WATERVILLE — The City Council was not ready Tuesday night to vote to adopt a proposed rental registration ordinance, deciding instead to postpone the matter until March 7.

The 7-0 vote to table any action followed a lengthy and sometimes contentious debate between some councilors and Daniel Bernier, a lawyer representing members of the Central Maine Apartment Owner’s Association. Councilors took an initial vote Jan. 3 to approve the proposed ordinance, which requires two votes for adoption.

Modeled after a Lewiston ordinance, Waterville’s proposal is intended to ensure the city has safe housing, the code enforcement office can enforce regulations and property owners have reasonable time to correct deficiencies, according to City Council Chairwoman Rebecca Green, D-Ward 4.

Municipal leaders in Augusta have expressed similar concerns with aging rental properties there, with the Augusta City Council considering a system to more regularly inspect those properties.

Owners of Waterville rental properties would be required, as part of the ordinance, to register their properties and provide the name and mailing address of the legal owner; the name, mailing address and primary telephone number for the property manager; and the address and telephone number of an emergency contact. Owners would also have to sign off on a safety checklist, saying their properties adhere to the items on the list.

Those who do not register would be fined $50 for the first month, $100 a month for the next two to six months and $200 for months seven through 12.


Landlords and some tenants packed the council chamber Tuesday night to urge city councilors not to approve the proposed ordinance, saying it is burdensome, violates tenant privacy rights and discourages rental property investment at a time when housing is sorely needed in the city.

“We need to encourage investment and not discourage investment,” Bernier said.

He cited an array of problems with the proposed ordinance, including it implies that if the city were to revoke a landlord’s registration, the landlord would have to evict tenants.

Bernier said most landlords would voluntarily submit required information about emergency contacts and telephone numbers, and the apartment owners’ association would encourage that. There is no need, he said, to require the information as part of a registration ordinance. He said what scares landlords is, if the city were to adopt the ordinance, other regulations could follow, such as rent control.

Green said the ordinance is not about targeting particular individuals or punishing landlords. The goal, she said, is to make sure there is safe housing in the city. The proposed ordinance is the result of a dialogue with landlords over many months, and the council has listened to them and made changes they requested, she said.

“We’re asking for your help and support,” Green said, “and we are not moving to rent control.”


Bernier insisted the proposal is poorly drafted and written. As the proposed rental registration ordinance is now written, if one tenant in a building were to complain about something, all tenants would be subject to inspection, he said.

Bernier added that the city’s pursuit of an ordinance has made some landlords worried. He said while landlords might have a good relationship now with city officials, those officials will change and property owners cannot count on future officials being as reasonable.

Councilor Claude Francke, D-Ward 6, told Bernier he had “complained vociferously about the language of the ordinance,” but had offered no alternative. Bernier asked Francke, who is also a lawyer, what such regulations achieve.

“Tell me what you want to achieve,” Bernier said, “and I’ll come up with the alternative.”

Dan Bradstreet, director of the city’s code enforcement office, said there are more than 1,000 rental properties in Waterville and code enforcement officers see a lot of issues in buildings.

The ordinance, Bradstreet said, is not about landlords, but about landlords who do not know they have problems in buildings, which can include issues with egress, emergency exits, smoke detectors and other concerns.


“The intent of this is just to bring things up to the standard that they’re supposed to be already,” Bradstreet said. “It’s not supposed to be a punitive thing.”

Waterville Mayor Jay Coelho, a landlord himself, said he does not agree with everything in the proposal, but the city needs telephone numbers and emergency contacts, so if there are problems at a building, the city can respond and let landlords and, if necessary, emergency contacts know. Some properties need be inspected, he said, and a compromise must be struck so the city can gather needed information.

Winona Karns, a tenant, said she takes issue with the proposal. She said she has rented a house for 12 years, knows how to reach her landlord if there is a problem and feels the ordinance targets tenants as second-class citizens.

“We are not second-rate,” she said. “We deserve privacy.”

The idea for an ordinance originated with the city’s housing committee, of which Green is chairwoman. She and Coelho emphasized that every apartment in the city is not going to be inspected every year.

In other matters Tuesday, councilors voted 7-0 to approve a tax increment financing and related development plan for Manor Gardens Townhouse project on College Avenue and Maple Street. The council must take one more vote to finalize the TIF.

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