RUMFORD — The Planning Board provided requested feedback Wednesday night on proposed standards that would require property owners to adequately maintain their buildings.
Fire Chief Robert Chase and Code Enforcement Officer Rick Kent told the board they have been drafting an ordinance 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.
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, Chase said.
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," Chase said.
"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.
"And what we need to say is, 'Just because nobody's living there, doesn't mean there doesn't have to be some level of maintenance on the property to keep it from getting to the point where it becomes a fire hazard,'" Chase said. "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.
One Planning Board member asked if any town Rumford's size 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," Kent said. "It doesn't cover a lot of the issues that we have here."
Planner 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," Chase said.
He said it could apply to both types of buildings.
Thibodeau asked Chase and Kent how much power the proposed ordinance would give them 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.
Chase 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.
"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," Kent said. "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," he said.
"We're trying to meet a need," Chase said of the proposed ordinance. "Buildings are falling into disrepair."