A former Lewiston landlord owes the city more than $200,000 in fines and fees for keeping his apartment buildings in disrepair, according to court records and city officials, but he didn’t list that debt when he filed for bankruptcy this summer. The omission raises questions about whether the city will recoup what is likely the largest financial penalty it has secured against a property owner in recent history.
During Rick Lockwood’s time as a landlord in Lewiston, from 2014 to 2017, his tenants went without heat in the winter and endured mold, bug infestations and general squalor, prompting the city to take him to court numerous times because he didn’t heed warnings to make repairs. It sued Lockwood 14 times over six of his 10 buildings to force him to comply with city ordinances.
The city prevailed. An updated tally provided by the city on Monday shows that Lockwood owes at least $181,690 in penalties and fines, and $27,429 in legal fees, for violating housing standards. He didn’t appeal the court’s totals, according to a review of court documents.
In June, however, Lockwood stated on a bankruptcy petition that he owes the Lewiston code enforcement department a much smaller sum, $20,000. It isn’t the only part of his filing that raised questions, as a creditor claimed in court that Lockwood didn’t report all of his income.
Lockwood, a builder from Gorham, did not respond to multiple requests for comment about how he arrived at the smaller number. The $20,000 reported debt is a small part of the $4.46 million he said on his petition for Chapter 7 bankruptcy that he owes 44 creditors.
Lewiston officials have not formally contested the petition. It “is not something we have considered at this time, but are aware of,” said David Hediger, director of Lewiston’s code enforcement department.
One creditor is contesting the petition. Last month, Brian Rosen of Dayton, in York County, asked the court to deny Lockwood any relief, alleging that Lockwood hid the location of a freightliner truck that he had used as collateral for a $10,000 loan. When Lockwood didn’t repay the loan in March 2018, sheriff deputies sought to repossess the truck on Rosen’s behalf but couldn’t find it, according to Rosen’s court filing. The private loan has since accrued interest, late fees and attorney costs amounting to a total debt of $209,861, Rosen said.
Lockwood denied that he deliberately hid the truck, saying it was likely in use because he works as a long-haul driver, according to a response he filed in court. He also argued the matter shouldn’t change his ability to claim financial relief.
Rosen also alleged that Lockwood failed to report a portion of his income on his bankruptcy filing, specifically a groundskeeping contract with Avesta Housing, an affordable housing organization based in Portland. Lockwood denied the allegation in his response.
Under the employment section of his petition, Lockwood only wrote “truck driver.” He stated his monthly income was $1,929 and made no specific mention of Avesta or groundskeeping.
Avesta has paid Lockwood a total of $67,200 for groundskeeping and snow removal, under a contract that began in January 2018, according to the organization. The organization terminated the contract last month, and it expired yesterday, Oct. 31, it said.
Regardless of the sum of debt Lockwood claimed he owes Lewiston and others in his bankruptcy petition, it’s possible his creditors won’t recoup their money. Petitioners who are granted relief in bankruptcy don’t typically repay their debts in full, if at all, because they usually have few assets to begin with. Most Chapter 7 cases end without any assets to be divided among creditors, according to guidance issued by the administrative office of the United States judicial branch.
The details still matter, though. Petitioners for bankruptcy are required to be honest on their filings, and not doing so could prompt the court to dismiss their case.
Lockwood’s bankruptcy attorney, J. Scott Logan of Portland, was not aware of a discrepancy between the amount Lockwood stated he owed Lewiston code enforcement in his bankruptcy petition and the total sum of penalties he accrued for code violations. But he said any errors or mistakes should be corrected.
Lockwood also stated in his bankruptcy petition that he owes the Lewiston tax collection division the same amount as the code enforcement department: $20,000. The city’s tax collector did not respond to three requests for information about Lockwood’s possible outstanding payments.
On just one of Lockwood’s properties, at 32 Horton St. — the only land he still owns in the city — he owes $9,335 in taxes, Hediger said. In addition he owes $1,633 for utilities and $325 in code violation fines. Lockwood is not earning any income from the property, which is now an overgrown plot. The city demolished the three-story building that once stood there in 2017.
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