LEWISTON — With promises to work with landlords, Mayor Robert Macdonald said it's time to start cracking down on the people ruining the city.
"A few people that probably shouldn't be here, and we really don't want them here, are in our city," Macdonald said. "It's time to clean it up."
Macdonald and the City Council got their first look Tuesday night at what could become a disorderly property ordinance — requiring landlords to fix situations when their tenants are causing problems, disturbing their neighbors or committing crimes.
"Unfortunately, we are defined by a small area of the city," Macdonald said. "But most of the people in that area are the working poor, and they are suffering more than anybody else because they are sitting there all night long, being kept up by these other people."
City Administrator Ed Barrett gave councilors copies of a Rockland ordinance that does what Macdonald wants at a special workshop meeting. Barrett said a Lewiston ordinance may be very different from Rockland's.
"We don't have to use the same standards, and we have the police looking through our records now to see how it might work with this ordinance here and our call patterns," Barrett said. "We're looking to see how frequently we are called to certain properties and certain units."
The Rockland ordinance declares a property disorderly if police have been called there three times in 60 days or 10 times in a year. Owners of disorderly properties are required to meet with city officials and police to identify the problems and come up with solutions.
Landlords who don't work with the city or don't try to fix the problem face fines of up to $500.
Macdonald said a new ordinance should not be an attempt to force landlords to act as parents or police officers but to take responsibility for their tenants. And Barrett said the process could end up helping landlords.
"It's a very difficult process to evict anyone, and this might be of assistance in documenting the frequency with which the Police Department has had to deal with that property and documenting that they are under some pressure to address the problem," Barrett said. "It could provide proof that it's not a case where a landlord doesn't just dislike the tenant."
Macdonald said the city would work with landlords to come up with a fair ordinance.
A group of landlords attending Tuesday's workshop said they were open to the idea, but had concerns.
"Financially, this ordinance is not going to hurt me at all," said building owner Stan Pelletier. "And if the city wants to give me an affidavit that says certain people don't belong there, I'd love it."
Building owner Donna LeBrun said she thinks tenants should be responsible for their own behavior.
"The landlords should not receive a fine because the police have been sent on a lot of calls," she said. "Obviously, this is not a money-making proposition for a lot of landlords today. I really think people need to be responsible for their actions. I don't think people really are."
Candis Henson, a property manager for several buildings, said she's worried that the landlords and the city could get drawn into conflicts between tenants, with the landlord being forced to pay a fine.
"Invariably I have that one tenant that wants everything to be pin-drop quiet all the time," she said. "I have tenants that call the police on a regular basis now. So I am in favor of this now, but I hope we can come to some understanding of that."