Mass eviction in West Lebanon puts tenants in tough spot, worries city officials

By NORA DOYLE-BURR

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 12-10-2022 10:14 PM

WEST LEBANON — Randy Purtteman, an Army veteran, and several of his neighbors received a letter on Veterans Day last month notifying them that the new owner of the apartments at 22 Maple St. would be evicting them on Dec. 12 to allow for renovations.

Purtteman, 71, is retired and has Parkinson’s disease. He has trouble getting around and spends most of his time in bed. He said his doctor has urged him to find assisted living, but it’s too expensive for his fixed income. He’s been in his current one-bedroom apartment for which he spends $1,000 a month, including utilities, for about nine years.

“It keeps me dry and it’s warm,” Purtteman said of the modest first-floor apartment of less than 500 square feet, comprising a living room, a kitchenette, a bathroom and a bedroom.

Purtteman doesn’t dispute the legal right of the property’s new owner, Merrimack, N.H.-based Growth Cap Management, to evict tenants — many of whom have been paying month-to-month and did not have lease agreements — to allow for renovations. But he does question the timing and its suddenness.

Chiplin Enterprises, the West Lebanon-based company that had owned the property since 1977, had “at least a moral obligation to tell us this sale was pending,” Purtteman said in an interview from his bed last month.

The eviction notice came just days after the residents of 22 Maple St. received letters from Chiplin alerting them that the building had been sold. Security deposits and prorated rents were transferred to the new owner, according to the letter.

“It has been a pleasure getting to know you all over the years and we wish you the best,” said the Chiplin Enterprises letter.

The property sold for $1.28 million on Nov. 4, according to the Grafton County Register of Deeds. The property, which includes two buildings and about 2 acres, is appraised at $736,858, according to 2022 city records. Both buildings were built in 1890.

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

Windsor jam company’s expansion plans bear fruit
Royalton closes bridge after inspection
Former Claremont officer threatened violence, recently released records say
Gas station owner pitches new car wash for Sykes Mountain Ave
Amid financial difficulties, Lebanon-based Revels North cancels midwinter show
Upper Valley towns seek voice in Wilder Dam’s future

Reached via email, Tori Carver, president of Chiplin Enterprises, declined to comment “out of respect to everyone’s privacy.”

Plans to expand

Robert Parpinelli, who owns Growth Cap Management, said the tenants are welcome to come back after the renovations are complete and pay the new rent, which he expects will be about $1,400 for a one-bedroom and $1,600 for a two-bedroom.

“They can come back to the property later on (and) pay the new rent and live in a nice place,” he said. “If they cannot afford (the new rents) then they are going to need to find another place.”

The renovations are expected to include painting the interior and exterior of the buildings, as well as replacing the kitchens and floors, said Parpinelli, who is a contractor and who formed Growth Cap in February. He said he also plans to add laundry facilities to the building, bring everything up to safety codes and fix anything that’s broken. He said the goal was to freshen things up, but it will not be “really high-end luxury.”

It’s “not that I’m trying to evict people,” he said. “If I don’t do this another investor would do that. It’s not me personally.”

The tight rental market in the Upper Valley, with few vacancies and high demand driven in part by Dartmouth College and Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, can handle the increase in price, Parpinelli said.

“There’s a lot of demand with all the students and the hospital,” he said. “I can get other tenants. Even charging $1,400, I don’t think it’s going to be place that’s going to be empty.”

He said $900 a month, as some tenants were paying, is too low to cover his expenses as a landlord. Parpinelli said he also hopes to construct a new 30-unit apartment building on another part of the property, but that will require going through a permitting process.

More evictions to come?

City officials are concerned that the recent experience at 22 Maple St. could be part of a trend.

“This was the first apartment building in Lebanon that I am aware of that was turned over like this,” said Lynne Goodwin, Lebanon’s human services director. Out-of-town landlords purchasing properties and “cleaning house” is happening across the state, she added.

Goodwin said it may have previously happened in Lebanon on a smaller scale, but 22 Maple St. includes 13 units. Though not everyone received an eviction in November, Parpinelli said everyone will need to be out to make way for the renovations, which he plans to begin early in the New Year.

When tenants of 22 Maple St. began calling Goodwin in mid-November, she said she told them to start looking for housing immediately and to go through the eviction process. State statute, Chapter 540, gives judges discretion to grant people who are being evicted up to three months past the eviction date.

That delay would “give folks through the worst of the winter,” Goodwin said. It would “also help the city of Lebanon to not have to immediately find temporary shelter for all of these households at the cost of $5,000 a month.”

Goodwin reached out to 603 Legal Aid, a nonprofit that provides free legal advice to low-income New Hampshire residents, hoping that an attorney there could represent the tenants in this case. But she was told they didn’t have sufficient staff to take the case.

Patrick Hayes, a Lebanon-based attorney and former mayor, has agreed to take on the case pro bono. As of Nov. 29, he was representing three tenants.

