Lewiston police inspect abandoned tenements

LEWISTON — A broken-down door, shattered windows and walls ripped open to show where the copper plumbing once was: hundreds of buildings in the downtown look just like that, Code Enforcement/police officer Jeffrey Baril said Tuesday.

Vacant buildings in Lewiston
Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Officer Charles Weaver of the Lewiston Police Department closes a window in the vacant property at 178-180 Holland St. in Lewiston on Tuesday morning during an inspection with Code Enforcement Officer Jeff Baril.

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This week, the city is mostly concerned with 86 of those buildings.

Four of the city's community resource officers, stationed at the department's Bates Street Substation, have been given the job of inspecting the properties on the city's list of vacant, abandoned and condemned buildings.

Their job is to document the conditions — whether it is locked up tight or has broken windows and doors, how much trash has been left on the floor and what shape the interior is in.

They pass that along to City Hall, which is hiring contractors to visit each building, clear out the trash and seal it up with boards on all of the doors and windows.

"It's going to be expensive," Sgt. Robert Ullrich said, "but it's what we need to do. It's what has to happen right now."

The effort is part of the city's response to the series of downtown fires and an effort to make sure the empty tenements are vacant and as fire-proof as can be.

By Tuesday morning, the team of four officers had visited 28 properties on the city's abandoned buildings list.

Officer Charles Weaver said a building on Lincoln Street stood out: the doors and windows were blocked, the building was empty and the walls had been opened to the timbers. There were no copper pipes to steal, no trash left to pick through and no mattresses left behind to make squatters comfortable.

That was the only one.

Most have been like the buildings at 178-180 Holland St., a three-apartment building with a single-family-sized home in the back. It was occupied until last spring when the last tenant died. It has since been set upon by trespassers.

All of the doors have been kicked open, one completely torn off its frame. Many of the recently installed vinyl windows have been broken and the walls are gaping, thanks to copper thieves. The neat wood floors are covered 6 inches deep with trash, including fast-food bags and cups, cartons from beer and soda six-packs and soiled clothes and bedsheets.

"This was a good building at one time," Baril said. "You could see that someone cared for it at some point."

Neighbors Awadia Abushag and Leah Hersom say they watch the building warily, especially in the wake of the recent fires.

"I feel like we are farther away from everything that's happening, but it's close enough to feel uncomfortable," Hersom said.

Baril said every building has a story. At 92 Walnut St., the owner died last spring, leaving an empty building and a green Subaru wagon parked alongside it. He left no will or papers giving his children property rights.

It too became a magnet for criminal activity, and both building and car have been picked apart.

"This broken window is wide open, and there's a mattress and a chair sitting right next to it," he said. "It doesn't mean people are staying here and living here. This could be an area where they come for any number of illegal activities — prostitution, drugs. Any way you slice it, it's all criminal trespass."

Ullrich said police patrols will be paying special attention to those buildings, especially once they are closed up for good. They ask neighbors to call if they see anyone strange. Trespassers will be arrested.

Once they've finished working through the 86 addresses on the city's abandoned-building list, they will look at the rest of the downtown, Ullrich said.

"Maybe there are some we don't know about or are not on the list or have problems with trash built up around them," Ullrich said. "We can start identifying the next steps. If there is a landlord attached, the Code Enforcement Office can address it with them."

staylor@sunjournal.com

Condemned building
Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

This red and white symbol designating a condemned building on 91 Pine Street is just one of many such buildings throughout Lewiston.

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Gail Labelle's picture

Lewiston police inspect abandoned tenements

The story tells me that the Code Enforcement Division may be understaff due to budget cuts since the city's police force are now involved? If the Code Enforcement Division has been working on cleaning up, inspecting and demolishing properties for almost two years, then why were individuals still living in condem buildings? Was Section 8 or any HUD monies collected during this time? Were the properties no longer owned by the owners, banks and now owned by the city? Why such overcowding of families in units that were not built for a large family? Over 1000 people on the waiting list for housing at Lewiston Housing?? I am glad the city of Lewiston is stepping up and finally doing something to get rid of the hideous buildings with the large Red X 's on them! I want to see more action from the owners of these properties step up, take responsiblity for your units. If you can not afford to fix them , take them down and build retail instead.....Code Enforcement the rules have been there for years, as a former owner I know about the inspections, have these gone to the wayside in the since 2000? I own a beautiful building, kept it up and lived in it. I look at it now I am disgusted and very upset in the condition it now is in.....It takes more than that small talk to start change, my question is when are the citizens of Lewiston going to begin the action to start the change the landscape of thier downtown area?

Steve  Dosh's picture

Lewiston police inspect abandoned tenements

Mayor Mac Donald and Gov. LePage 20:30 hst ? Tuesday
Is it cheaper to raze these buildings now or have arsonists set them on fire later and then respond to the tragic events and the inevitable loss of llife , livelyhood and shelter ?
Your voting public would perhaps want to know the answers to these important questions immediately
You have a sworn responsibility to them to provide timely solutions before an other liƒe is compromised unnecessarily
Now
? Steve

David Marsters's picture

Abandoned tenements

It may be wise to have the fire dept burn down these buildings in a controlled burn before someone is killed by these fires. It would be cheaper than having to hire demolition contractors come in. All they would have to do is pick up the ashes.

FRANK EARLEY's picture

I'm curious about something......

