March 12, 2010

Apartments empty as talks continue

TREVOR MAXWELL

— By

click image to enlarge

John Patriquin/ Staff Photographer: Monday ,January, 12, 2009. Friend Andrey Royer helps move one of Joe Soley's tenants Alexis Waycotte and her belongings from her apartment she was evicted from and owned by Soley. They are seen here at #7 Fox Court which is the back entrance to Soley's building.

Staff Writer

Only two of 24 apartments remained occupied Monday night in Joseph Soley's building at 10 Exchange St., the Old Port property deemed unsafe by Portland officials because of safety code violations.

Ryan Fish, 24, and Alexis Waycotte, 18, continued to negotiate with Soley. The tenants face a new deadline of Wednesday to leave the building.

All of the residential tenants were supposed to be out by Monday morning, but an attorney for Fish and Waycotte was granted an extension as she seeks moving assistance for her clients.

Those negotiations are the latest turns in a long dispute between Soley and city officials over code violations at the property, which is also known as 7 Fox Court. Last week, the city ordered all of the tenants out of the building because of a lack of functional sprinkler and fire alarm systems.

The dozen or so businesses on the first two floors of the building also feared eviction, but it now appears they will be able to keep operating there while Soley makes improvements.

Katherine McGovern of Pine Tree Legal Assistance said Fish and Waycotte each wants one of two things: financial assistance to rent an apartment elsewhere, or an immediate placement in another of Soley's apartment buildings in Portland.

''Those are the two things that would keep them from being homeless,'' McGovern said.

She said negotiations with Soley will likely continue today and she's hopeful that deals will be reached before Wednesday's deadline.

Sidney Thaxter, an attorney representing Soley, also was optimistic Monday.

He said the landlord continues to work to provide housing for the tenants who need help. Thaxter said Soley has received cards of thanks from displaced tenants who have gotten assistance.

If the two remaining tenants cannot reach an agreement with Soley, city officials are prepared to request a court order to evict them.

''That is something we would like to avoid at all costs,'' said Portland's city attorney, Gary Wood.

Most of the residential tenants at 10 Exchange St. moved out last week or during the weekend, after a series of notices from the city. On Jan. 5, city workers slipped notices under doors and placed stickers throughout the building, saying residents had to move out or face eviction.

The city first notified Soley that the building did not meet standards in October 2007. Fire Chief Fred Lamontagne said last week that Soley, who has a long history of legal disputes with the city over the maintenance of his properties, agreed to make the improvements but did not follow through.

Wood, McGovern, Thaxter and other lawyers who are involved in the situation met privately Monday morning with Judge Peter Goranites in Portland District Court.

Goranites then presided over a brief hearing in open court.

Wood said he and Soley's attorneys agreed on the terms of a preliminary injunction that will bar anyone from living in the apartments on the third and fourth floors of 10 Exchange St. Under the agreement, former tenants will have until Feb. 9 to remove their belongings. Padlocks will be placed on the apartment doors; city officials and former tenants will be given keys, to be used only for the removal of belongings.

Wood and Thaxter remained confident on Monday that upcoming improvements to the building's sprinkler and fire-alarm systems will not require any businesses to move.

Thaxter has told city officials that Soley will make all necessary improvements to the commercial space. Soley will have to decide whether to keep the residential floors vacant or bring them up to code.

Fish, one of the two remaining tenants, said the ordeal has been frustrating. He has no savings and no one to move in with in case of an emergency. Since the eviction order arrived last week, Fish has faced the prospect of living on the streets with his dog, an Akita.

On Monday, Fish tentatively accepted an offer from Soley to move into another apartment owned by the landlord, directly across Exchange Street. But after seeing the apartment later on Monday, Fish asked McGovern to continue negotiating with Soley's legal team.

''They are playing ball and they are being reasonable,'' Fish said Monday evening. ''I'm hoping things are going to work out.''

Staff Writer Trevor Maxwell can be contacted at 791-6451 or at:

tmaxwell@pressherald.com

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