Like Purtteman, Goodwin said she is concerned about the way that residents were notified that the property was sold, followed by the eviction notice.

“That is a real lousy process for folks,” she said.

She’s also concerned that if Chiplin — which rents out some of the city’s lower priced units — were to sell more of its holdings, it could price out more residents.

“If Chiplin were to unload additional properties, we would have a huge crisis on our hands,” Goodwin said. “I certainly hope that they’re not unloading their whole portfolio. Obviously through the pandemic we’ve heard stories of people buying up places sight unseen. Local landlords selling places to out-of-town landlords just doesn’t bode well for taking care of our community.”

Steve McGilvary, a housing paralegal with 603 Legal Aid, said his Concord-based organization is fielding many calls from Granite Staters facing eviction now that pandemic relief programs, including the Emergency Rental Assistance program, are ending.

While McGilvary hasn’t seen a surge in the Upper Valley, he has seen dozens of apartment buildings turn over in the Lakes Region. The new property owners also are telling tenants that they need the properties to be vacated to allow for renovations.

In determining whether to award tenants a discretionary stay extending the date of their eviction, judges tend to weigh hardships such as having children in school in the district where they live or health issues, McGilvary said.

It’s up to the tenants to prove “if we’re granted time, time will make the difference,” he said.

People can qualify based on their income for services from 603 Legal Aid. The nonprofit can be reached toll free at 1-800-639-5290 and more information, including about the eviction process, is online at nhlegalaid.org.

Holiday season

Joyce Colt, 65, has lived at 22 Maple St. since about 2009. She said the location is convenient to shopping. Her grandson, now 7, has grown up playing in the yard.

“It’s devastating,” Colt said of the notice of eviction. “Right before Thanksgiving.”

She was particularly sorry that the date of the eviction was so close to Christmas.

“I do Christmas big,” she said while seated on her couch in her living room in mid-November. “How can they throw people out two weeks before Christmas? I can’t imaging them being that cruel.”

She has a small storage unit that she uses mainly for her Christmas decorations, but the eviction notice had her wondering what she would do with the 13 years’ worth of stuff she had accumulated.

By last week, Colt said she and her boyfriend, a restaurant worker, had found another apartment on Hartford Avenue in White River Junction, but they won’t be able to move in until the end of January. She is being represented by Hayes, who she said told her that she would not need to leave before Christmas. Last week she was preparing to go to her storage unit to get her Christmas decorations.

“It’s been quite the journey in the last month,” she said in an interview in her living room on Wednesday. “The ups and the downs.”

For 20-year-old Christopher Bigler, the pending eviction marks the loss of the first apartment he called his own. He had previously shared a place with his sister and then with a different housemate before finding the apartment at 22 Maple St., where he’s been for a little over a year.

“As soon as I got (the eviction notice), it put me into panic mode,” Bigler said. “I didn’t know why I was getting it.”

He’s not in contact with his family, but has some friends who are willing to let him couch-surf while he looks for a new place.

But, he said, “I’d prefer to find a place instead of house-hopping.”

Since receiving the eviction notice, Bigler has packed up his belongings, sorted out items to send to Listen Community Services and furniture to give to friends.

Bigler, a team leader for Hannaford in West Lebanon, doesn’t have a car and therefore needs to find a new place close to work. He pays $925 per month for the Maple Street apartment out of the $3,200 per month he makes working full time plus overtime.

Needing to be close enough so he can bike or walk to work has already made his search for a new place more challenging. He had to forgo another place owned by Chiplin on the other side of town.

“It was too far,” he said.

Paul Morey, a 66-year-old retiree who also sells vinyl records, and his wife, Marilyn, have packed up their things since receiving an eviction notice. As of Wednesday, they had moved 21 boxes into a storage unit. They’ve gotten their names on housing lists maintained by a half-dozen organizations, including Twin Pines Housing and Lebanon Housing Authority, he said.

The pending eviction already caused the Moreys to cancel their Thanksgiving trip to visit their son and granddaughter in North Carolina.

“We had a bag of noodles for Thanksgiving,” he said.

Now he’s anxious about the trip they have planned to see them for Christmas. He doesn’t want to miss a court date and worries that the landlord will evict him and remove his things while he’s gone.

“It makes everything very hard,” he said of the eviction. He has examined the court schedule and thinks they might be able to fit in a four-day trip when the courts are closed.

Standing in their second-story apartment, which they heat with a space heater because the electric heat is too expensive, Marilyn Morey said she goes to bed at night thinking, “Where am I going to go?”

For his part, Purtteman said he is already feeling squeezed paying his bills as things stand.

The “only variable is my food,” he said, noting that his refrigerator was not stocked with steak or milk. “I can’t afford it anymore.”

Since receiving the eviction notice, Purtteman has been calling anyone he can think of who might be able to help him find a place.

“I have to,” he said. “If I just sit back and do nothing, we’re all screwed.”

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.

]]>