Lemoine Company files lawsuits against subcontractors after addressing 525 Lafayette problems

    Part of the IBM Complex in downtown Baton Rouge the new 525 Lafayette residential tower offers apartments with SMART Home technology, modern amenities and great views of the Mississippi River.

    Though 525 Lafayette has gotten high marks for its upscale design and amenities, the downtown multifamily complex has been plagued by problems since its completion in 2015.

    Among the problems in the 85-unit building: a faulty sprinkler system, defective countertops, plumbing leaks, and leaks in the fourth-floor swimming pool. Most of the problems—some requiring the temporary relocation of some tenants—have been addressed by general contractor Lemoine Company, which has filed two lawsuits against subcontractors it claims are responsible.

    Though post-construction issues are not uncommon in large, complex projects like 525 Lafayette—a 10-story building developed by the Baton Rouge Area Foundation’s real estate company, Commercial Properties Realty Trust—the extent of the problems at the high-end complex, where two-bedroom units lease for nearly $3,000 per month, is atypical.

    Lenny Lemoine, CEO of The Lemoine Company, which had a $55.3 million contract with Commercial Properties to construct 525 Lafayette and the adjacent IBM office building, says he is proud of the work the company has done on the building and of the way it has handled the problems that have arisen.

    “We’re really proud of what we do but we’re not perfect,” Lemoine says. “We have great people and great subcontractors but when there is a problem we don’t point fingers. We jump in and fix it.”

    Of the multiple problems, the most extensive has been with the sprinkler system, which began leaking into a fourth-floor unit in July 2017, according to a federal lawsuit filed by Lemoine in July 2018 against Hilti, which made a caulk sealant used in the system, and Spears Manufacturing, which made the system’s CPVC pipe and pipefittings.

    According to the lawsuit, the Hilti and Spears products were incompatible, causing pipes to crack and leak in six locations. The lawsuit alleges that Hilti was aware “for some time” that its sealant was incompatible with the Spears piping, and that “both Hilti and Spears failed to warn” Lemoine of the potential problem.

    Lemoine has since replaced all CPVC piping in the building at its expense, which, in some cases, required relocating residents to the downtown Hampton Inn for several days while repairs were underway.

    Lenny Lemoine cannot say how much the company has lost as a result of the sprinkler system repairs, but the lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages, says the amount is “significant.” He says attorneys with Hilti and Spears have reached out to discuss settling the lawsuit. Those attorneys did not return calls seeking comment.

    More recently, Lemoine has had to address problems with the kitchen countertops, replacing them in all 85 units. The last of those repairs was completed in late September.

    Lenny Lemoine says the countertops were staining because the quartz of which they were made was not as dense as it was supposed to be. He attributes the problem to substandard material used by Memphis-based Blake Surface Solutions, the subcontractor on the project. Lemoine, the CEO says, has initiated legal action against the company and that attorneys for Blake have indicated they are interested in settling.

    Blake could not be reached for comment.

    Another problem involved plumbing leaks that were detected in 30 of the 85 units. Lemoine attributes the leaks to a defective connection with one pipe on an upper floor of the building. He says the problem has been repaired and that no litigation was involved.

    As for the swimming pool, it has been repaired several times over the past three years. At one point, the work was extensive and involved replacing the gel coat on the bottom of the stainless steel pool. Since that repair, Lemoine says there have been no additional issues.

    Daily Report interviewed multiple residents of the building, none of whom were willing to speak for attribution. Some characterize the inconveniences as minor and praise building management and contractors for the professionalism with which they have handled the situation.

    “There have been some issues, it is true, but I wouldn’t live there if it wasn’t worth it,” says one three-year resident, who had to temporarily relocate to the Hampton Inn while repairs to his family’s unit was underway. “We love it. We love the location and the customer service is terrific. They take care of you and when there are problems they fix them.”

    Others describe the problems as a major hassle. One couple even moved out because they were so frustrated with the constant repairs.

    CPRT spokeswoman Tina Rance referred all comments about the issues to Lemoine, but says the complex is doing well, with a 96% occupancy rate and a waiting list for the two-bedroom units.  

    “Lemoine has been incredible in handling all of our construction and warranty projects,” Rance says. “They have assisted us in providing the best customer service possible to our residents during times of inconvenience.”