August 24, 2013

Landlord, tenants criticize rapid Augusta evictions

Residents had just a few hours to vacate an apartment building that the city had declared unsafe.

By KEITH EDWARDS Kennebec Journal

AUGUSTA – Nine residents of a Laurel Street apartment building had to find new places to live Friday with just a few hours' notice when the city deemed the building unsafe and ordered them out.

click image to enlarge

William Thorp puts his hand to his head while discussing having to move on short notice Friday, August 23, 2013 at 9 Laurel St. in Augusta.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

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City officials told residents to quickly move out from 9 Laurel St. in Augusta on Friday, August 23, 2013.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

Additional Photos Below

As they were packing up their belongings, tenants said they all had found other housing, many in other units owned by their landlord, Larry Fleury, owner of River City Realty.

Tenants of the 12-unit building at 9 Laurel St. said it was stressful and unfair to be told Friday morning that they had to be out by 3 that afternoon, through no fault of their own.

"I'm a disabled veteran," said tenant and Army veteran William Thorp, who planned to stay with friends who helped him pack his belongings onto a trailer on a hot Friday afternoon. "I'm stressed. The way they're doing this isn't right. You should at least have 24 or 48 hours' notice. Not 'By 3 o'clock, you've got to be out.' "

Code Enforcement Officer Robert Overton said the building was deemed unfit for occupancy because it was found to have "significant Life Safety Code deficiencies and some structural problems with the exterior porches and stairs."

He said the city rarely takes the step of immediately ordering tenants out, but had to take action in this case because the conditions and code issues at the building made it unsafe for tenants. Overton said it was also unsafe for any police or firefighters who might have to respond to an emergency in the large building at the corner of Laurel Street and Morton Place.

The building's defects include the lack of a central fire alarm system, inadequate ways to exit some apartments, and structural concerns about porches and stairs.

"There was no one item that led us to the point we felt it was necessary to vacate the building. It was more the cumulative effect of many items," Overton said. "We didn't feel there was any amount of time tenants would be safe staying there while repairs are made. It's for the safety of the tenants and any first responders who may need to come in there."

Building owner Larry Fleury said he'd had substantial improvements made to the building in the last week. He said porches and stairs there may not be new but are structurally sound.

Fleury said the city is being heavy-handed by declaring the building unfit for occupancy.

"I have great tenants there. I'm so sorry to disappoint these people," Fleury said. "I think (officials) could have given me an opportunity to work with them, rather than put nine people out of housing. There was a substantial amount of work that took place this week. Maybe it's not perfectly the way they want it. It's not brand new, but you can jump up and down on the porch and stairs. It's probably more structurally sound than it was 20 years ago. This was very heavy-handed."

Peter Coltart, who lived in his apartment at 9 Laurel St. for two years, said he was moving to a Cedar Street building also owned by Fleury, who he said has treated him well.

He said tenants were given 24 hours' notice that the building was going to be inspected, but none of them thought they'd have to move out Friday.

"It's surreal. I didn't wake up this morning thinking I'd have to move out," he said. "We're pretty close here. We're friends."

Don Ladson, who has lived in the building for about nine months, said he was moving to another Fleury-owned building, on Gage Street. He said he didn't see why the entire building had to be closed, and he said there were no safety concerns in his apartment. He didn't want to leave Laurel Street, and he hates moving.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

Eric Smith loads up a trailer, as he helps his friend William Throp who had to move on short notice.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

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Peter Coltart carries bags of belonging towards a taxi as he moves out of 9 Laurel St. in Augusta on Friday August 23, 2013.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

 


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