June 03, 2020
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Landlord released from jail on eve of deadly fire’s anniversary

Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Gregory Nisbet listens to a statement from Lisa Leconte-Mazziotti, mother of Nicole Finlay, who died in a fire in a building owned by Nisbet in 2014, on Dec. 1, 2016, in court in Portland.

Gregory Nisbet, the landlord sent to jail for his role in Maine’s deadliest house fire in decades, was released Wednesday — one day shy of the fourth anniversary of the blaze that killed six.

“It’s a strange coincidence,” said Luke Rioux, the lawyer who has represented Nisbet during the later stages of the drawn-out legal process that rose from the ashes of a rented Portland home.

Nisbet served 70 days of his 90-day sentence for a misdemeanor code violation, a typical term under Maine policy that allows inmates to be released early for earned “good time,” Rioux said.

[Landlord not guilty of manslaughter in Maine’s deadliest house fire in decades]

Save statements in court during the 2016 criminal trial in which he was acquitted of six counts of manslaughter, Nisbet has remained largely silent since the fire. In a written statement released through his lawyer Wednesday, he expressed “tremendous sadness.”

“To say that Greg thinks of those young lives every day is an understatement,” Rioux said. “The tragedy and the loss of life is with him constantly though everything he does.”

The fire that consumed 20 Noyes St. in the early hours of Nov. 1, 2014, was was kindled by a stray cigarette butt. It killed David Bragdon Jr., 27; Ashley Thomas, 29; and Nicole Finlay, 26 — who lived at 20 Noyes St. — as well as Maelisha Jackson, 23, of Topsham; Steven Summers, 29, of Rockland; and Chris Conlee, 25, of Portland, who were visiting that night.

[Two years after the deadly Portland fire, two little girls learn the truth of how their father died]

Holding landlords criminally responsible for fires at their properties is rare, and a judge ultimately found Nisbet not guilty on all but one count. He was convicted of a fire code violation for the windows on the third floor of his building — where three people where found dead — being too small to provide a second means of escape.

At the time of the trial, the father of one of the young men who died said he saw no justice in the sole conviction.

[Landlord’s $45k settlement for deadly Maine fire called ‘wholly inadequate’]

A year after the fire, Portland City Council voted unanimously to create a housing safety office, which keeps a registry of rental properties and employs several full-time housing inspectors to enforce housing safety code.

But years later, city staff are still finding scores of rental homes and apartments that do not meet code across Maine’s largest city.

Since January 2017, when the city reorganized the housing safety office and began specifically tracking such units, inspectors have found code violations in converted garages, finished basements, top-floor apartments and other spaces, totaling to 81 “illegal” units at 72 properties, a city official said in September.

[Maine’s largest city still finding scores of ‘illegal’ apartments]

In his statement, Nisbet said he hopes his experience will be a “wake-up call to landlords, property managers, contractors, homeowners, and others that we all need to know the building life and safety code and ensure full compliance.”

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