Biddeford eyes ordinance forcing landlords to pay for bedbug removals

Posted Nov. 09, 2013, at 9:13 a.m.
Last modified Nov. 10, 2013, at 3:08 p.m.

BIDDEFORD, Maine — The City Council gave initial approval last week to two ordinances that could affect a residents’ ability to get a good night’s sleep.

There was no discussion prior to the council unanimously passing a measure Nov. 6 to define tenants’ and landlords’ responsibilities when it comes to getting rid of bedbugs.

Both proposals were vetted in October before the policy committee.

Bedbugs weren’t a problem until recent years, said Code Enforcement Officer Roby Fecteau when he gave a presentation on the ordinance to members of the policy committee.

“I would say [the city’s bedbug problem] plateaued,” he said, “but it’s constant. This would be a way for us to intervene.”

Currently there is no local ordinance that deals specifically with bedbugs.

“I think this a fair way to approach it,” said Councilor Michael Ready, a policy committee member.

The ordinance would require landlords to inspect an apartment within five days of receiving notice from tenants that they suspect a bedbug infestation.

If the infestation is confirmed, the landlord has 10 days to contact a pest control agent, and the landlord would be responsible for following the agent’s recommendations.

Until the problem is remedied, properties with bedbugs can’t be rented.

Tenants would also share responsibilities in clearing up bedbug infestations.

They would have to notify their landlord promptly if they suspect there are bedbugs. They would be required to allow access to their apartment to the landlord or pest control agent after receiving 24 hours notice and would be required to comply with “reasonable” measures to eliminate the problem.

If they don’t, tenants would be financially responsible for pest control treatments.

Under the proposed ordinance, if the property owner or tenant fails to meet their requirements, the city could issue a fine.

The council also acted on an ordinance to discourage properties from being a nuisance to those around them.

Resident Tammy Ackerman lives on Franklin Street near a bar that often keeps her up at night.

“[The proposal] is a step in the right direction, a big step,” she said.

The proposed nuisance property ordinance would be similar to the disorderly housing ordinance except it could deal with businesses.

The disorderly housing ordinance has been “very successful,” Biddeford police Chief Roger Beaupre told policy committee members.

Of the “three designations of a disorderly house,” he said, “none resulted in a fine, and all were resolved.”

“The success of the disorderly housing ordinance has been so great, we need to expand it to include other properties,” said Beaupre.

If the nuisance property proposal receives final approval, city officials would have the legal tools and procedures to discourage, abate and punish nuisance behavior at a residential, public or commercial property.

Violations for waste disposal, health or safety, or repeated parking or traffic issues on or near the property, whether committed by tenants, guests, patrons or employees, could be considered when determining if a property is a nuisance.

Other actions that could be considered include if tenants, guests, patrons or employees of a property unreasonably disturb or interfere with nearby businesses or residents, as well as incidents of disorderly conduct, vandalism, disturbing the peace and other illegal activity.

To be deemed a nuisance property would require that police be called to a property between three to five times, depending on the number of units in the building, within a 30-day period.

Business or property owners of a nuisance property would be required to meet with the police and enter a written agreement on how to resolve the issues.

Fines could be levied and legal action could be taken against those who don’t comply.

For those who don’t comply with abatement measures, that behavior can be taken into account when a business applies to renew its business and/or liquor license, said Beaupre.

The proposal “gets to the intent to discourage a business from becoming disorderly,” said Delilah Poupore, executive director of the downtown revitalization organization, Heart of Biddeford.

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