By Carol McCracken (Post # 2,223)
Today the city released inspection information on the burned out rental house located at 20-24 Noyes Street, near the University of Southern Maine campus. The release of the report, previously unavailable, was issued most likely under legal pressure due to a Freedom of Information request from another publication. The information was unavailable because of an on-going investigation into the reasons for the fire early last Saturday morning – all of which could result in a criminal case according to the city – six young lives were lost in that 3-alarm fire.
The two-page, undated report goes back to August 28, 2003 for the property at 20-24 Noyes Street, at the corner of Freeman Street. On that August date, the city received a complaint about the property. The report does not indicate the nature of the complaint (noise, trash build-up, etc.) or from whom it was received about Greg Nisbet, the current owner of the property and a real estate agent in South Portland, at DownEast Realty. Another complaint was similarly received in November of 2003. In April of 2005 another complaint was received against Greg Nisbet for an unidentified reason at the Noyes Street property.
Then, according to the same city report, beginning on July 8, of 2009 and continuing up until June 9, 2014, there were a series of thirteen (13) complaints concerning the “bulky trash, furniture, debris, green garbage bags filled. Pile is increasing.” There have been sightings of rodents among the mess as well. There were also complaints about an illegal addition, that could have impeded a tenants escape, to the top floor of the building. On the last entry this spring, there is a notation that if the anonymous inspector received additional complaints, the unidentified inspector could write a “summons.” (whoooopee!) Before that happened, apparently, the 3-alarm fire that killed six people happened.
In contrast, if car owners accumulate three (3) outstanding parking tickets, they are eligible to have their car immobilized (booted) until all costs are paid. Why not immobilize (boot) the cars of negligent landlords after three (3) complaints as well? Or, better yet, boot cars after accumulating sixteen (16) warnings? Where are the priorities here? Why the grandstanding with another task force? Just fine the slumlords until they learn its better not to be slumlords.
The city has responded by announcing the creation of yet another task force. (whoopee!) A glaring gap in the composition of the task force is the lack of tenants to be seated on the task force. “The task force will include representatives from Fire, Police, Inspections, Social Services, Corporation Counsel, a local landlord association as well as technical assistance from other cities that have been through similar events,” according to a press release issued today by the city’s spokesperson, Jessica Grondin. In a city and state where the only rights tenants have is to pay their rent on time, this omission is just another slap in the face by city government to those most affected by the negligence of landlords. If the task force is flawed to start with, can the outcome be taken seriously? Who designed this task force anyway? Not a renter.
The city’s inspection office has been the object of several major consultants’ reports over the years because of the inherent problems therein. First, there were problems because the computer systems were inadequate. Inspectors wrote notes about their work in their cars in between stops. These handwritten reports were filed in their cars because there were no appropriate systems in place in which to dump this information. In an independent and much-anticipated review of the Fire Department just last spring, the consultant recommended that apartment buildings be inspected on a regular yearly basis. (whooopee!)
“The purpose of the task force initially is a technical review of the fire and building codes. Certainly development of the community education component, which I can foresee being a part of the recommendations, would be a good fit for tenant participation,” said Sheila Hill-Christian, acting city manager, in an email to mhn.com in a response to a query.
This decision begs the question: What is the message here to renters in Portland?