NORWAY — The Board of Selectmen has voted unanimously to hold a “dangerous building" public hearing in an attempt to remove tenants from a downtown apartment building that officials say is a fire hazard.
“We can't leave these tenants there,” Code Enforcement Officer Joelle Corey-Whitman, told the board at its Thursday night meeting. The house at 17 Deering St. has five dwelling units and an attached barn. At least two of them are occupied: one by a single man and the other by a family with children, according to information from town officials.
The hearing will be held at the next selectmen's meeting Feb. 16 in the town office building on Danforth Street.
Legally, towns have the right to secure structures or properties that pose a serious threat to the public's health and safety. The town must notify the property owner and hold a hearing if they wish to declare a site a nuisance or hazard and take further action to get it cleaned up. The town may also ask the Superior Court for an order to demolish a structure or remove debris if it is appropriate under the law.
The issue has been ongoing since November when Corey-Whitman and an electrician from Flanders Electric inspected the house and determined the old knob and rope wiring electrical works posed a serious fire hazard.
“It's a dangerous building,” she said. The house is owned by Norway landlord Madeline Pratt, 90.
Attempts by the code enforcement officer to work with the Pratt family to resolve the issue and to evict the tenants until the work was completed have been unsuccessful. The tenants have refused to leave the building as asked.
Town Manager David Holt said the town may have to take court action to evict the tenants for their own safety.
A neighbor, Bailey Graffam, said she is fearful that a house fire will place her property and her own family in jeopardy.
“It makes me nervous,” she told selectmen.
This is not the first time the ordinance has been used. Progress has been made townwide over the past year to clean up about a dozen dangerous and nuisance properties, including debris from four buildings that burned down in the past several years.
Pratt's rental units have been the center of controversy after a series of investigative articles by the Advertiser-Democrat in Norway uncovered numerous health and safety code violations in her buildings and those of several other landlords.
The Maine Housing Authority has blocked Pratt from participating in the Section 8 housing program for low-income residents.