Portland City Manager Jon Jennings apologized Wednesday after the city accidentally sent threatening violation notices to 2,000 Portland homes.

The notices, dated Sept. 30, were supposed to be sent to landlords who have failed to register with the city as required by new housing safety laws. Rental property owners were supposed to register their properties by Jan. 1, but there are approximately 700 who have not signed up with the city. The letters included a final warning and threat of prosecution and heavy fines if landlords don’t comply.

Portland City Manager Jon Jennings  2015 Press Herald file photo

Portland City Manager Jon Jennings
2015 Press Herald file photo

Because of a mix up in the database used to address the notices, the city’s housing safety office sent notices out to approximately 2,700 addresses, instead of the 700 violators. Most of the people who received the notice don’t own rental properties and weren’t expecting a letter from the city threatening legal action.

Tom Campbell, a resident of the East Deering neighborhood who received the letter over the weekend, was one of numerous property owners who quickly objected.

“The tenor of this letter is appalling. It presumes the ‘guilt’ of recipients, nearly all of whom are innocent, which is un-American, and egregiously inappropriate on the part of a governmental body,” Campbell wrote in a letter to city officials.

“It is threatening to residents who are not accustomed to city government treating them this way, and it is a remarkable waste of city taxpayer money to generate and mail that many letters to people who are living within the law. This should never have happened. Whether it was sent by error or by intent is immaterial. It is either a terrible idea or a major screw-up,” Campbell wrote.

City officials owned up to the mistake Wednesday and said they are issuing an apology letter to residents who received it.

“It was a monumental mix up on our part. I completely own it and we are working to rectify it,” City Manager Jon Jennings said in an interview Wednesday. He acknowledged that it must have been alarming and disconcerting for residents to receive threats of prosecution from the city out of the blue.

“We are very upset with ourselves. I take full responsibility,” he said.

The mistake occurred when staff accidentally added a database with 2,000 names to the distribution list for violators, Jennings said.

Last year, city councilors established the housing safety office to enforce codes and inspect thousands of apartments in Portland. The new office was created in response to a fire that killed six young people living in a duplex on Noyes Street in 2014.

Landlords were required to register rental apartments, houses, rooms or beds with the city and pay $35 per registration. To date, there have been 4,559 registrations representing 17,929 living units according to city records.

Property owners who are still out of compliance were sent two previous letters. The language of the final notice is intentionally harsh to force people into compliance, Jennings said. Landlords are required to register by Oct. 21 or incur fines of $100 per day the violation continues. A separate letter was sent from city attorney Anne Torregrossa, threatening a court summons for noncompliance.

The city will send out an apology letter to all 2,700 people who received the violation notice, but landlords who have not registered with the city are still expected to register their properties.

Campbell, the East Deering resident, said Wednesday he will be satisfied if the city’s apology is sincere.

“I’m good with it, if they know what they did wasn’t good and they are committed to trying to do better,” he said.


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