Norway landlord requests review of rental ordinance

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NORWAY — A Main Street landlord told the Planning Board on Thursday that he intends to ask selectmen to review the updated rental occupancy ordinance.

The law, which was approved by voters June 18, 2012, requires stricter standards for housing inspections.

Jon Belanger, who owns apartment units at 247 and 485 Main St., called the ordinance a “knee-jerk reaction” to problems in local Section 8 rental units that were exposed in 2011.

“I really think this needs to be addressed,” he told the Planning Board and Code Enforcement Officer Joelle Corey-Whitman during a public hearing for landlord noncompliance to the ordinance.

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Belanger was asked to attend because he failed to answer Corey-Whitman’s numerous attempts to get in touch with him to do an inspection.

Units must be inspected annually, and a $25 fee paid for the code enforcement officer to issue an occupancy permit.

He told Corey-Whitman she was welcome to inspect any of his units and he paid the fee before leaving the hearing.

Belanger said he believes the revised ordinance creates redundancy in the inspection process and a financial hardship.

The ordinance requires stricter standards for housing inspections and that they be done annually. It also allows the code enforcement officer to issue, enforce or revoke the occupancy permits. Fines for violations have also been increased under the proposal.

The previous process allowed landlords to essentially check off a list of items and turn it in to the town, instead of having the building inspector look over the building.

The changes in the 1993 rental occupancy ordinance were made after a 2011 Maine State Housing Authority internal investigation found its agent for Section 8 housing, Avesta Housing of Portland, failed to recognize numerous safety issues that were uncovered in many local low-income housing units in Norway.

“These are pretty big changes,” Belanger said.

Belanger said the new process at $25 per inspection, can add up to a lot of money for multiple units. Additionally, he said the state also requires at least two annual inspections for Section 8 units, which he does have. His insurance agency also inspects his properties, he said.

He said since the Section 8 housing crisis, the state has “clamped down” on inspections. In one case he had a unit inspected 10 times in a year. Some problems have cropped up with the multiple inspections issuing conflicting reports as to what needs to be repaired. Because the state does not share its information with the town, Corey-Whitman said it is sometimes difficult to unravel problems like that.

She said she relies on the National Fire Protection Association standards for health and life safety issues in her inspections, while other inspectors may rely on other standards.

Corey-Whitman pointed out that the ordinance changes were well publicized and residents stepped forward to help her draft them.

Planning Board Chairman Dennis Gray told Belanger his complaints must be addressed by the Board of Selectmen.

Belanger said he will meet with the board at its next meeting.

ldixon@sunjournal.com

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