Tenants, not landlords, responsible for building electricity, council says

LEWISTON — Landlords won't be held responsible if tenants fail to pay their electricity bills, city councilors said Tuesday.

Amber Waterman/Sun Journal

Amber Waterman/Sun Journal

"When I call CMP, I don't get squat," Lewiston City Councilor Denis Theriault said during Tuesday night's City Council meeting, in reference to being a landlord. The councilors discussed the recent policy that would cite landlords and tenants if the power to an apartment is shut off.

Amber Waterman/Sun Journal

Amber Waterman/Sun Journal

Tina Robert, right, shares a laugh with fellow landlord Keiko Ingerson, left, and her daughter-in-law, Nancy Ingerson, center, during a Lewiston City Council meeting Tuesday night to discuss the recent policy that would cite landlords and tenants if power is cut off to a unit after nonpayment. The women were at the meeting to voice their displeasure over the policy.

A crowd of 30-plus Lewiston landlords urged councilors to discard a policy enacted after 9-year-old Taylor McQueeney was killed last August when her River Street apartment building burned. Fire officials blamed the blaze on candles used to light a room in the building after the tenants stopped paying the electric bill and the electricity was turned off.

Code Enforcement Director Gil Arsenault said his staff began placarding
buildings where the power is turned off, declaring them uninhabitable.
Both tenants and landlords are notified and warned that they could face a civil fine of $105 each if the power was not restored within 24 hours.

That's a knee-jerk reaction to a tragic turn of events, councilors and landlords said Tuesday. Tenants alone should be held responsible.

"Last time I looked, this was not Russia," Councilor Denis Theriault said. "It's not my responsibility when someone doesn't pay their light bill. What's next? Will I have to pay for their cable bill, too?"

Landlords said they were afraid tenants would be quick to take advantage of the situation.

"I don't think there's any doubt about this," said Lisa Toussaint, who owns several Lewiston apartments. "As soon as tenants find out about this, they will take advantage."

Acting City Administrator Phil Nadeau said the policy was based on existing city ordinances and rules and an attempt to fix potential life safety issues.

The August fire destroyed the building at 52 River St. before spreading to the neighboring 48 River St. building and melting the vinyl siding off two other buildings. The roofs of the buildings at 48 and 52 River St. collapsed, and as many as 50 people were evacuated from five apartment buildings.

According to fire inspectors, tenants ran an extension cord from the
second story to power a television and video games on the third floor and had used
candles for light.

Nadeau said his staff has monitored eight more situations since August where electricity was turned off at a downtown apartment.

"Each time, we applied this policy and each time, either the electricity was turned back on or the tenant moved out of the building," Nadeau said. Tenants paid to have the power turned back on in two instances, landlords paid in three of the instances and a landlord and tenant split the costs in another.

"At no time was the landlord required to pay for the power," Nadeau said. "The goal isn't to get them to pay. The goal is to get the tenants out."

Councilors decided to remove landlords from the policy, letting city staff placard buildings where electricity has been turned off and issue summonses to the tenants.

staylor@sunjournal.com

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Comments

Sue Lussier's picture

I do agree with the council

I do agree with the council on this matter, but I feel that a few of the councilors should have excused themselves from voting on this issue. If passed it would maybe have cost Mr Theriault some money therefore it was a conflict of interest. Mr Reed did bring that up and Denis did say he would not excuse himself, he was determined to have his say as a councilor and not a citizen. Again he manipulate the rules to suit himself.

george06083 , What does

george06083 ,
What does Obama have to do with this, by the way he is mending bridges that W destroyed, an example of this is a comment made by a European head of stateat the recent G-10 summitt who commented on the bridge mending by saying ABB(any body but Bush)

 's picture

The council made the right

The council made the right decision last night, but it caused a lot of discussion. I was present for the meeting and I've read the paper along with the comments people wrote.
Tron, your comment is off base regarding the city council. They did discuss whether or not they should remove themselves from voting on this issue and it was determined that it Was Not a conflict of interest. Point two regarding this issue, the city determined last night not to require landlords to put power in their names and so the council never effectively voted on the original proposal.
The paper also took Lisa Toussaint's comment out of text and anyone not present at the meeting would not know that she was referring to a tenant who was already being evicted and not all tenants.
In closing, I would like to convey to all of those reading this who were not in attendance last night, The City along with Landlords, Council and concerned citizens were trying to make this city a better place for all to live. Had this policy been passed it would have been for a few, irresponsible people yet the burden would be placed on the landlord and ultimately passed down to all the good tenants who pay their rents (and electricity). The council did their job and did it well.

Mike Peters's picture

Absolutely the correct

Absolutely the correct decision. Congratulations council.

 's picture

The story could of said a

The story could of said a deadly fire or something else instead of using Taylors name. It just makes the family relive her death all over again.Also her death was August of this year,not last August. Having no electricity did not cause her death.It was caused by being left behind inside a burning building.Even the animals got better treatment.They were saved and everyone else got out also.As far has the power being turned off,that is the tenants responsibility.Not the landlords fault at all.The only time the landlord is responsible is if its included in the rent.It was the tenants fault,those amazingly great heroes who saved my granddaughter.

Genise Knowlton's picture

Why was a little girl left

Why was a little girl left alone with three grown men? Good question...something doesn't add up alright! As far as I'm concerned the mother hold some responsibility in this situation as well.

 's picture

Several of the councilors

Several of the councilors are landlords, yet continue to lead the debate and eventually voted on this proposal. That is a clear violation of ethics. Conflict of interest rules govern this and just because Acting City Administrator is telling you what you want to hear, doesn't make it legal. Where was the City Attorney? He's seems to be in attendance at all the other meetings, and even Councilor Peters should have known the law. Hopefully the SJ exerts its duty as public guardian to take legal action. This time this council has gone to far.

Of course I agree with the final decision, but disagree with the illegality of the process.

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