Bangor council overwhelmingly passes ordinance targeting troublesome tenants, landlords

Posted Jan. 14, 2013, at 10:36 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — The Bangor City Council lopsidedly passed an ordinance city officials believe will be a first step toward stemming issues with chronically troublesome tenants and irresponsible landlords during Monday night’s regular meeting.

In an 8-1 vote, councilors passed a disruptive-properties ordinance, which targets residences with “chronic” problems of loud music, boisterous gatherings, fights, criminal activity or other “disruptive events” by going after landlords who don’t make an effort to resolve the issues or get rid of consistently problematic tenants.

Under the ordinance, if police respond to such complaints, property owners receive a warning. If there is a second disturbance at the property within 60 days, it would be classified as a disruptive property by the police chief. A property also would be classified as disruptive if three events happen within 120 days, four within 180, or five within 360.

Once a property is classified as disruptive, the owner must agree to a code and fire-safety inspection and to meet with the police chief to create a plan of action to deter future incidents.

As long as the owner makes a “good faith” effort to resolve the issues, he or she would not face a fine. If the owner refuses to meet with the police chief or refuses to take appropriate remediation steps, he or she would face a fine of $500 to $1,000. After 180 days without an incident, the disorderly classification would be lifted, according to the ordinance.

A single word toward the end of the ordinance raised some debate among councilors at Monday’s meeting. The ordinance states that the police chief “may” choose to not pursue penalties against a property owner if the chief feels the owner has made a good-faith effort to come up with a solution to the disruptive issues.

Mick Delargy, a landlord in Bangor, argued that, based on the wording of the ordinance, he could make every effort possible to solve the issues but still be fined by the police chief regardless of whether he made a good-faith effort.

Councilor Ben Sprague moved that the council amend the proposed ordinance to say that the police chief “shall” forgo any fines if the chief finds the property owner has put in adequate effort to remediate the problems.

Councilor Patricia Blanchette took issue with changing the word, arguing that saying the chief “shall” do something would take away the police department’s ability to practice discretion.

“As a policymaker, I don’t want to give a directive” to the police chief, Blanchette said. “We were not walking in their shoes, we don’t know what the circumstances were.”

The “shall” amendment passed in a 5-4 vote, and the ordinance passed soon after.

Blanchette cast the lone vote against the amended ordinance. She expressed frustration over the word change, but said she wasn’t sure how she would have voted had the amendment to the ordinance not passed.

Before Monday’s regular meeting, the council met with Bangor school Superintendent Betsy Webb to discuss her plans on how to deal with a $273,000 curtailment resulting from Gov. Paul LePage’s proposed budget.

Webb outlined cuts in areas from textbooks to technology services that could be implemented to close the gap, but stressed that one major unexpected expense, such as a faulty boiler or broken pipe, could “cut into the bone” and lead to further cuts that might harm the quality of education in the schools. She said this year’s curtailment likely will mean further budget problems in fiscal year 2014.

The council also:

• Held a first reading of an ordinance amendment that would ban smoking in certain city parks. That amendment will be up for a council vote on Jan. 28.

• Swore in 16 members to various city committees.

• Greeted seven Bangor police officers who recently joined the force, as well as four other future officers who soon will be attending the Maine Criminal Justice Academy.

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