MANCHESTER, NH – Fifteen months ago, Angela and Kurtis Lavigne moved into a Merrimack Street rooming house to manage it.
The task was an arduous one: the 17-room building was overwhelmed at night with both drug dealers and addicts. Still, the Lavignes were up for it and after moving in on Christmas Eve 2021, they quickly cleared out the building of the unwanted visitors. They then set about renovating the rooms for the landlord, Angel Alvarez of Hudson.
Manchester Ink Link published an article about Alvarez’ retaking of the drug house. In the story, he credited the couple, who were not named in the article and who at that time declined to be interviewed, with turning the building around.
Since then, Alvarez and the Lavignes’ relationship has soured.
Angela Lavigne earlier this year obtained a temporary order of protection against her landlord. In her petition, she alleged Alvarez, his brother and eight Mexican men with guns, held her hostage for eight hours on Feb. 1, 2023. She also accused him of civil stalking.
Later, she said she and a friend were held hostage by Alvarez and eight to 10 armed men for eight hours over two days, Feb. 1 and Feb. 2, 2023.
Alvarez, in court filings and in testifying, “vehemently” denied the allegations. Lavigne, he said, filed the petition after he fired her and demanded she return his keys to the boarding house and the rents she collected. The argument mainly occurred in texts on Feb. 1, 2023.
Mrs. Lavigne testified Alvarez wanted her to meet him at the apartment immediately that day, but she was on a telemedicine call with her oncologist and primary care physician. She said she was not leaving that appointment to meet with Alvarez.
Her court filings, he said, were retaliation because of that argument during which he suggested they part ways. Lavigne, he said, maintained he owed her $9,000; he said he owes her nothing.
This week, after a three-hour hearing on Monday, Judge Polly L. Hall, presiding in 9th Circuit – District Division- Manchester, dismissed both cases. She didn’t write an order explaining her decision but checked boxes on standardized forms that said Lavigne didn’t prove Alvarez engaged in “prohibited practices” under tenant and landlord laws, and that he did not stalk her as defined under state law.
Alvarez, in court filings and when testifying Monday, denied all of Lavigne’s allegations. He said he absolutely did not hold her and her friend, at gunpoint. He supplied the court with video from surveillance cameras of the area for 48 hours surrounding the time Angela said he took her hostage and up to late on Feb. 2, 2023, when he was there with police.
He said he wanted the Lavignes to move out of a large apartment at 156 Merrimack St., a building with both apartments and boarding rooms that he bought in December 2022. Alvarez wanted them to return to a studio apartment in his boarding house at 168 Merrimack St. (the building she managed) where their $1,200 a month rent was paid through the end of March 2023 by the Emergency Rental Assistance Program.
That didn’t happen. Instead, on Feb. 3, 2023, Lavigne went to court and obtained the restraining order. She said she did that on the advice of police.
Alvarez had installed a high-tech video surveillance system at the 168 Merrimack St. building and while it didn’t record 156 Merrimack St., it did record individuals’ movements outside the buildings. He provided the court with photos as video recordings that show him alone and, for the most part, in the front of his buildings at various times over those 48 hours. Once he is accompanied by two people – his brother and a worker.
In her petition, Lavigne said Alvarez asked her and her husband to help him out by moving into the 156 Merrimack St. building to begin renovating it. Alvarez said they were supposed to move into a one-bedroom but instead moved into a three-bedroom, two-bath apartment which would rent for more than $2,000 a month.
Mrs. Lavigne told a reporter that the one-bedroom unit was in an “unlivable” condition.
“He begged us to move into this apartment,” she said. “It was disgusting. It was so nasty.” And, she said, it took her and another woman more than a week to clean one room in it. One wall, she said, was blackened from smoke from an electrical fire. She contends that she and a friend spent six days scrubbing floors and walls before they could start to move in. A cubby was filled with feces a foot deep, she said.
When police came on Feb. 3, 2023, she said Alvarez told them they weren’t entitled to this unit, that we were supposed to be in the one next door.
Alvarez maintains the Lavignes are squatters.
He alleges Lavigne filed for a restraining order in retaliation for him firing her; tried to back bill him for work already completed; held back rent money she collected at the 168 Merrimack St. boarding house, and refused to give him the keys to the boarding house, so he had to replace all the locks.
