Landlords and tenants have power

The fire that killed 9-year-old Taylor McQueeney on Monday morning in downtown Lewiston was a tragic accident. In sobering hindsight, there were plenty of precautions that could have been taken, chief among them simply extinguishing the candle that sparked the blaze.

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Daryn Slover/Sun Journal
A Lewiston firefighter investigates a fire that destroyed a third-floor apartment at 52 River Street in Lewiston on Monday.

That's where the blame lies.

This hasn't silenced concerns about the relationship between landlords and tenants when it comes to electricity. The fire on River Street was the second in a week in Lewiston with the same sad M.O.: disconnected electricity, lit candles, ignorance or obliviousness.

Landlords complain that they're not notified when their tenants are shut off. This is somewhat true; customer records of utility companies are held close by privacy laws. Yet mechanisms in the law do exist to allow landlords to be told of disconnections, if they get their tenants' written consent.

Observers are seeing a spike in disconnections in local apartments, a trait that's being attributed to the recession. The two fires in Lewiston are observational proof that people are electing to go without power, rather than try to have it restored. This is a bad situation now, which will only grow worse.

And it's entirely preventable.

First off, the state has programs available to avoid electrical disconnections. The Maine Public Utilities Commission maintains a $7 million fund to help low-income utility customers with their bills; losing service should be the absolute last resort. For more on that program, call 1-800-452-4699.

Next, there are great inequities between landlords and tenants regarding disconnections. Voluntary terminations of electricity service are reported to landlords, for instance. Involuntary terminations, though, are not. This doesn't seem to make much sense.

Nor does this: If a landlord pays for electricity and faces a disconnection, their tenants must be notified and given the chance to put the service in their name. The opposite is true when tenants lose service, as landlords can literally be kept in the dark.

Yet there is nothing stopping landlords from requesting their tenants' consent to be notified if they're disconnected, have unpaid balances, or if hazards to service arise; in fact, we'd suggest landlords should insist on it, purely to protect their property from accidents or decline.

A lease or rental agreement has many binding clauses; empowering your landlord to know if you've had your power shut off seems smart to be one of them. (And legal, too.)

PUC officials say this is the first time in memory that questions have arisen about the landlord-tenant utility relationship, which is tragic, since it's taken the death of an innocent child to start asking them.

It's clear, though, that both landlords and tenants have power to remedy these situations. Nothing can bring back Taylor McQueeney, but officials, utility companies, landlords and tenants can ensure the conditions that led to her death are not repeated anytime soon.

editorialboard@sunjournal.com

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Comments

 's picture

Why was Taylor the only one

Why was Taylor the only one that didn't get out?

 's picture

I don't burn candles in fear

I don't burn candles in fear that a fire could be started. They say you should keep candles 3' away from other objects. When I lost power just last week-I never left my candles unattended. Accidents happen every day out of lack of knowledge or feeling of desperation... but when it comes down to energy-I simply think it shouldn't be happening.

If landlords are so concerned and want to ensure SOME safety of their tenants-maybe a great idea would be to include electricity in the rent payment. If that means they have to result in an increase in the rent, so be it. It seems to have worked very well for tenants and CMP that rent and electricity is included.

My experience with CMP-its more than impossible to get them to have worked with me in the past, no matter how long, how well I had kept up payment during very trying times. It was even more impossible to get help from kind of temporary program in my time of need. There needs to be a better program from the State and CMP. We need to have CMP willing be able to work with all customers during the winter and the summer months. WHATEVER PROGRAM THEY HAVE NOW IS NOT WORKING AND NEEDS TO BE IMPROVED ALONG WITH THEIR CUSTOMER SERVICE! We don't have another choice or option. It's CMP or nothing!

The facts are stuff happens. Events happen. It saddens me that people result in the way of thinking that they do and write the comments that they do to bash people, end up talking about politics, demeaning people, assume, stereotype... I could go on and on. NOT everyone in downtown is on Section 8 or getting help from the State. NOT everyone is a drug addict or alcoholic or smoker... It's easy for some to say things and generalize the whole population. We don't know what our neighbors been through. We don't live their lives. All I know is that us as humans-as PEOPLE have been or will be going through similar situations in our lives that make us feel the same emotions or will experience similar events... So for those many-get off your high horse and have some sympathy and compassion for the topic at hand-the real tragic issue here! Or don't bother to say anything at all!

 's picture

Ok in no way should the

Ok in no way should the lanlord have to put the electricity back in their name cause a tenant doesnt pay their bill. Most of the tenants down town are on public assistance and have Section 8 so why cant they pay their electricity??? Get a job and take responsibility for your bills instead of letting the government support you. All 3 of those men are young enough and I'm sure capable to work.

 's picture

Ok in no way should the

Ok in no way should the lanlord have to put the electricity back in their name cause a tenant doesnt pay their bill. Most of the tenants down town are on public assistance and have Section 8 so why cant they pay their electricity??? Get a job and take responsibility for your bills instead of letting the government support you. All 3 of those men are young enough and I'm sure capable to work.

 's picture

Ok in no way should the

Ok in no way should the lanlord have to put the electricity back in their name cause a tenant doesnt pay their bill. Most of the tenants down town are on public assistance and have Section 8 so why cant they pay their electricity??? Get a job and take responsibility for your bills instead of letting the government support you. All 3 of those men are young enough and I'm sure capable to work.

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