The city of Lewiston has sued landlords and real estate companies more than 100 times in the past 10 years to force them to repair buildings where people were living. The map below shows all the properties where the city — a population of 36,000 — resorted to the courts to force changes and includes information about who was sued.
For comparison, Bangor, with a population of 32,000, has filed 11 lawsuits against landlords since 2009, according to Assistant City Solicitor Paul Nicklas.
A lawsuit is not automatically triggered when someone calls the code enforcement office to complain about the conditions of their apartment building. Rather, it’s after Lewiston asks landlords to improve their property, and they do not — usually over a period of many months — that the city may turn to the court to force changes.
The prosecution of land-use violations is for the “truly difficult enforcement issues and the truly uncooperative violators,” according to the state training manual for code enforcement officers.
This map represents the first known collection of those most difficult cases in Lewiston and shows that a handful of people have been responsible for the bulk of deteriorating buildings.
The buildings with the landlords least likely to make repairs were located in the city’s Tree Streets neighborhood. The highest concentration of poor-quality housing on a single road was on Bartlett Street, with the conditions of 10 buildings prompting legal action in the past eight years, some of them more than once, all within 2/10 of a mile.
Five properties on that street were owned by companies controlled by the same woman, Debra Sullivan, when the city went to court to force repairs. Over the past decade, Sullivan’s companies have owned the single greatest number of properties — 22 — that have been the subject of lawsuits in Lewiston.
Four other buildings on Bartlett Street that were subject to lawsuits were owned by companies controlled by Rick Lockwood. A total of nine of his buildings in Lewiston were the subject of lawsuits since 2009.
Scott Lalumiere has also seen Lewiston pursue civil action against nine buildings owned by his companies, on Elm, Pine, Prescott, Summer and Jefferson streets.
Pine Street appears to have the second worst concentration of properties that were the subject of lawsuits for violating health and safety standards. Ten buildings spread out over 3/10 of a mile were the subject of legal action to bring them up to code. Three of them are owned by companies controlled by Edward Riekstins. Three others on Pine Street are controlled together by Kevin Fletcher and Yassin Moussa.
The Bangor Daily News created the map by first requesting from the Maine Judicial Branch the docket sheet — which had defendant names, dates and other information — for each land-use violation action in Lewiston since 2009, which the Androscoggin Superior and District courts presented in the form of more than 1,000 pages of paper.
The BDN then looked through the Androscoggin County Registry of Deeds online for court complaints, which had more details about each case, such as the penalty the court was threatening if landlords did not fix their properties. The BDN also reviewed deeds to confirm addresses.
In most cases, the property was not owned by an individual but a corporation. In those instances, the BDN searched court records to find someone who either signed for the company or was mentioned in the filings as having a role in the company. That person could have been the CEO, an attorney or a manager.
In some cases, the owners being sued decided to sell their property, making the new owner responsible for repairs. When it was clear this was happening, the BDN included both seller and buyer on the map.
The BDN did not include cases on the map that were dismissed. It also did not usually include information about whether landlords ultimately fixed the properties or paid penalties, since it was rarely available in court records.
Some court records are not linked to from the map because they were not available online, just in hard copy at district court.
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