LEWISTON — Members of the city’s rental registration committee were urged Tuesday to include more tenant voices in the process as it attempts to create a comprehensive housing safety program over the next two months. 

The mayor’s rental registration committee, after multiple meetings, recommended against establishing the fee-based rental registration program proposed by city staff in May.

But, in an interim report, the group outlines a large number of potential changes to city policy to promote housing safety. On Tuesday, members of the committee said they will work to create a detailed framework of the program, and it was given an informal nod of approval by councilors. 

Members are confident the program will promote landlord and tenant accountability, as well as successfully establish a database of landlord contact information to boost safety efforts without requiring landlords to pay a per-unit fee to register.  

During a City Council workshop Tuesday, city staff presented the group’s recommendations, including heightened goals for fire department building inspections and incentives for landlords to voluntarily participate in a registration program.

While councilors were supportive of the committee’s findings, Lewiston attorney Lynn Ward told the council that the committee has lacked a “tenant voice,” and said they weren’t reflected in the group’s draft report. 

Ward also said that offering incentives to landlords to voluntarily register is simply “Rewarding landlords for just doing what the law requires.”

“I believe the committee is doing good work that will make healthier housing, but there should be a consideration of adding a tenant advocate to the committee for the final two months,” she said.

The committee, first meeting in July, had a tumultuous start due to the controversial nature of a registration program, but committee members such as  landlord Amy Smith said Tuesday that the group has worked hard to come up with constructive solutions. 

“Getting that group to agree to six goals was miraculous,” she said. 

But she said the committee is prepared to design a “step-by-step” program over the next two months that the city can work to implement. 

She also said that a tenant voice could easily be added to a planned program design subcommittee that will dig into the details of the recommendations. 

Mayor Shane Bouchard, along with committee members, said that through the initial friction, the group has essentially worked backward since the original proposal, which caused an uproar among landlords based on the costs. 

“The fee-based proposal really ignited opposition. It nearly took over the process, and slowed us down quite a bit,” Councilor Jim Lysen said.

Lysen agreed there hasn’t been enough representation from renters on the committee, but said “everybody in the city should understand there’s bad on both sides,” referring to landlords and tenants.  

Councilor Kristen Cloutier, along with others, said the most important aspect of the recommendations is the need to collect data and contact info for building owners. She said she remembers discussing it five years ago on a downtown building task force.  

“It’s vital to this,” she said about the database. 

While a database would help code enforcement and fire personnel, the group also recommends the city make upgrades to its GIS system, where people could potentially look up a property and see if there are any outstanding notices of violation. 

The committee also outlined a proposal to re-establish a permanent housing safety committee to keep tabs on the issue in Lewiston. 

The City Council will take an official vote next week to extend the committee’s work timeline until Feb. 28, at which time they are expected to produce a final report. 

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