Norway apartment house vacated for safety reasons

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NORWAY — A downtown apartment building considered a safety threat to occupants and the surrounding area has been cleared of tenants, selectmen were advised Thursday night.

The board agreed to cancel Thursday’s public hearing on whether to condemn 17 Deering St. as a dangerous building.

Code Enforcement Officer Joelle Corey-Whitman said an inspection earlier in the day showed all tenants were gone and the building’s water and electricity had been shut down. “No trespassing” signs have also been placed on all doors in the house and attached barn.

“Ultimately it (the threat of condemnation) did accomplish its goal to get the tenants out of the building for their own safety,” Corey-Whitman said.

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She said the building can now be repaired without a safety or health risk to any tenants.

Earlier this month, selectmen voted unanimously to hold a public hearing to determine whether to condemn the house, which officials said was a fire and safety hazard. The building is one of a number of apartment buildings owned by longtime Norway landlord Madeline Pratt.

The house has five dwelling units and an attached barn. At the time selectmen decided to hold a hearing, at least two of the apartments were occupied, one by a single man and the other by a family with children, according to information from town officials.

Since October, hazardous electrical issues, water damage and other problems have been discovered in the house. Attempts by the code enforcement agent to work with the Pratt family to resolve the issues and to evict the tenants for their own safety until the work was completed had been unsuccessful.

But Thursday night, Corey-Whitman reported that the family is going ahead with repairs now that the tenants have been removed. Fire Chief Dennis Yates said the property should not pose any fire danger since all the electricity has been shut down.

“If it’s secure, it should be fine,” he said.

There is no deadline set for the repairs, but Town Manager David Holt noted that should the house continue to deteriorate, the Board of Selectmen has the option to revisit the issue.

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 want to declare a site a nuisance or hazard and take further action to get it cleaned up. The town may also ask Superior Court for an order to demolish a structure or remove debris if it is appropriate under the law.

Pratt’s rental units have been the center of controversy in recent months after numerous health and safety code violations were uncovered in her buildings and others owned by several landlords. The Maine Housing Authority has blocked Pratt, 90, from participating in the Section 8 housing program for low-income residents since that time.

The dangerous building ordinance has been used on a number of occasions during the past year. Officials say progress has been made to clean up about a dozen dangerous and nuisance properties, including debris from four buildings that burned in the past several years.

Selectman Bill Damon and Corey-Whitman thanked the Pratt family, some of whom were present at the meeting, for their cooperation.

ldixon@sunjournal.com

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