Bangor council to consider ordinance aimed at chronically troublesome properties

By Nick McCrea, BDN Staff
Posted Jan. 05, 2013, at 5:51 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — The city hopes a new ordinance will stem disturbances by chronically bothersome tenants and hold absentee landlords accountable.

A disruptive-property ordinance will be up for discussion at Tuesday’s Business and Economic Development Committee meeting at 5:15 p.m. in Council Chambers. After that, it will likely go before the full council for a final vote on Jan. 14, according to City Solicitor Norm Heitmann.

“At the end of the day, we view the disruptive property ordinance as a tool. Not the end-all be-all to these issues,” City Manager Cathy Conlow said.

The ordinance arose from concerns raised by residents at a series of neighborhood revitalization meetings. Other residents, including several on Webster Avenue, have complained to city officials about frequent police responses to efficiency apartments in their neighborhood.

“It’s obviously more than just one property, it’s citywide,” Heitmann said.

The ordinance targets residences with “chronic” problems of loud music, boisterous gatherings, fights, criminal activity or other “disruptive events.”

When police respond to the scene after a complaint and file a report, the police chief will determine whether a disruptive event has occurred. If the chief does decide a disruptive event has occurred, the owner of the property will receive notice of the incident and a warning within a week.

After that warning, if there is a second disturbance at the property within 60 days, it will be classified as a disruptive property. A property also will be classified as disruptive if three events happen within 120 days, four within 180, or five within 360.

Once a property is labeled disruptive, the owner must agree to a comprehensive code and fire-safety inspection if one hasn’t been done in the past year. The owner also must meet with the police chief after those inspections are completed. At that meeting, the owner and chief will discuss what measures the owner will take to remedy the nuisance issues at the building.

If the chief is satisfied that the owner will make a good-faith effort to solve the problems, he may suspend enforcement and penalties until a new disruptive happens.

Violations of the ordinance would result in penalties ranging from $500 to $1,000. Refusal to meet with the police chief or work to remedy the problem also would be penalized.

Landlords have expressed concerns that the ordinance punishes owners rather than tenants who are causing the problems. The city has met with representatives from the Greater Bangor Apartment Owners and Managers Association and modified some aspects of the ordinance based on concerns. For example, landlords can choose how they will be notified of a disturbance at their property — whether it be by mail, email or phone.

Based on another suggestion, the city also incorporated a sliding scale built into the ordinance, which means that a building with multiple residential units is allowed more disturbances in a given time period because it has more residents who can get into trouble than a single-unit property, Heitmann said.

Heitmann modeled Bangor’s ordinance after a similar one Orono adopted in 2004 when Conlow was city manager there. In text of both ordinances, the purpose is “to protect the health, safety and welfare of the residents … by eliminating the proliferation of properties harboring occupants who disturb the peace or tranquility of their neighborhoods.”

Orono’s ordinance borrowed heavily from similar measures in Portland and Bar Harbor. Other Maine cities with disruptive property ordinance include Biddeford, South Portland, Westbrook, and others.

Bangor officials have said the ordinance does not target Bangor’s responsible, attentive landlords and property managers, but rather the minority of owners who consistently allow troublemaking tenants to live there or owners who aren’t responsive when the city when it raises concerns.

Brit Vitalius, president of the Southern Maine Landlord Association, said Portland’s ordinance prompted a lot of concern among property owners when it was first proposed, but that they “warily accepted” the ordinance. Since then, “frankly, we don’t hear about it much” because it’s only used when no effort is taken to resolve chronic problems.

“We were assured when it was coming in place that the city just needed teeth” to take action when the city couldn’t get a response from a landlord. He said most landlords in Portland are fine with the ordinance because “most landlords in Portland are good landlords.”

Greater Bangor Apartment Owners and Managers Association representatives did not respond to emails sent late last week requesting comment.

The full text of the ordinance is available at www.bangormaine.gov/image_upload/ProposalDisruptivePropertyOrdinance.pdf.

http://bangordailynews.com/2013/01/05/news/bangor/bangor-council-to-consider-ordinance-aimed-at-chronically-troublesome-properties/ printed on August 23, 2014