OLD TOWN, Maine — Ongoing problems involving a Stillwater Avenue rental residence have prompted city officials to consider adopting an ordinance aimed at disruptive properties, the city’s code enforcement officer said Friday.
At issue is a single-family house in the 700 block of Stillwater Avenue that currently is being rented by five college students, Code Enforcement Officer Dave Russell said last week, after city councilors discussed the plan during a committee meeting.
Among the problems that have been attributed to the house are large gatherings, parking problems, noise and trespassing, Russell said, adding that city police have visited the house on numerous occasions during the past two decades.
Though Old Town’s housing rental rules limit the number of unrelated renters to three per unit, the property that prompted the discussion is grandfathered, he said.
“It’s been an ongoing situation for the last 20 years,” said Russell, who has served as Old Town’s code enforcement officer since 2011. He said he recently became aware of the matter when a resident who lives near the rental house called to complain.
“I think it’s a situation where it’s been going on so long, he called me out of the blue and came to a council meeting that night,” Russell said.
If approved by city councilors, the problem property provisions would be folded into the city’s nuisance ordinance, said Russell, who is working with Erik Stumpfel, the city’s attorney, on a draft of the ordinance.
Russell said that in developing a disruptive building ordinance for Old Town, he researched similar rules put into place by Bangor, Bar Harbor and Amherst, Mass., which like Old Town is home to a college student population.
“It’s a lot like Bangor’s,” which drew heavily on an earlier ordinance adopted by the town of Orono, Russell said of the proposed Old Town version. The idea is to get landlords — especially absentee landlords — to keep unruly tenants in check by imposing an escalating series of consequences on landlords.
The first offense would lead to a meeting between the city and the property owner, who would be given a notice and a copy of the ordinance.
Subsequent offenses would result in fines that would start at $500 and would increase in $500 increments, Russell said. Upon the fifth offense, the City Council would have the option of shutting the problem building down for 60 to 180 days, he said.
“My hope is that people who have problem tenants are not ever going to let it get to that point,” he said.
During last week’s discussion of the proposed with members of the councilors’ Administrative Services Committee, Stumpfel noted that the rights of landlords also must be kept in mind.
“It’s tempting for the city to enact an order that says we can stick a label on this property and say it’s a disruptive property and that this has some negative code consequences or potential fines that are associated with it,” he said. “[But] that simply isn’t allowing for due process
“At some point — whether in advance of this designation or as part of an appeals process — you have to give that property owner a right to contest this designation,” he said. “The simplest way would be to give them the right to go to the Board of Appeals [in the event] of the code officer’s or the police chief’s designation but there has to be some process upon which they can challenge that,” he said.