May 25, 2018
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Bangor council committee eyes ordinances for bad property owners

By Andrew Neff, BDN Staff

BANGOR, Maine — Bangor residents and law enforcement officials got one big step closer Tuesday night to having a new tool to use against owners of properties at which public disturbances frequently occur.

In an effort born of Bangor city staff’s ongoing Main Street Corridor revitalization project, city councilors are zeroing in on enacting a new ordinance targeting those who own rented or leased properties which draw multiple complaints from neighbors and-or police officers.

“They need the tools, but so do we,” said one female Bangor resident who has a repeatedly problematic efficiency apartment complex in her west side neighborhood. “I checked with police and they’ve had 39 calls to go there with six arrests since January this year.

“We’re hostages in our own homes now.”

The proposed ordinance is aimed at holding property owners — including homeowners, live-in landlords, absentee landlords and property managers — of “disruptive properties,” including residences, rooming and boarding houses and apartment buildings, responsible for repeated disruptions.

Bangor City Solicitor Norm Heitmann has researched potential ordinance language while also studying similar ordinances recently approved in places like Biddeford and South Portland.

The proposed ordinance includes a remediation process and — if warranted — a monetary penalty ranging from $500 to $1,000.

“Our goal is to work with landlords, not against them,” said Bangor City Solicitor Norm Heitmann.

“The city would have to be patient with the legal process as even vigilant landlords have a long, involved process they have to follow to evict problem tenants.”

Several residents came to Tuesday evening’s business and economic development committee meeting at City Hall to share complaints or stories about problematic properties in their neighborhoods and encourage the councilors to continue the effort to enact a disruptive property ordinance.

Another resident on Webster Avenue told councilors and city staff members that his neighborhood has been menaced by drug dealing going on in and outside four apartments at a large rental unit. Another mentioned repeated vandalism of an abandoned home next door.

“Clearly we have failed on this issue over the years, but I don’t want people to keep getting frustrated over recurring issues,” said Bangor police Lt. Mark Hathaway, interim police chief. “This will help us. It won’t solve all our problems, but it will definitely help us better address these issues.”

Jeremy Martin, Bangor’s code enforcement officer, said at the very least, the proposed ordinance would literally help city officials and law enforcement get a foot in the door and see things from the inside.

“This process would allow us to inspect more houses,” Martin explained. “A lot of these houses and apartments we’ve never even been to.

“This, combined with aggressive code enforcement, will go a long way to addressing these ongoing problems in certain neighborhoods.”

Many of the eight who addressed the councilors urged them to toughen the ordinance further. Some of the councilors agreed.

“I would like this to have as many teeth in it as possible,” said Councilor Sue Hawes. “The stronger it is, the more effective it will be.”

A Parkview Avenue resident suggested adding wording dealing with potential retaliation toward a landlord by a problem tenant.

Heitmann was asked to look into “toughening up the language” of the ordinance, which calls for potential remediation either via fines, restitution or restorative work or actions after the second disruptive incident within a 60-day period.

Disruptive incidents include loud music, boisterous gatherings, fighting or brawling, and excessive loud noises audible beyond the property lines.

The ordinance’s current language takes a five-step approach in terms of disruptive incidents over a 360-day period. Property owners could face fines, mandatory inspections and criminal charges, depending on the nature of the disruptive violations.

The five committee members voted unanimously to recommend that the full city council send it back to committee for further language revision. The city council will be able to review the ordinance and act on it at its Oct. 22 meeting.

Since most of the residents who turned out for Tuesday’s meeting were neighbors bothered by problematic rental properties, councilors said they hope to have more dialogue and input from landlords, who they encourage to attend the Oct. 22 meeting.

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