BRUNSWICK, Maine — A week after tenants of a downtown Brunswick apartment building were evacuated from their homes by town authorities, the property’s owner is hoping to resolve life-safety code violations identified by the Fire Department.
In an interview Wednesday, Bud Moody, the property manager recently hired to take care of the 19 Dunning St. building, said only a few items needed to be completed before tenants can return.
“We should be in good shape to get everyone back in,” Moody said. “That should be Friday at the latest, so we can get everyone home for the weekend. They’re all getting kind of antsy down there.”
On Sept. 17, residents of the building’s 11 apartments were abruptly ordered by fire officials to leave the building because of safety hazards.
The department had been working with the building’s owner, Curtis Pass, to fix problems, including blocked emergency exits, nonfunctioning smoke detectors and inadequate fire doors, since they were identified during an inspection in November 2013.
But another inspection two weeks ago revealed the same problems, leading town officials to condemn the building until the problems were addressed.
The apparently sudden enforcement surprised residents, who last week worried that they would end up homeless if assistance from the town ran out.
Deputy Fire Chief Jeff Emerson said that while the forced departure may seem like short notice, the way the story has played out in the media gives an inaccurate picture of what was going on at the building.
“The media has portrayed this as ‘we gave them 24 hours to move out,'” Emerson said.
“What I would suggest is no, we gave them a day to relocate, and we provided them a safe place to go, transportation and a place for their pets,” he continued. “At no time was anyone banned from their belongings, at no time was anyone left with no place to go.”
Nine of the building’s tenants are being housed in a local motel through the town’s office of human services.
Judy Hardy Goddard, a case worker at the office, said it will provide accommodation for the displaced residents until they are allowed to return to Dunning Street or, if necessary, find a new place to live.
Delivering emergency assistance on this scale is an unusual situation for the town, Goddard acknowledged.
Emerson said that considering Pass has known about the infractions for nearly a year, he had plenty of time to fix the situation. But Emerson acknowledged that many of the problems were “tenant-driven.”
“We were trying to make an unsafe situation better for a number of months, and it came down to us making a determination that there were very few things we could do to correct this and the level of risk was at a point where it was unacceptable to continue any longer.
“Once you make that determination you have to be willing to act on it.”
A disastrous fire occurred three years ago in a Maine Street building with multiple safety violations and was handled much as the Dunning Street apartments are, Emerson said.
“Obviously, when things like that happen, you modify your way of doing things,” he stated.
“We would rather be asked the questions we’re getting now, in far as ‘why are you doing this,’ than we would like to be asked ‘why didn’t you do something,'” Emerson continued.
The department’s code enforcement for apartment buildings is still driven by complaints, Emerson said. He guessed that the department made between 12 and 20 inspections this year because of them.
Brunswick could benefit from a broader-based inspection program, Emerson noted. “There is a need,” he said.
There has been significant progress made at the three-story apartment building, Emerson said, adding that he would be surprised if residents were not back by the beginning of next week.
Moody has replaced a fire door in the laundry room, corrected problems with the sprinkler system over the building’s boiler, and replaced or installed new smoke detectors in individual units.
The last major item to complete is putting fire-resistant sheeting on several doors in the building, he continued. The specialized sheeting has been ordered from a Canadian company and should be arriving by the end of the week.
Some of the violations outlined by the department were due to the actions of tenants, Moody said, but now that he is on-site as a property manager, there should be fewer problems.
“It’s hard for an off-site landlord to keep up with stuff like that,” he said.
For tenants of 19 Dunning St., the fixes can’t come soon enough. Moody said he gets called daily by residents who want to know when they can come back.
“They really want to come home,” he said.