AUBURN — Police and code enforcement employees are keeping a closer eye on Auburn's vacant and abandoned buildings in the wake of downtown Lewiston's spate of fires.
"We've always kept records of code complaints, and unsecured buildings is the most common complaint with a vacant building," said Eric Cousens, director planning and permitting for Auburn Planning, Permitting & Code Department. "Now, we are focusing more on somewhat routine inspections, to make sure they stay secure."
Cousens said Auburn has a list of 66 properties that have been abandoned by owners. About 45 of the properties are near the center of the city.
The list includes two warehouses, some industrial land off of Washington Street North near the Rotary, 39 single-family homes and 24 multifamily units. Multifamily units range from duplexes to seven-unit apartment buildings.
The list is generated from city records of foreclosures, properties that city staff and police officers notice appear vacant or from neighbor complaints.
"It's not illegal for a property to be vacant," Cousens said. "Sometimes you just cannot put people in a property until a foreclosure is completed. But that's not really our concern. We're more concerned that it stays safe and secure. And keeping it secure is usually enough to keep it safe."
City councilors are scheduled to vote June 3 on demolishing one of the properties, a three-story, four-unit tenement at 9 Gamage Ave. If councilors agree, the property owner would have until July to either demolish the building or come up with a plan for repairs.
"It's been chronically unsecured, and we had a fire there in January," Cousens said.
If owners don't step forward, Cousens said the city would begin advertising for a demolition crew to take it down.
Cousens said there no other demolitions planned right now.
"We don't have any other buildings that are in that kind of condition," Cousens said. "It's really not a building worth saving."
According the list, obtained by the Sun Journal in a Maine Freedom of Access request, the vacant buildings are spread around the city but are clustered north of Court Street and the Union Street bypass.
Deputy police Chief Jason Moen said city officials were reluctant to make the list public, fearing it would bring squatters and copper thieves.
"Our concern is copper theft, especially for the single-family homes that are vacant," Moen said. "They are more prone to thieves."
Moen said the list has been given to beat officers who drive by the properties regularly to check on them. Police volunteers and city code employees are visiting them more regularly, too, Cousens said.
"We do them when we are in the area," Cousens said. "There's not an exact schedule, but when there are buildings that are on that list we hope we can at least drive by and check on them. And we have stepped those inspections up in the past week or so."