A court has awarded a temporary restraining order to tenants who were threatened with eviction on short notice from this apartment building at 33 Stone St. in Augusta.

A court has awarded a temporary restraining order to tenants at an Augusta apartment building who were threatened recently with eviction on short notice.

In response, one of the building’s owners said he will not seek to kick them out and is seeking additional tenants. He, however, said he and his business partners are still planning to sell the building at 33 Stone St.

With the assistance of a Pine Tree Legal lawyer, tenants secured a temporary restraining order March 20 barring the owner of their building from preventing them for getting into their apartments and evicting them without following proper procedures.

Two weeks ago, some of the tenants were told they had to be out within seven days, and some had the electronic access keys they use to get into the building deactivated, forcing them to climb through windows to get into the building.

Since the court order was granted, no one has had any problem getting into his or her apartment.

“We’re allowed to stay until May. They can’t kick anybody out” said tenant Wendy Bradford, who lives in the building with her boyfriend, James Kennedy.

Meanwhile, Scott Durepo, a co-owner of the building, said Monday his partners in the building made a mistake by telling tenants they had to leave and he was working to salvage the situation.

He said current tenants, who number between 10 and 15, will not be evicted, at least not unless the proper eviction rules are followed.

No evictions would be able to take place until at least May, because the Maine court system is closed to all but a few legal proceedings due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Durepo said while his partners made a mistake when they sought to evict tenants with only several days’ notice, they may have been acting on information from the city that the building is a hotel or motel, not an apartment building and boarding house.

“Obviously there was a mistake,” Durepo said. “Since then, I’ve been at the building, Monday to Friday, trying to manage the building and salvage the situation.

“When my partners told tenants they were shutting the building down, we lost 10 to 15 tenants so, needless to say, that makes it very challenging to make the mortgage. And we’ve had some issues with some of the tenants. I’m doing everything I can to make sure I turn the building around as quickly as I can.”

Durepo said he was looking to hire a property management firm to help attract new tenants, while also putting the building up for sale with a real estate agent.

The restraining order was obtained when two tenants of the building, with assistance from Nancy Schiff-Slater of Pine Tree Legal Services, which provides legal assistance to low-income Mainers, sued JEDI LLC, the entity listed as the building’s owner.

The lawsuit claimed it was an illegal eviction and unfair trade practices, and sought a temporary restraining order so tenants could remain at their apartments.

The court ruled that if the sudden evictions were not blocked, the tenants could suffer immediate and irreparable injury, especially because the evictions could have left tenants homeless during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“While the plaintiffs may be able to later recover some damages in connection with the illegal eviction,” the court order reads, “it is impossible to monetize the harm they will suffer from losing their home and being forced to reside in a homeless shelter, particularly in light of the pandemic virus sweeping the country.”

Durepo said he is unlikely to contest the temporary restraining order, although he said it made some false claims. He said he was working with Pine Tree Legal to try to resolve the lawsuit.

Julie Howarth, one of the tenants who sued and who lives in the building with her husband and 6-year-old son, said Monday that Durepo told them he wanted them gone. So while they know they can stay until at least May, she said they are looking for a new place to live.

Howarth said she believed she and her family were told they will be evicted because she reported the activities of the owners and filed the lawsuit to stop the evictions.

Howarth acknowledged she and her family are behind on their rent, which is $350 a week, and said they are trying to save money to find a new place.

Howarth, who works at the Big Apple, said she was still working, but her husband’s hours have been cut back due to the coronavirus.

“Currently, we’re looking for a new place, but it’s been tough with the coronavirus going on,” she said. “I don’t see much out there even listed right now.”

Howarth said two people she believes are Durepo’s partners in the building came to the property Sunday and removed the coin-operated washers and dryers from the building’s laundry room, although a washer and dryer have been installed in their place since.

Durepo said a few tenants are behind on their rent and others have damaged the building. He said problem tenants will be evicted following the prescribed process, but he said that probably will not happen until after the courts reopen fully.

Rob Overton, the city’s director of code enforcement, said he had not received additional complaints from tenants since the temporary restraining order was granted.

He said he had been informed Durepo will be overseeing operations at the building. Overton also said the city staff never considered the building a motel or hotel, and it was not licensed for either of those functions.

Overton said any evictions taking place during the coronavirus pandemic are problematic for both tenants and agencies that help them.

He said the city has been receiving calls from concerned tenants who are falling behind on their rent because they are out of work due to the COVID-19 scare.

Overton said he typically advises them to work with their landlords, who hopefully will understand their circumstances.


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