Five former Liberty Warehouse tenants are suing its owner, Greenfire Development, over the building’s roof collapse in 2011.
In separate complaints filed in Superior Court, the plaintiffs accuse Greenfire and its Durham Liberty LLC subsidiary of “a conscious and deliberate business decision” not to repair the warehouse roof after multiple complaints about leaks and water damage.
Each claims damage, lost revenue and “lost business revenue,” and asks for relief and punitive damages The plaintiffs also ask for jury trials.
Greenfire had not responded to the suit by Thursday. Managing Partner Paul Smith has said the company has notified its insuror of the filings.
Greenfire had 30 days to respond after being served with the suit, said Ryan Connolly, attorney for plaintiffs Adelaide Banks, James Nuss, Deborah Pratt, Andrew Preiss and Donna Sutton.
They had rented space in the former tobacco-auction warehouse but were forced to relocate after the roof fell in during a heavy rain in May of last year.
According to their filing, former Liberty owner Walker Stone performed weekly maintenance on the roof and maintained the building’s interior. Stone sold the building, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, to Greenfire in 2006 for $3.5 million.
After its purchase, the suits allege, Greenfire performed only “makeshift” repairs after complaints, and failed to either apply for building permits or have city inspectors approve the work.
After after tenants notified city authorities in April 2011, inspectors found the building unsafe due to the condition of the roof and its support framing, and structural damaged caused by leaking water. After the roof collapse the Liberty was condemned.
The condemnation has been lifted for the building’s northern half, but southern half remains under the city’s condition of “demolition by neglect.” Greenfire has until the end of October to make required repairs or face fines as high as $500 per day.
Greenfire bought 33 buildings and lots in and around downtown Durham between 2003 and 2009, at a total cost of $32,775,000. The company renovated several, including the Baldwin and Kress buildings for residential condominiums, and last week announced expanded plans for a 183-unit apartment complex near American Tobacco.
However, the company has been unable to secure financing for other projects and two of its partners, including founder Michael Lemanski, left active roles in the business in 2011.