LEWISTON – Lewiston landlords can turn down the thermostats at their rental units this winter, as long as their tenants agree to it ahead of time.

That was the consensus of an interpretation of a city ordinance that requires thermostats to be set at a minimum of 66 degrees between Sept. 15 and May 15.

The long-standing ordinance under the city’s property maintenance code further says that a landlord and tenant can agree to set the temperature below 66 degrees if the tenant agrees to the new limit in writing beforehand.

“The city doesn’t have a problem if a landlord goes to his tenants with a proposal to lower the daytime temperature to 66 and the nighttime to 58, if he goes to the tenants beforehand and asks, ‘How is everyone with this?'” said Tom Maynard, Lewiston code officer. “Then the landlord can afford the oil and not go up in rent.”

The city reviewed its ordinance to clarify landlords’ responsibility to provide heat at the request of the local landlord association.

Don Poisson, president of the Lewiston-Auburn Landlords Association, said he intends to tell his membership of the ruling at its next meeting.

The association has been concerned with how members will keep the city’s rental units warm with fuel oil twice the price it was this time last year.

“I think 60 degrees is a little too cool, but it depends on your tenants … if they’re elderly or they have a lot of little kids,” he said. “But this gives landlords the option. As long as they have it in writing.”

Poisson and other landlords believed there was a state statute that mandated a minimum 68-degree temperature in rentals, but were told otherwise by Attorney General Steven Rowe earlier this summer.

Landlords, municipal staff, housing officials and emergency personnel have been meeting since spring, trying to devise a protocol for dealing with no-heat situations this winter. Rowe attended the task force’s July meeting.

“Everybody told us the state mandated the 68, but they were wrong,” said Poisson. His group had considered legislative action to revise the 68-degree threshold before discovering it didn’t exist.

He said it was unclear whether Auburn had a similar municipal code on the books, but he expected it would be discussed at the task force’s Sept. 3 meeting.

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