When city officials boarded up the Bergmann Hotel last week, citing potentially life-threatening conditions that prompted the building’s condemnation, manager Charles Cotten estimated several dozen tenants were being displaced.
A week later, it remains unclear when, or even if, those tenants will be able to return. According to the city, the health and safety hazards included an inoperable sprinkler system, a gaping hole in the roof, lack of heat and hot water, inadequate restrooms, exposed wiring, broken windows and unsuitable emergency exit doors.
The hotel actually is in worse shape now than it was when boards were nailed up to secure doors and windows on March 10. At some point between Monday and Wednesday morning, a radiator in a ground-floor room developed a leak and a water pipe to the sink broke loose, sending water spraying into the room, through the floorboards and sheetrock and then down into the basement. Wednesday, Cotten was frantically trying to line up a plumber.
According to City and Borough of Juneau municipal attorney Amy Mead, the building cannot be re-occupied until the fixes listed in the notice are made.
“It’s not the city’s role to do something with the building unless it gets so bad we need to step in,” Mead said, using the demolition of the Gastineau apartments as an example.
The Bergmann Hotel has not deteriorated to that point, Mead added, saying, “It would have to be declared a public nuisance.”
Who, exactly, is responsible for the Bergmann is up for debate. Until last year, James Barrett was a 33 percent owner of the hotel, with his mother, Kathleen Barrett, retaining 67 percent. The hotel now is registered with the state of Alaska under a different limited liability company, Breffni Place Properties, with Kathleen listed as sole owner.
On Thursday, Mead said Kathleen Barrett told city officials that James was to be given the keys to the hotel and that he was the authorized manager. CPR Services LLC, reportedly serves as the property management company of the hotel with Cotten’s son, Ricky Stapler Lisk, listed as sole owner. James Barrett is the registered agent for the management company, however; according to Mead, all official notices regarding the company can be served on that person.
Friday, James Barrett said he plans to work his way through the list of fixes, adding that it will be easier now that he has control of the keys to the building.
“Frankly, I should have started this morning, but I just needed a break,” he said. “It’s been a constant barrage. …. I can’t really say I’ve done much as of this moment.”
He said he will be focusing on the biggest issues, including the boiler and the roof, and on getting the sprinkler system — which he says has already been fixed — certified.
“The city made it sound like the building had no sprinkler system, that the sky had fallen in,” Barrett said. “It hadn’t.”
One sticking point for the city has been that some of the repairs were done in a haphazard fashion by people without valid licenses. James Barrett said he plans to use licensed contractors, saying it will be easier in the long run to get the work done that way, while the building is unoccupied.
Barrett acknowledged that he had been “hands-off” with the Bergmann Hotel recently and that there had not been the sense of urgency on the part of the management to complete the repairs being demanded by the city.
“Should things have been done? Yes,” he said. “Were they really life-threatening? I just don’t see it.”
Barrett said the bottom line is that the timing of the city’s decision to condemn the Bergmann meant that its tenants were homeless and couch-surfing while the temperatures at night dipped into the teens.
“I can’t believe that is considered less hazardous to their health,” he said.
“Why this? Why now? This reeks of maybe cynicism, maybe incompetence,” Barrett continued. “They could have accomplished what they wanted with a fine or the threat of a fine. Instead they arrested Chuck (Cotten) and threw all these people out. They’re the ultimate victims.”
Cotten has been charged in two separate misdemeanor cases, the first for not fixing the code violations and the second for not vacating the hotel within 24 hours after it was posted. He has pleaded not guilty in both cases and is set for trial on June 13.
Cotten was charged because he is considered the responsible party, said municipal prosecutor Sherri Layne.
“He identified himself as the onsite manager on multiple occasions to multiple parties,” she said, adding that Cotten was also the person who was given the multiple notices of violations and who said he would correct them.
Tenants seek legal help over rent
The issue of the rent paid this month by tenants has been a point of contention, with one man, James Cole, telling the Empire he paid $700 the day before being escorted by police from the building.
Several of those tenants have contacted Alaska Legal Services, said staff attorney Eric Vang.
“We are representing two clients at the moment,” Vang said. “We have heard from more, but I have not yet had a chance to speak with the others about being represented.”
Vang said that the landlord tenant act mandates that the landlord of a property that is no longer livable must return any prepaid rent and deposits to a tenant within 14 days of the event that terminated the rental agreement.
“The condemnation happened on March 10, so the landlord should return the rent for the remaining 21 days of the month,” he said. “We are hopeful that the landlord will pay that on time because our clients need that money to find a new place to live.”
Mead said Friday that the city had been exploring ways to deal with the rent situation, including possibly adding restitution to the criminal cases against Cotten.
“We were investigating if that was something we could pursue, but we determined that was not an option,” she said. “In the meantime, we have been talking to Alaska Legal Services and giving them the documentation they need. People should know that if they feel they have a claim (against the Bergmann for rent), Alaska Legal Services wants to help them. We’re trying to assist in any way we can.”
Friday afternoon, James Barrett pledged the tenants would be getting that rent money back.
He said that Cole’s case worker had been “very intent on getting his rent money back, which I said I would do.”
But, Barrett added, “James Cole doesn’t want his rent back, he wants his home back.”
“He doesn’t feel protected by this,” Barrett continued. “If the city is not protecting people, what are they doing? I don’t have a logical explanation.”
• Contact reporter Liz Kellar at 523-2236 or firstname.lastname@example.org.