NH1 News Investigates: Destructive NH winter still taking toll on Beechstone tenants in Portsmouth
PORTSMOUTH – As one of the harshest winters on record socked the Granite State with a big winter blast one last time in mid-February, it topped off its destruction on the Seacoast.
Multiple buildings suffered partial or complete roof collapses, others were temporarily closed due to safety concerns.
The damage left behind would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. And at an apartment complex in Portsmouth, it would also cost a lot of patience.
At Beechstone Luxury Apartments, owned by multi-billion dollar investment firm TGM, walls and ceilings were destroyed by intense ice dams that caused water damage in more than 160 units. Many had mold growing, too. As of Tuesday, more than a dozen tenants had temporarily relocated, according to TGM.
The cleanup has taken far too long for many residents.
“They’ve had the wall torn out for going on three weeks now,” said Zachary Cardona, who lives in Building 13. “And it was originally supposed to be four days worth of work.”
Cardona said he was so disappointed with Beechstone’s handling of the winter cleanup, he decided to move out when his lease terminated at the end of March.
Living in a bottom-floor apartment with his wife and daughter, Cardona said he often had to leave work to deal with cleanup issues at his apartment – where large sections of his back wall had to be torn out and replaced.
A water-stained ceiling was still visible when NH1 News visited Cardona more than a month after a storm had truly put the luxury units to the ultimate test. He said Beechstone did not take action fast enough.
“The complete lack of proactivity for them clearing the roofs is what caused the ice dams to form in the first place,” Cardona said. “These were 60, 70…sometimes 100 lb. icicles that were falling. I mean, when they fell and hit the deck, the entire apartment shook – it felt like someone was driving through the wall.”
Cardona isn’t the only one speaking out about his upset with TGM management, a firm whose website states they have invested billions of dollars in properties around the United States.
“Water was coming in the ceiling of my 2-year-old’s room,” said Robert Stuart, a current tenant who filed a petition for a hearing with the City Building Commission signed by 24 Beechstone residents, citing leaking ceilings and mold. Stuart said he is also considering a lawsuit against TGM citing emotional distress.
Portsmouth City Health Officer Kim McNamara said other complaints were received by the city “sporadically” and through various departments.
City inspectors responded and found “life safety” and “health” concerns at the complex, according to Deputy City Manager David Allen.
“We got some complaints about water issues in some of the units,” Allen said. “I think in the snow removal they should’ve been more proactive.”
Overall, however, Allen said the damage suffered at Beechstone “wasn’t uncommon” due to the extremity of the winter.
Since the destruction, the city has been meeting with TGM management continuously to monitor repairs.
On Monday, TGM managers provided documentation to NH1 News that states “80 out of the 164 [units] have air testing that has cleared on air quality tests” and that “all areas of concerns have been investigated, and are stable, and not a health risk to residents.”
However, McNamara told NH1 on Tuesday that the city had not yet received any clearance documents.
Now, more than 2 months after the original damage, the cleanup is continuing. Dozens of tenants have turned to a Facebook forum to express their frustrations with response time and management communication. Among the topics: increased utility bills due to reconstruction crews using tools in their units, repairmen entering their apartments while they are sleeping or at work, and poor communication from Community Director Cindy Riley, who is no longer with the company.
“I understand most of the frustrations,” said TGM’s National Director of Maintenance Paul Dayhoff. “Obviously, we can only respond to the complaints or issues that come to our office – not on social media websites. Anyone who does come to our office, we handle immediately.”
Some tenants have expressed desire to leave the complex. TGM associates from New York told NH1 in a one-on-one interview Monday that they aren’t in the business of making people unhappy and want to offer help wherever they can.
“We’ve offered everybody who was affected that wanted to leave and move out, that we would allow them to break their lease without any penalty or charges, and they would get a full 100% reimbursement of their lease,” said TGM Chief Operating Officer John Gochberg.
Gochberg said he knew of 4 tenants who have moved out thus far, and that they are offering residents a $25 reimbursement for utility costs to cover things like electricity used by construction crews; in addition to a ‘blanket notice’ to residents that they’d be entering apartments to make repairs and process air quality testing.
During the repair period, Gochberg said some tenants who temporarily relocated received hotel rooms paid for by Beechstone.
All tenants – even those who had to relocate – were still expected to pay their full rent, Gochberg said.
“I’m a little confused on how we should bear the burden of all of it. Okay? They have a choice to move out,” he said. “It’s their choice, they’ve chosen that. If they would like to move they can.”
Gochberg said his door is open to any tenant who wants to talk to him about the ongoing repairs, which are expected to be completed by May 31, 2015.