June 22, 2018
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Rockland boarding house faces closure unless tenants clean up their act

By Stephen Betts, BDN Staff

ROCKLAND, Maine — The City Council renewed the lodging license for Rockland’s largest rooming house for only three months on Monday night after its police chief declared that the establishment was in violation of the community’s disorderly conduct law.

Among the potential solutions that the owner of the Brunswick Rooms and city officials have agreed to implement during that probationary period, the management will work with police to review criminal records of prospective tenants before agreeing to rent to anyone.

The declaration by Police Chief Bruce Boucher that the 28-room, three-story complex is a disorderly property followed a series of incidents in which police had to respond at the 204 South Main St. facility.

The city’s disorderly house law kicks in when there have been five or more police calls about disorderly conduct such as fights, loud music or loud noises at a single property within a 60-day period or 10 or more calls over the past year.

Chief Boucher had put the owner of the Brunswick Rooms — Colin Wentworth through his company Colinda Inc. — on notice at the end of April that police were responding to an excessive number of criminal complaints at the residential complex. There had been 22 police responses to the Brunswick Rooms in a little more than a month with seven of those being disorderly conduct cases, he pointed out in a letter to Wentworth.

On July 22, when the owner applied for a renewal of the business’ lodging license, the chief reviewed newer complaints and found that police had to respond to disturbances at that location five more times between May 20 and July 18 for assaults, disorderly conduct and a drug offense. Based on that information, the chief made his declaration of the Brunswick Rooms being a disorderly property.

On the weekend after that declaration, police were called to the Brunswick Rooms and arrested a man who lived there, accusing him of clubbing another resident.

City Attorney Kevin Beal said that the intent of the law is to get property owners to correct the problems. The law allows the city to impose a $100 fine for the first violation if there are continued problems at a disorderly property after it has been declared one if the owner has not tried to correct the situation. Subsequent offenses could result in fines of up to $500 for each violation.

Rockland first adopted a disorderly property ordinance in June 2003 when a series of complaints arose about tenants in an apartment building on State Street. Those complaints ended up with the arrests of six members of the same family for a variety of charges related to disorderly conduct.

The council amended that city law in March to shorten the period in which complaints have to accumulate before police can take action against an owner.

Lodging licenses in Rockland are generally issued on an annual basis. The city, however, met with Wentworth and worked out an agreement, signed on Aug. 5, in which the Brunswick Rooms owner agreed to take a series of steps to decrease the property’s disorderly conduct reports. The license renewal, however, will only be for three months to allow the city to monitor whether those steps have been taken and are working.

Boucher said earlier this year that in his seven years with the department, he has only on three occasions declared a property to be disorderly. He said landlords become cooperative and the city has never had to go to court to enforce the law.

The chief said that Wentworth similarly is cooperating with the city.

Wentworth has agreed to have the management of the boarding house contact police to review criminal records of prospective lodgers.

“You will not let lodgings to applicants who represent a threat to the orderly, peaceful, and safe operation of the lodging house,” the written agreement states.

Wentworth said Wednesday that the aim is to screen out people who have violent records or could pose a disruption to the other residents. He said he was happy to work with city officials to address their concerns.

He said that the tenants are a mix of short-term transients and long-term renters.

A registration system also will be established for guests of people renting rooms in which the guests sign in and are provided copies of rules of behavior.

The agreement also requires the owner to meet at least on a weekly basis with the manager who must inform Wentworth of disorderly incidents or other criminal activity inside the building or immediately outside the Brunswick Rooms.

Larry Wotton, who has lived in the complex for a little more than a year, said Wednesday that he has never had any problems, but that he has witnessed a couple of incidents down the hall.

“But there are incidents at all hotels or where people stay,” he said.

Wotton nevertheless seemed impressed with some of the plans for the complex.

The owner has “installed 12 cameras throughout the building,” Wotton said. “He’s going to supply us a lock for the front door. The doors are going to be locked at a reasonable time, so no one in and out, no traffic at night.”

Bob Brewer, who grew up in the neighborhood and was visiting his mother next door on Wednesday, recalled times when the rooming house “was a real nuisance [with] a lot of noise and activity.’

He doesn’t live in the neighborhood anymore, but said that while visiting with his mother, she told him that it was quieter now and that the tenants “seem to be better behaved.”

Brewer added that he was surprised that city officials were taking action now, because “it’s not as bad as it’s been in the past.”

The Brunswick Rooms has been in operation since 1975 and Wentworth has owned the property since 1977.

Wentworth attended Monday night’s council meeting but did not speak during the session. There was no debate about the license renewal at the meeting.

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