Bangor leaders have an opportunity to prevent disturbances in neighborhoods across the city from becoming chronic problems. On Monday, the Bangor City Council should approve an ordinance that would allow police to address landlords who ignore their tenants’ propensity for loud music, boisterous gatherings, fights, criminal activity and other disruptive behavior.
Some landlords have expressed their concern to Bangor councilors that the ordinance would punish owners, rather than problem tenants. But those landlords who have shown they have the ability to seek information and work with others would probably not be affected by the new rules. This disruptive-property ordinance is for absentee landlords.
Here is how things would change: Currently, when police respond to a noise or disturbance complaint at a rented residence, they file a report, and sometimes there are criminal charges. They don’t necessarily contact the landlord. Under the new ordinance, the police chief would determine whether a “disruptive event” has occurred. If one has, then the department would get in touch with the landlord, to let him or her know what transpired and explain what happens next.
If there is a second disturbance at the property within 60 days, it would be officially classified as a disruptive property. A property would also be labeled disruptive if three disturbances happen within 120 days, four within 180 or five within 360. If a property is deemed disruptive, the owner would be required to pursue a plan of remediation, to be worked out with the police chief. And if the property hasn’t had a code and fire-safety inspection within the last year, the owner must agree to make the building available for one.
Police may suspend enforcement and penalties if the chief believes the landlord will make a good-faith effort to solve the problems and no new disruptive event occurs on the property. Penalties, ranging from $500 to $1,000, will be assessed for ordinance violations. People would also be penalized for refusing to meet with the police chief or enter into a remediation agreement.
The proposed Bangor ordinance draws heavily from one that took effect in Orono in 2004. So far, the Orono ordinance has prevented loud parties and disorderly conduct from becoming regular occurrences: Orono Police Chief Gary Duquette said he’s never had to actually label a property as disruptive. Police still get calls for disturbances, but once landlords and tenants understand the consequences if the disruptive activity were to continue, the behavior stops.
Having been with the department 20 years, Duquette remembers responding in the past to large, loud parties. It wasn’t unusual for police to return to a property two or three times in one night. “It was just very ineffective, doing it that way,” he said. Now, most Orono landlords support the ordinance, and many have tightened up their leases to account for it.
Troublemakers may be in the minority, but the grief they cause multiplies quickly. The ordinance would not affect landlords who work in good faith to correct problems; it would be for those who ignore the problem once they’re told of it.
“People understand it’s not a punishment. It’s a way to restore the quality of life back into our neighborhoods,” said Pauline Civiello, a Bangor city councilor and organizer of the East Side Watch. She’s right.
The new rules certainly wouldn’t solve all nuisance activity, and city councilors and staff would be wise to assist police through the potential transition to the new ordinance. But councilors should vote yes when the matter comes before them. The new rules would give law enforcement much-needed tools to help preserve the peace.