A Buxton couple filed a federal lawsuit last week alleging that a Maine business knowingly rented a house filled with raw sewage and mold from their family and then took their belongings.
The lawsuit marks the latest legal action against companies formerly run by Scott Lalumiere, former chairman of Milk Street Capital, a private Portland-based real estate loan and investment firm that collapsed in late 2019. Lalumiere made the the subject of a 2020 BDN investigation that detailed how its business network collapsed amid allegations of fraud.
LalumiÃ¨re is not a defendant in the lawsuit but was the managing partner of LH Housing at the events described in the lawsuit.
The lawsuit against Bonnie and Blong Thao, filed on August 24, accuses LH Housing and the former partner of owner LalumiÃ¨re, Eric Holsapple, of being “slumlords who profit from the exploitation of vulnerable individuals”.
The Thao rented the Old Orchard Beach house to LH Housing for $ 1,600 per month in July 2015, after working multiple jobs to save enough money to get their family out of social housing, according to their lawyer, Laura White. But in October, they were left homeless after the city condemned the house, according to the lawsuit.
Before moving in, the Thaos noticed broken windows, drug paraphernalia, garbage and “other dangers,” according to the lawsuit, which also claimed that the electrical wiring did not comply with the code and that the property lacked operational smoke detectors. But the LH Housing representative promised the property would be cleaned and repaired before moving in, according to the lawsuit.
But none of the repairs had been completed by the time they moved in, the Thaos said in their costume.
At the end of August, the plumbing stopped working properly and raw sewage began to seep into the house, forcing the family to go without running water for several days. After several delays, LH Housing finally brought in a plumber who solved the problem but left an “outrageous mess” in the house, including raw sewage that the plumber never cleaned up, according to the costume.
Throughout the fall, the property became “heavily infested with mold,” the suit said, with a yellow-green film spreading over Thaos’ furniture.
In October, at a birthday party for one of the Thao’s children, a fuse blew. Blong Thao went to the basement, which he had never entered as it was not part of their rental. There, he found raw sewage leaking from a pipe near the ceiling, as well as droppings, tampons, toilet paper and fluorescent mold all over the room, according to the costume.
In the few months that the Thao lived in the house, they all fell ill from exposure to mold and raw sewage, according to the costume. For over a month, family members vomited and suffered from diarrhea. The Thao brought one of their children to the emergency room due to illness and dehydration. In 2017, one of the Thao children had to undergo surgery to repair a blocked tear duct, which the combination said was the result of exposure to mold.
In late October, the Thaos told LH Housing in an email that they would not pay their November rent due to the company’s inability to repair the property. At about the same time, they called the Old Orchard Beach code enforcement officer who told the family to “grab what they can and get out of the house because he was blocking the property. “, according to the prosecution. They also reportedly lost the belongings they had left in the house when LH Housing later used it to furnish other properties.
The company sold the Old Orchard Beach property in 2017, according to public ownership records.
Last year, the BDN discovered that LalumiÃ¨re and his network of companies owned at least 84 properties in Maine valued at approximately $ 16 million as of November 2019. That month, LalumiÃ¨re and his companies have stopped paying the nearly $ 20 million they owed to various lenders. At the same time, LalumiÃ¨re stopped working, gave his daughter power of attorney over her business relations and left the state. In a matter of months, at least 45 properties were turned over to LalumiÃ¨re’s investors and lenders or sold at foreclosure auctions.
The Thao are not the first to allege that the businesses operated by LalumiÃ¨re were not fulfilling their legal obligations as landlords to provide tenants with secure housing. In 2018, for example, Lewiston sued LalumiÃ¨re and his companies for failing to repair nine rental buildings they owned downtown. And last year, three men filed a complaint against the company, LalumiÃ¨re and more than a dozen other entities.
Holsapple said the costume was surprising and that he was investigating the allegations, adding that they were “not our style.”
Holsapple also noted that LalumiÃ¨re was managing the day-to-day operations of LH Housing at the time of the events described in the lawsuit. Holsapple only took over the company to “clean up” after LalumiÃ¨re left, he said. LalumiÃ¨re did not immediately respond to a request for comment sent through his lawyer.
LH Housing legally pulled LalumiÃ¨re as a partner in 2019, when Milk Street Capital collapsed, Holsapple said. He declined to specify the reasons for LalumiÃ¨re’s dismissal.
âHe had bigger problems than LH Housing when he left,â Holsapple said.
Another lawsuit against LalumiÃ¨re and his company Milk Street Capital offers some clues as to why LH Housing and LalumiÃ¨re may have gone their separate ways. In a federal whistleblower trial in January 2020, Erin Papkee, a former LalumiÃ¨re employee, said she discovered that LalumiÃ¨re was defrauding her LH Housing partners. LalumiÃ¨re denied the allegations.