September 23, 2019

Motel sues ex-owners over tank odors

ROCKLAND – The owners of Strawberry Hill Motor Inn on U.S. Route 1 in Rockport are suing the previous owners for failing to disclose that there was an illegal holding tank for sewage on the property.

The lawsuit, which seeks an unspecified amount of damages, was filed in Knox County Superior Court by inn owners Kenneth Thompson Jr. and Dana W. Burton earlier this week. A motion for attachment of real property in the amount of $50,000 against the previous owners, Charles F. Bruce and Darlene P. Bruce of Rockport, was approved by Judge William Anderson.

After purchasing the inn, which overlooks Penobscot Bay along a stretch of Route 1, in May 1999, the present owners began to notice foul odors in some of the guest rooms, especially when the rooms had not been used for several days. Customers also detected the smell and would either ask for another room or cancel their reservations, according to the lawsuit.

The illegal holding tank was not disclosed in the purchase and sales agreement and now will cost the owners at least $23,000 to correct, according to the lawsuit.

None of the parties could be reached Friday for comment.

As part of the sale agreement, Thompson and Burton agreed to allow the Bruce couple to maintain the connection from their abutting private residence to the inn’s pump station, which is hooked to the public sewer system. The pact, however, was to end when, and if, the Bruces sold their home.

According to the suit, when Thompson and Burton questioned Charles Bruce about the foul odors, they were told that he could never figure out the source of the odor. Bruce recommended that they use a carpet freshener and leave the doors to the rooms open. The new owners tried that, but it did not work.

As the summer season progressed the motor inn began to fill to capacity and with it the problems grew. The odor worsened and the toilets began to overflow, the lawsuit states. No blockage could be found in the system.

It was not until November 1999 that the owners learned the source of the odor. Bruce asked Thompson and Burton if they would allow the couple’s home to remain connected to the pumping station tank “forever” because they wanted to sell the property.

Thompson and Burton said that until they knew the source of the odor – which they believed had something to do with the sewage system – they would not consider the request.

“It was at that point that defendant Bruce, for the very first time, mentioned that plaintiffs should probably have the holding tank pumped to fix the problems,” the suit states.

What the owners ultimately discovered was that Bruce had an illegal holding tank installed to prevent feminine napkins and condoms from clogging the pump station and that it had not been emptied for two and a half years. When Interstate Septic company located the tank and pumped it, the owner found out that the tank was not only illegal because the inn was connected to a public sewer system, but that it should have been emptied four times per year. The town also informed them that the tank was in violation of the sewer ordinance

According to the complaint, “the tank was so full and compacted that the service technician could not even get the pumping hose into the tank.”

Thompson and Burton also discovered that when the inn was rebuilt with additional units, the pumping station should have been upgraded to handle the greater capacity from the motel. The cost to correct the situation is in excess of $23,000, according to the lawsuit, and the plaintiffs have failed to respond to a request to cover those costs.

The lawsuit claims fraudulent misrepresentation, negligent misrepresentation, negligence, breach of contract, breach of warranty and negligent interference with business. The suit seeks compensatory damages in an amount to be determined at trial, punitive damages, plus interest, costs and attorney fees and other relief as the court deems just and proper.

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