The story of the dump at the end of Walton Street in Portland’s Back Cove neighborhood is both simple and impossibly complex.
Here’s the simple version. There was a fire in March of 2011 that made the place uninhabitable, and a dispute between the property owner and the bank that holds the mortgage has delayed repairs.
Duncan MacDougall, a real estate broker by trade, bought the three-story, three-family building in 2003 for $330,000, according to city tax records. He lived in one of the units, and he and his tenants lost pretty much everything in the conflagration.
The cause of the fire is still a mystery, though not for lack of investigation. MacDougall said his second-floor tenant even took a polygraph test to prove he didn’t start it. A detective told MacDougall that nearly 90 percent of fires can be traced back to their causes. This just appears to be among the 10 percent that can’t.
Regardless, four months after the blaze, MacDougall’s insurance company paid the claim to the tune of over $425,000. That money went to Bank of America, the mortgage holder. MacDougall said he’d fallen behind on payments before the fire and was attempting to negotiate the sale of the property with B of A before it went up in flames. Now he’s in an even weaker position to negotiate with the ruthless and unscrupulous banking behemoth.
At this point, “they’re basically just trying to foreclose on me,” MacDougall said. The bank released enough of the insurance money for MacDougall, who also has a small contracting company, to gut the building, but that’s all. The official Broker Price Opinion put the value of the property below what it would cost to rehab it. Looking at this charred shell of a structure, with its boarded-up windows and siding swinging in the breeze, you don’t have to be a licensed broker to figure that out.
MacDougall said it’s been maddeningly difficult to try to resolve the matter with the bank. “It’s just been a nonstop battle,” he said. “They won’t work with me at all … They’re just dragging their feet. Calls into call centers get looped around. No one knows what I’m talking about. Basically, it’s just a big scam, a runaround.” An expensive runaround. “My attorney said I can continue to pay him $150 an hour and go broke or just let it go.”
MacDougall’s not ready to give up and walk away just yet. He’s been in contact with the Maine Bureau of Financial Institutions, which mediates foreclosure cases and has resources from the $25 billion pot of money B of A and other mega-banks forked over to settle claims they engaged in illegal mortgage practices.
MacDougall said city officials have been “down my throat, wondering why I haven’t done anything” to fix up the building, but “I’m not putting any more money into that property.”
“Please tell the neighborhood that I’m sorry,” he said.
— Chris Busby