AUGUSTA — Roland Rideout’s belongings were stashed in bags Thursday in a laundromat basement, and he’d spent two nights sleeping on a cousin’s couch after being displaced from his apartment.
Some of the tenants from two Jefferson Street apartment buildings closed by the city this week have moved as far away as Rumford, to other buildings owned by the same landlord, Ray Corp., based in Lewiston.
Rideout, 69, has resisted leaving the Sand Hill neighborhood he knows and the city where he’s lived his whole life.
“I don’t want to go to Rumford, and I don’t want to go to Lewiston,” Rideout said. “This is my hometown.”
Rideout said he’s lived in several parts of Augusta. He worked in a variety of jobs, such as processing chicken and logging, but he said he had to stop working in 1990 after a tree struck him and broke his leg.
Ray Corp. owner Rob Ray agreed to pay for Rideout to stay at Motel 6 in Augusta at least on Thursday night, saving him from having to pay his cousin for another night on his couch. Rideout said that’s a fine temporary option, but he doesn’t know how long it will be available.
A message left at the Ray Corp. office on Thursday afternoon was not returned.
Augusta officials closed the buildings at 1 and 3 Jefferson St. on Wednesday after Ray Corp. failed to fix several code violations within 90 days of receiving a notice from the city. They were the eighth and ninth buildings in the last year to be closed by the city for code violations. Another Ray Corp. building, at 3 Washington St. Place, could be closed later this month.
Code enforcement officer Rob Overton said city officials try to ensure that no one will be left homeless after a residence is declared unfit for occupancy.
If a landlord can’t accommodate tenants elsewhere, the city will put them up in a hotel. Overton said the city did not have to do that as a result of closing the Jefferson Street buildings.
If a building has to be vacated for repairs to ensure its habitability, a court can require that the landlord offer reasonable alternative housing or pay a surcharge for the tenant’s housing costs.
The law doesn’t define what’s reasonable in terms of the location of the alternative housing or how long the landlord has to provide it, said Nancy Schiff-Slater, an attorney who represents low-income tenants for Pine Tree Legal Assistance. She said she doesn’t think moving someone from Augusta to Rumford is reasonable.
“The theory of relocating them is good,” she said, “but that distance, isolated from friends and family and their little community, I think that’s tough.”
Even so, Schiff-Slater said some landlords would not go as far as Ray has to house displaced tenants.
If a residence is condemned or deemed unfit for habitation, tenants first should talk to the landlord to try to arrange alternative housing, Schiff-Slater said. If that doesn’t work, Pine Tree Legal Assistance or the community’s general assistance program may be able to help.
Overton said city officials began notifying the 12 tenants of the Jefferson Street buildings on Monday that they would have to vacate their apartments by Wednesday.
They were all out by Tuesday night, including Rideout, who said he did not want to be the only one in his building that night, especially when some of the windows had been boarded up, making him feel confined.
When the city notified Ray of the code violations in May, they also told tenants. Overton said many of the people they talked to this week didn’t know anything about it because they had moved in since May, despite the city’s prohibition against Ray accepting tenants for units that were vacant before the problems were fixed.
Overton said city officials believe Ray had been operating the buildings as boarding houses, renting rooms short-term without leases.
Rideout said he moved into 3 Jefferson St. a year ago and that he did have a lease, which he has since lost.
“The building didn’t bother me because I needed somewhere to stay,” he said, “but it kept getting worse and worse and worse.”
Although the city’s main areas of concern are about access into and out of units in case of an emergency, Rideout said the building also had problems such as leaky ceilings and toilets that didn’t flush properly.
Even while he’s been displaced, Rideout has been spending his days at his usual hangout, Mary’s Place Laundry, which is across the street from the apartment building.
The women who own the laundromat, sisters Colleen Crowley and Eileen Crossman, have been trying to get help for him. Crowley said he knows everyone in the neighborhood and looks out for them.
“He watches over Eileen and I,” Crowley said. “Especially when it’s late and Eileen is working, it’s good to have him here.”
The sisters have been contacting various agencies and managed to connect Rideout with an attorney at Legal Services for the Elderly. All he wants, Crowley said, is another inexpensive apartment on Sand Hill.
Susan McMillan — 621-5645