LEWISTON — Ed Langen wasn’t the first of the Birch Hill Apartments’ elderly tenants to be left cold by his bathroom.

“There is no heat in the bathroom,” the 70-year-old said. “If you let it sit with the door open and let it get warm, that’s OK.”

The problem comes when you turn on the light in the bathroom. The bathroom’s overhead light switch and the fan are one and the same. Turn on the light for a second, and the fan comes on — and stays on, for a minimum of 20 minutes.

“When the fan comes on, it sucks the heat right out of the bathroom,” Langen said. You might just as well shower outside, he said.

It’s a common complaint among the building’s first- and second-floor tenants, said Shanna Rogers of the Neighborhood Housing League. She’s been meeting with tenants monthly since July, trying to get the bathroom fan problems — and many others — addressed by building management.

Some tenants have responded by showering in the dark, others by hurriedly showering, drying and changing clothes in the shower stall, before it cools down.

“No matter what, it’s a dangerous thing for the elderly,” Rogers said.

Langen responded by putting a space heater in the bathroom and plugging small lamps into the bathroom’s outlets.

“I’d rather just go fix the problem, rather than stand around and complain about it,” he said.

The fan is a small problem,  he said — more of an annoyance, really. A bigger concern is cracks forming in his walls and doors that don’t latch or won’t shut. He says he has told the building’s management about the problems regularly since July.

“This is a brand-new building, and I believe there’s a contractor’s warranty,” Langen said. “If they get on the ball, they should be able to get it fixed and paid by the contractor. But they need to address it. Instead, they just ignore us and nothing gets done.”

The $4.48 million project opened in February 2010 with plenty of ceremony. Gov. John Baldacci, Mayor Larry Gilbert and bank and development officials were all on hand to cut the ribbon on the new building, paid for with state and federal housing credits and the city of Lewiston, which created a tax-increment financing district for the project.

It’s a 20-unit building on the corner of Birch and Bates streets, one of several housing projects geared toward the elderly that have been built or are being planned. It promised safety, convenience and a nice elevator when it first opened, Langen said — and it still does.

“It’s a great building and I like it a lot,” he said. “I’ve never lived in a new building before, and it is very nice. It just has some things that need to be fixed.”

Langen was one of the first tenants to move into Birch Hill Apartments a year ago. He moved in before the grand opening and was in the front as the officials cut the ribbon.

It was billed as elder housing from the beginning, but Langen’s not so sure. First, there’s the light switch in the bathroom. It’s a rubberized push-button that’s tough for arthritic hands to operate.

“And then, all of the light plugs are child-proof,” he said. “You have to really twist them to plug something in there, and that’s hard to do when you have arthritis.”

Langen said he wasn’t too worried when he noticed the first cracks in his wall last summer.

“That’s what happens with new buildings,” he said. “They settle. I understand that.”

He wasn’t bothered, either, by the kitchen cupboard doors that wouldn’t close, or the cracks that formed in the living room, or back in his bedroom. And when the wall holding his bedroom door shifted, making it so he could no longer close it, he offered to fix it himself.

“I told the manager that all I needed was some hinge shims, to level out the hinges,” Langen said. “I said if he’d get them, I’d do the work.”

But he hasn’t heard back and the door still hangs funny. 

It’s getting worse. A small ridge popped up in the floor last week, right in front of the bedroom door and below that first crack in the wall.

“I assume that the floor has shifted,” he said. “So, after I noticed the crack, I don’t think shimming the hinge would make a difference anymore.”

Second-floor resident Kevin Lavoie pointed to a noticeable dip in the hallway, near a neighbor’s front door.

“When you see one of those electric power chairs go over that, you can see it dip in the floor,” Lavoie said. “The floor moves down, and the floor in her apartment goes up. It’s like a lever, and it worries me.”

Lavoie, 41, has the same problems with the bathroom fan and cracks in his wall that Langen does. He also has an eighth-of-an-inch gap between his living room window and the wall.

“That’s ridiculous,” he said. “When the wind’s blowing, you feel it. And it’s been like that since day one.”

Rogers said the tenants’ group was formed last summer to represent residents throughout Lewiston’s downtown. The group meets one Tuesday each month, but Birch Hill residents began looking for some additional help.

“Maybe it was poorly designed to begin with; maybe it just needs special maintenance,” Rogers said. “It ends up being a whole bunch of little things. But the big problem is that they are not communicating with the tenants. And that’s what we’re trying to get at.”

Tom Maxfield, operations manager for Preservation Management Inc. in New England, said he was not specifically aware of the tenants’ complaints.

“Any maintenance item that is brought to our attention is addressed very quickly,” he said. “They need to tell us, and unless they do, we will never know.”

Maxfield said the building has had three managers since it opened, including one temporary manager. Some problems are bound to happen in a new building, but Maxfield said the company is committed to fixing all problems.

“We have a very talented and experienced maintenance technician, a very professional site manager and they work for a tremendous supervisor,” he said. “If there are issues that need to be addressed, I assure you they will be.”

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