LEWISTON — Most problems behind tenant complaints at Birch Hill Apartments are the result of normal operations, according to representatives from Coastal Enterprises Inc., the building’s owners.

Tenants began meeting in August, complaining of ongoing problems in the building, including cracks appearing in walls, shifting doors and hallway floors, and especially, cold bathrooms.

John Egan, director of housing development for CEI,  said he and construction analyst Tom Donahue toured the building Monday with a team of architects, engineers and city officials to investigate tenant complaints.

“Indeed, we had a couple of glitches in design results, not necessarily malfunctioning or errors or problems,” Egan said. “These were the unintended consequences of the designs.”

The $4.48 million building opened in February 2010 at Birch and Bates streets. The 20-unit building is one of several new elderly housing projects built or being built in downtown Lewiston. 

The project was funded by money from state and federal housing credits, loans from MaineHousing and the city of Lewiston, and a city tax-increment financing district.

Donahue said Thursday that he, CEI and city officials stand behind the building’s quality and construction.

“This is not the first time we’ve been to the building,” he said. “We’ve been out at least five times investigating complaints. They have the complaints they have and we want the residents to be comfortable in their homes. We have every intention of making any necessary repairs.”

Some of the complaints stem from the building shifting and settling. Donahue said cracks in the walls and bubbles in the floor are the result of lumber shrinkage — the tendency of hardwood in new buildings to condense soon after construction.

Those cracks and ridges will be repaired this spring, he said.

But Donahue said some complaints, such as electrical power outlets that are difficult for arthritic hands to use, can’t be fixed. Those outlets were installed according to national housing codes, he said.

“The new, modern outlets that we were required to put in the building require extra effort, which would put your thumb behind the push piece,” Egan said “That’s all it is. It’s not a childproof outlet.”

As to unheated bathrooms in a number of units, Egan said the company is considering installing infrared heating lamps. Tenants complained that ventilation fans are too powerful, especially in the unheated bathrooms. The fans, designed to run for a minimum of 20 minutes after the bathroom lights are turned off, suck out all of the heat, according to tenants.

“We are continuing to talk about alternatives, but there is not a way for us to mitigate the fans,” Egan said. “As long as people in those bathrooms are showering, we need good ventilation. We have to have the fans because if we didn’t, the bathrooms would have a mildew problem.”

But Donahue said the company is rethinking the decision not to have heat in all of the bathrooms.

“It doesn’t  mean that the building is not heated properly,” Donahue said. “But when a neighbor has a heating element in their bathroom and you don’t, its not good. It doesn’t look good.”

Both said they had met with tenants on a number of occasions and most have had few or no complaints.

Shanna Rogers of the Neighborhood Housing League said that at least half of the tenants have attended meetings with her at one time or another to voice concerns.

“But some of them don’t want to come forward publicly,” she said.

Rogers said most of Egan’s and Donahue’s plans sounded fair.

“The biggest problem they have is a lack of communication with their tenants,” she said. “If you are open to changes and you are looking at options, just expressing that would be a good step forward with these tenants.”

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