I realize the laws are in place to maintain a certain balance. However when an individual dies, and a piece of property is left to rot, instead of at least trying to allow relatives to maintain or other wise, properly dispose of the property, to me sounds a little foolish. There is no written will, the relatives may be distant, the diseased may have owed money, there are a million possibilities. to just allow the place to disintegrate for the lack of a will is stupid, to allow it to become a haven for criminal behavior is insane. If the family could not or would not accept responsibility of the place, allow a nonprofit, or other entity take over while it's still a usable piece of property.
What ever the legal need of a will is, shouldn't allow a building to become a danger to surrounding properties. Maybe it's time to rethink the legal process of handling vacant properties while they are still useable, before they become targets for every criminal out there. Also a long abandoned building pays no taxes, weather the owner is dead or alive.

Bob White's picture

What's your idea??? Keep

What's your idea??? Keep giving people more and more help till they are totally unable to take care of them self's and become totally dependent? Sure their are people that need help ( elderly kids and people down on their luck) but come on you need to help your self. Maybe it is as simple as don't feed the animals I'm not saying the people that need help are animals I'm using that as a meta for. Do you think if we cut back on say the 20 something's that have their hats cocked to the side and their pants around their waste that hang out at their girl friends house who is on section 8 smoking cigs would be in the streets starving? Of course not they would maybe think wow I need to take care of myself. What did the people do before their was all this aid? Do you take care of your family? Do provide the needed things for your family? What would you do if something changed in your life? I bet you would dig deep and work hard. Do you think the ability for you to take care of your family is buy luck of course not its cause of you and your determination guess. A wise man once said" give a man a fish he eats for a day teach him how to fish he will not be hungry

Steve  Dosh's picture

Bob ? That's an old and tired

Bob ? That's an old and tired truism . You seem to offer no solutions , either . So be it .  No one chooses to be poor , Nobody wants to be on welfare , SNAP , TANF , or in the slums of Canal St Loystone [ sic .] ME 04240 us of a . Walk a mile in their shoes . Volunteer
" Give a man a fish and he eats for a day. Teach him to fish and he eats for a lifetime. "
What would happen if:
A philosopher walked by? He'd quote the above and walk away, the man would starve.
A Republican walked by? He' tell the man to learn to fish, but not give him a fishing pole.
A Democrat walked by? He'd take a fish from someone else and give it to the man and say "Vote for me, aren't I wonderful."
A bureaucrat walked by? He’d set up a program to give the man a fish every day. He’d run the program and take 5 fish per day for himself
If iwere in L/A i'd give him and his family a fire and he'd cook that fish and they'd eat it
The Atlantic salmon are back in the Androscoggin all the way to Great Falls
hth /s, Steve , former Georges Bank fisherman -- bluefin , lobster , sea urchins , mackerel , tub lines , you name it ... Fish or cut bait

Bob White's picture

Steve if your right nobody

Steve if your right nobody chooses to be poor then nobody chooses to be rich or able to take care of themselves either. So what your saying is that the reason you have had success has nothing to do with your determination to succeeded. I cant speak for you but for any success I have had and I will have I will take full credit for however it goes the same way for any failures I have had and will have. That's the difference from me and probably you as well we take responsibility for our actions and we work on making it happen. These people need to be pushed they need to be able to sink or swim. We have a problem in todays world and I know you know this that you are consider a bad person if you even think of making these people work for it. Look at Rommney when he said 51% of the people are on some sort of welfare. They hammered him "oh he wants the old people and the kids to starve". I don't know him but I'm guessing he was talking about the 20 something's that are just hanging out smoking and doing drugs and making kids this needs to stop. There are plenty of ways we can stop this I don't have the time nor am I a good enough typer to type it all out. One more thing as for Volunteering I will say this to you. I spent 20 years on a Volunteer fire & rescue department back when it was really a volunteer fire department we didn't get paid a penny. I spent many nights weekends and holidays helping people in their worst moments in life not for pay or even thanks I did it because I wanted to.

Gent Schevner's picture

Good to see

It's a start. Should have been a lot more. The city's criminal elements have preyed upon these properties for a long time now. To be blunt, unless these properties are demolished they will continue to become havens for the city's scourges of prostitution and crack/heroin addiction. The addict prostitute really won't mind the 'red x' symbol. In fact, it tells them there is a good spot to squat.

I know it isn't an easy problem, but it was encouraging to see some action. Hats off to landlords that hired hands to clean this up without a formal prompt from the city.

KELLY SCOTTI's picture

Well Bob, that's a modest

Well Bob, that's a modest proposal. What's the annual salary cutoff for this program? I suggest we solve the unwanted pregnancy problem at the same time. Surely it's not the first time it's been suggested but with the current political climate I'm sure we can make it happen.

Bob White's picture

Why has it taken three fires

Why has it taken three fires for them to be doing this?

Bob White's picture

They live like animals maybe

They live like animals maybe we should start treating them like animals and stop feeding the animals. We have signs that say "no feeding the animals" at our National Parks out west.

Steve  Dosh's picture

ed. 21:00 hst Tuesday (

ed. 21:00 hst Tuesday ( still )
Nice newspaper ?
Better than the other one http://www.twincitytimes.com
http://www.sunjournal.com/news/our-view/2013/05/04/we-are-proud-call-cit...
/s , Steve

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