NORWAY, Maine — Town officials have been advised to go to Oxford County Superior Court in an effort to condemn a Main Street apartment complex that they have deemed unsafe.
Town Manager David Holt said Friday that attorney Geoffrey H. Hole of Bernstein Shur in Portland advised Code Enforcement Officer Joelle Corey-Whitman that the town should go to court to get the owner of 168 Main St. and his renters out of the building. Town officials have not made a decision on whether to proceed with court action, Holt said.
The building is owned by Patrick McInnis, 70, who said he has lived in the building for decades and does not want to leave.
“We are working through the situation with Pat McInnis. We believe that the situation needs to be addressed and that Pat has not shown satisfactory progress. … Beyond that, I have not made any decisions other than we need to get the tenants out for their safety,” Holt said.
Corey-Whitman, who appeared at Thursday night’s selectmen’s meeting to discuss the condemnation, said she had just spoken to McInnis that day about the need to evict all the tenants because the house was not safe for habitation. But, she said, the local ordinance is vague about removing a tenant who is also the owner of the building. The Board of Selectmen agreed that she and Holt should contact the town attorney Friday to determine what steps they should take to proceed with the eviction.
On Sept. 4, the Board of Selectmen agreed to hold off on a vote to condemn the property after Corey-Whitman said she was hopeful the owner would make all the repairs in short order.
But when she returned to the board Thursday night, Corey-Whitman reported that there remained too many safety issues to allow the tenants and owner to remain.
McInnis was told two weeks ago that he needed to make immediate repairs, but Corey-Whitman said when she entered the apartment units Thursday she not only observed some of the same electrical problems but saw tenants trying to make repairs themselves.
Corey-Whitman said that while some repairs had been done, such as ceilings, major electrical deficiencies still exist, including smoke detectors hardwired together, switches not grounded, some seared wires, excess items stored in the basement that prevent easy access to problem electrical boxes and other issues.
“There are lots of life-safety issues,” she said.
Corey-Whitman said she is afraid that with the house being heated by electricity, the electrical boxes will not be able to handle all the power being used at once.
McInnis said Friday that despite some electrical problems, he feels safe in his home.
He said that some of the issues, such as a seared electrical box and a sparking electrical box, were caused by tenant abuse. He conceded there were several boxes that were not grounded, but he has a new electrician to complete repairs on the electrical needs immediately.
The problem is that “renters have all the rights,” McInnis said.
“They’ve got the word to come to Norway,” McInnis said. “They pay the first month’s rent, but once they’re in the door, they don’t pay anymore.”
McInnis said there are occasions when the tenants vandalize the units and then say they won’t pay because the unit needs repairs.
“They cause the problem, then they don’t pay. I have to wait them out,” he said.
McInnis said he was able to evict one tenant recently, but he has another who brought a family member in for longer than agreed upon. Then many other people started to show up each day.
“They come in droves. There were 29 people here at one time,” he said.
Although McInnis knows he is on the verge of having the town condemn the house, he admits he continues to advertise for tenants and for tenants who might be self-sufficient enough to do repairs.
In the Oct. 18 edition of the Advertiser-Democrat, McInnis advertised a two-bedroom, second-floor apartment that “needs repairs” for $450 a month “to right handy person.”
McInnis said Friday that he had three calls Friday morning asking about the rental space, but he referred each to other landlords in town because of the latest developments with the town. He said he is hoping to get clearance from the town to rent the units one by one as they are repaired, so he continues to advertise for tenants.
McInnis, who said he has multiple health problems, little money, hoards too much “stuff,” smokes too much and has only a third-grade education, said he knows he needs help.
He said he would probably be willing to leave his home and give up being a landlord if he could find some quiet place to live where he could keep his things and continue to smoke.
“I need some help,” he said. “I know that I’m just holding on, doing a lot of praying and hoping someone will help me. I have no answers.”