I asked Lockwood to make repairs and I never heard back from him,” Greeley said. “I contacted him several times and he would not answer me back. And that’s just wrong.”
MPA had similar complaints about buildings owned by Joe Dunne and downtown mortgage holder Ted West. Combined, Lockwood, Dunne and West own 71 residential properties downtown with a total value of more than $10 million.
Lysen said the alliance surveyed tenants of those buildings.
“Sixty-two percent of residents surveyed who live in the properties in question reported ongoing problems with pests, plumbing and safety issues,” she said.
Organizers alleged code violations, including broken fire alarms, lead paint, mold, bedbugs and fleas. Tenants who complained were retaliated against, she said, and had their electricity turned off, Lysen alleges.
Greeley, Lockwood’s Horton Street tenant, said his landlord threatened to kill him for not paying.
“I was walking back from the courthouse and he saw me and he said ‘Do you have any money I can borrow?'” Greeley said. “I said, ‘No, I don’t have any money for you. Are you going to fix my place?’ And he said, ‘Get out of there or I’m going to kill you.'”
But Kyle Ramsey, the property manager for Investment Properties LLC, disputed that. Ramsey said he and maintenance manager Diego Martinez had tried to get access to Greeley’s apartment on numerous occasions to make requested repairs, but were barred from entering.
“We can’t make the repairs if the tenant won’t let us in,” Ramsey said.
He and Martinez stood across the street from the building during Tuesday’s rally, watching speakers and then expressed shock when Greeley and MPA invited media in for a tour.
“He’ll let TV cameras in, but he won’t let us in,” he said. “We’d fix it, all of it, if he’d just let us in.”
Tenant Elida Jones said she had a similar tale about her experiences with Dunne and his 40 Blake St. building.
“I have experienced one problem after another,” she said. “When I moved in, it was disgusting. It was damaged. There were human feces in the bathroom, in the closet and on the floors, and the floors were falling apart. I gave Joe a multitude of work, and he didn’t do anything. The only thing he did was paint the walls.”
Dunne, contacted by phone after the rally, told a different story. He said he evicted Jones after she tore up her unit’s carpeting, replacing it with linoleum. She had also stopped paying rent, bringing in receipts for work that she had done herself, without Dunne’s approval.
He said he’s known Jones for years and had worked with her before.
“I don’t know what they are talking about,” Dunne said. “Elida Jones, I can’t imagine this with all the things I’ve done for that woman in my life. Is she mad that I kicked her out? Of course she is. But if she wasn’t making problems for me, I would not have kicked her out.”
Dunne said he’s not a slumlord, but works hard with tenants who work with him.
“I can make 50 phone calls and get 50 people at my office who’d tell you a very different story,” Dunne said. “I guarantee that anyone that says we don’t do maintenance are ones we’ve kicked out for one reason or another.”