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Housing standards ordinance taking shape
RUMFORD -- Fire Chief Robert Chase and Code Enforcement Officer Rick Kent have been drafting an ordinance on proposed standards that would require property owners to adequately maintain their buildings.
They have been using the International Public Property Maintenance Code as a baseline. From that and a Lewiston ordinance, they have developed a two-page draft of exceptions and changes.
They met Wednesday for the third time with the Rumford Planning Board, which provided feedback and suggestions as the proposed ordinance gets refined.
Chase said the new code would address things they've received complaints on, but couldn't do anything about due to the lack of a law or standard. They include debris and garbage in someone's yard, automobile relics, a dilapidated property and burned-out buildings that are harming property values or causing health and safety concerns.
Planning Board member Kenrick Thibodeau asked if the proposed standard would cover single-family or multi-family buildings.
"What we're looking for is a mechanism by which Rick, when he gets a complaint on an occupied or an unoccupied building, has a criteria to judge it by," responded Chase, adding that it could apply to both types of buildings.
Asked if any other town the size of Rumford has such an ordinance, Kent said Norway has a maintenance code it created, but it's not based on the international code. "It's very generic. It doesn't cover a lot of the issues that we have here."
Having a public property maintenance ordinance would enable Chase and Kent to request a plan of correction from property owners.
"From Rick's perspective, that allows him to address a lot of the complaints he gets," said Chase.
"From my perspective, it's that we're getting an inventory of buildings in town, which haven't necessarily become unsafe but aren't being maintained, so they're deteriorating at a rate that they're going to quickly become unsafe, and then they'll be walked away from," he said.
Further, Chase noted that just because a building is not occupied doesn't mean there shouldn't be some level of maintenance on the property to keep it from getting to the point where it becomes a fire hazard. "Because when it becomes a fire hazard, it takes the building next to it, as well. And so, you can't just not take care of the building."
He said there's got to be some standard by which it's maintained.
Thibodeau asked how much power the proposed ordinance would give Chase and Kent if adopted by the town.
Chase said the ordinance could give a code enforcement officer the right to enter a building, although Kent said that with current law, if someone forbids him from entering, he can seek a warrant to do so. He said a penalty clause should be added so that if a property owner does not address a plan of correction, a noncompliance fine would be assessed.
Kent said, "If there's anything outside, they would get written up for it, but if there's anything I need to get at inside, I would write a letter letting them know we'd like to come in for whatever reason. I get a lot of complaints, and with a lot of it, I can't do anything about because we don't have an ordinance."
Kent said that even with a penalty clause, he won't have the power to levy the fine. He said time, perhaps 30 days, would have to be given to develop a plan for correction, then perhaps a second or third letter to continue addressing the issue. "We can't fine someone until the court issues it as a violation of a town law."
Chase said this idea was originally brought up at an ordinance hearing with selectmen, who supported the idea but asked that Chase seek other opinions before presenting a final proposed ordinance.
He said this is the third time he has met on this with the Planning Board as they work to delete portions deemed unnessarily and edit what remains. They are expected to complete their task at their meeting in January.
If the proposed ordinance is supported by the Board of Selectmen, Chase said a public hearing will take place before it goes on a ballot for voter approval.