Two tenants of the Bergmann Hotel, displaced in early March after the city condemned the building as unsafe for human occupancy, have filed suit against the hotel’s owners.
The lawsuit, filed by Alaska Legal Services on behalf of Matthew Lee and Roy Williams, contends that Kathleen Barrett, James Barrett and Breffni Place Properties took rent payments from the two men despite knowing that the building was in danger of being closed down due to having “violated multiple municipal fire and plumbing codes.”
“We hope to add more plaintiffs in the future if possible,” ALS staff attorney Eric Vang said.
Vang said the Barretts will have at least three weeks to submit a formal response to the suit.
Kathleen Barrett and James Barrett did not return calls for comment.
Both Lee and Williams are disabled and low-income, the suit states. Lee had paid $700 rent at the Bergmann between November 2016 and March, while Williams paid $600 rent in February and $700 in March.
According to the suit, which was filed Thursday in Juneau Superior Court, the City and Borough of Juneau had issued a notice of code violations on Oct. 31, 2016. Kathleen Barrett responded on Nov. 14, presenting a plan for correction.
But “only limited progress” was made and “significant code violations had not been resolved,” according to letters sent by CBJ on Feb. 17 and March 2, the suit stated. CBJ officials inspected the Bergmann on March 1 and March 6, finding numerous new violations, the suit stated.
“The defendants collected rent from Mr. Lee for March after this inspection,” the suit states.
The city condemned the building on March 9.
At the time of the eviction, the tenants of the Bergmann Hotel were escorted out of the building by Juneau Police Department officers.
Many tenants, even those who were aware that the city had posted a 24-hour notice the day before, were in disbelief as they hauled their belongings down the stairs or tossed them from the third-story fire exit.
The more than century-old historic hotel was condemned after the building owners failed to address outstanding fire and building code violations, putting tenants in imminent danger, city spokeswoman Lisa Phu said at the time.
According to the city, the 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.
Under Title 19, CBJ’s building and fire code, the city requires property owners to abate public health and safety hazards.
The plaintiffs contacted James Barrett on March 15 regarding the return of their March rent. To date, the defendants have failed to refund the plaintiffs any portion of that rent, the suit states.
The suit contends the Barretts violated Alaska’s Uniform Residential Landlord Tenant Act because the tenants paid rent for March but were evicted because of defendants’ failure to maintain fit premises. The suit also maintains the Barretts had received notice of that failure as evidenced by the October 2016 and March 2017 notices of code violations.
Plaintiffs are entitled to monetary damages for the diminution of value for their rentals at the Bergman after October, the suit states.
Plaintiffs also are guilty of negligence because they continued to operate the Bergmann in violation of municipal law, leading to the condemnation on March 9.
Defendants’ conduct was “outrageous” and done with reckless indifference, and their failure to remedy the code violations was motivated by financial gain, the suit alleges.
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