Responding to a deadly fire at a Noyes Street duplex with a history of code violations and other problems, a task force may recommend creating a centralized database for tracking the city of Portland’s response to housing complaints.

The idea comes as the city plans to roll out a new mobile and Web-based program that will allow residents to anonymously communicate problems, whether it’s housing or potholes, to city staff.

The task force, which is reviewing the city’s inspection policies and practices, is also considering making at least some of that information available online to the public in a centralized housing database.

“The tenants might want to see that,” said Neighborhood Prosecutor Richard Bianculli. “The parents who have kids in rental units might want to go online to see if there is a violation at a building their kids might not know about.”

The task force is expected to meet again Wednesday to begin developing a vision for what the city’s future inspection programs should look like. That ideas will then be vetted by additional group members representing landlords and tenants.

The task force was formed after it was revealed that 20-24 Noyes St., where six young adults died in a fire Nov. 1, had been the subject of 16 complaints since 2003 for issues such as improper storage of combustible material and a potentially illegal third-floor unit.

City records show that code officers tried to reach the landlord, Gregory Nisbet, in June to talk about the property, but he didn’t return their call. The city hasn’t said whether additional follow-ups were conducted, citing the ongoing investigation. State investigators have not determined the cause of the fire.

Family members of one of the victims, Steven Summers, have already filed a civil lawsuit against Nisbet, while an attorney for another victim, David Bragdon Jr., has asked that the house be preserved so independent experts could examine it.

A Superior Court judge has placed a lien on Nisbet’s real estate holdings in Cumberland County to help pay for any successful claims.

Last week’s task force meeting focused on the strengths and shortfalls of the existing program, which consists of separate code and fire inspection departments. The city has only one inspector who responds to complaints. Firefighters conduct fire safety inspections, and enforcement of violations is the responsibility of two people within the department. Those staffers spend most of their time reviewing new building plans.

Portland has some of the oldest, stick-built housing in the nation. More than half of Portland’s housing was built before 1940, according to the American Community Survey. City officials said most of the city’s housing stock is rentals. Out of the 30,000 housing units, 17,000 are rentals, 11,000 of which are located on the peninsula, where apartment buildings are packed together.

The task force noted a lack of communication and coordination among various city departments in handling housing issues that do not involve a full-blown crisis.

The city’s many different departments effectively collaborate during a large event or crisis because of a “unified command” structure, but not when everyday housing and fire complaints are uncovered, said Jonathan Rioux, deputy director of the city’s inspections division.

One idea was to put all inspections in one department, since there is so much overlap between the building and fire codes.

Another idea was to create a centralized database that would include information already contained in the city’s building and fire inspections offices, while layering in any information received through a new program being rolled out in January.

The new program is being developed by “SeeClickFix” Inc., which makes a Web-based and mobile application that allows residents to take photos of problem areas and send them to the city quickly and anonymously, while allowing city staff to track its own response to the problem.

“I think we have a lot of the information that would be relevant to build that type of system,” said Tammy Munson, the city’s inspections director.

The database could be used to create fire risk scores for buildings throughout the city based on the type of construction and inspection history. It also would put the information in the hands of firefighters, who conduct the fire inspections.

The city’s corporation counsel, Danielle West-Chuhta, urged the task force to centralize the inspections information and track complaints. She said it is difficult to build court cases against negligent landlords when there is no clear record of how the city responded to complaints and how property owners responded.

“(That’s) always been a concern of mine,” West-Chuhta said. “I’m on the tail end of things. It’s hard for me to get to that ‘you’ve done nothing’ part. One database would be very useful.”

Other areas expected to be addressed this week include whether the city should have a proactive inspection program, which would seek to inspect properties within a certain time frame, or simply improve the complaint-based system.

The task force discussed requiring landlords to have their properties inspected by a certified contractor and provide a certificate to the city saying their properties were safe. It also may look at ways to enforce a city code that requires landlords to register with the city.

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