Alvarez said now that the court has dismissed both cases – Angela has 30 days to decide whether to appeal – he is filing documents to evict her and her husband. Reached by telephone on Wednesday, Angela said she hadn’t heard from her attorney concerning her case. However, she said she intends to appeal.
Cabin in the woods
Alvarez and the Lavignes’ relationship began amicably enough and, at least in the beginning, was beneficial to both.
Their story begins in late 2021 when Alvarez bought the 168 Merrimack St. boarding house. It turned out the investment property he purchased was a drug house, one that came alive with droves of people between the wee hours of 1 and 3 a.m.
Unsure of what to do, he read an article about Schonna Green, the city’s then-director of Homelessness Initiative, and called her.
At the time, Green was trying to find accommodations for the Lavignes who were found living in the woods on the West Side near the Merrimack River. The city was evicting them from an illegal cabin they built on a friend’s property off Upland Street. The friend, Angela said, allowed them to do that with the proviso that they keep the homeless away from the property.
The Lavignes were angry – and still are – at the city’s interference with their lifestyle. They said they were never homeless and their home was a cabin, not a “shanty” as described in the article. “Living off the grid is not being homeless,” Kurtis Lavigne said.
Mr. Lavigne had worked in construction for years. By bicycle, they brought in lumber to the site to build the frame for the cabin, which they covered in a camouflage tarp. They had solar panels set up outside their cabin which was heated and had running water. They lived there unbothered for five years.
Mrs. Lavigne said when COVID-19 hit, the city sent outreach workers to homeless encampments and a homeless person directed them to the Lavignes’ cabin.
She told the outreach workers they didn’t need their help, that they should go help someone else. When the outreach workers saw the wood stove inside their cabin, however, they called the fire department. Then city inspectors became involved, ordering them to leave and the cabin torn down because it had been built without permits, according to Mrs. Lavigne.
Slideshow of the Lavigne’s cabin, built without permits, which they lived in for five years before it was discovered by the city.
At the time, Mrs. Lavigne was suffering from stomach cancer, which she said is now in remission. That was a main reason Green was trying to get them into housing.
Alvarez was skeptical about moving the Lavignes into his rooming house and having them work for him but, he said, he believes everyone deserves a second chance.
Alvarez told them what needed to be done in the building and gave them the authority to manage it the way they saw fit.
In hindsight, he said he regrets doing that.
But in April of 2022, he said, “They’ve been more of a blessing to me than me to them even though they say otherwise,” he said. He described them both as “super talented.”
On Monday in court, the focus of the hearing was what happened on Feb. 1 and 2, 2023.
Attorney Raymond Mello, who represented Alvarez, told the judge that Mrs. Lavigne made three calls to the police department on Feb. 1 but a dispatch log does not mention anything about men with guns.
Both Alvarez and Lavigne called police numerous times, calls which police categorized as “landlord/tenant dispute.”
On the morning of Feb. 2, Mrs. Lavigne was on a telephone call with Detective Rhianna Cutler when Lavigne told her Alvarez was on her porch pointing a “finger gun” at her and that he said something to the effect, “I will kill you.” She said he was holding a gun in his right hand and to his side.
Cutler initiated a “weapons” call and officers were immediately sent to the scene. “We always respond quickly to a weapons call,” Cutler said when questioned by Mello.
Cutler went to the scene as well. She said Alvarez was not on the porch. Mrs. Lavigne said he must have gone back to the apartment.
Another officer spoke with Alvarez, after finding him in a room inside the boarding house next door. He was patted down. No gun was found on him or in a search of the unit.
Cutler said she was surprised when she first located Mrs. Lavigne who, she said, showed no emotion, which was unexpected for someone just threatened with a gun. Instead, the detective said, Lavigne showed her papers.
In speaking with Mrs. Lavigne, Cutler said, “I didn’t say she was lying but just told her to be careful when filing reports” and to not get jammed up with “false reports.”
There is still another court hearing to be held. Mrs. Lavigne wants Alvarez held in contempt for violating the temporary order of protection. He was supposed to stay away from the apartment building and turn in his guns. He said he had three firearms.
He went on the property to change the locks and did not turn in his guns, according to his testimony. His attorney maintains that Alvarez is not in contempt because he was not formally served with the court documents. He picked them up at the court after Lavigne told him about it.