AUGUSTA – Lawmakers need more information before moving forward with a bill that would change fire safety regulations for recovery residences, members of the criminal justice and public safety committee voted Wednesday.

If passed, LD 109, An Act to Improve Safety for Individuals Living in Recovery Residences, would repeal an exemption in Maine’s fire code regulations that classify recovery residences — shared living residences for people in recovery from substance use disorder — as single-family dwellings. The exemption has been in effect since 2019, when Gov. Janet Mills signed into law a bill from former Rep. Justin Fecteau, R-Augusta.

Without the exemption, recovery residences would likely be classified as rooming and lodging or as small residential facilities, both of which are subject to more stringent fire code regulations that mandate sprinkler systems and fire alarms.

Nearly four dozen people testified in opposition to the bill at a public hearing in late January. Requiring recovery residences to install sprinkler systems would be enormously cost-burdensome and would likely close many facilities down, opponents said.

“There is a lack of housing in Maine in general. The passage of LD 109 will in fact make that problem worsen,” Jeremy Hiltz, the founder and CEO of Lewiston-based Recovery Connections of Maine and Recovery Housing of Maine, said at the hearing.

“It has the potential to displace hundreds of vulnerable people. Not allowing LD 109 to pass will allow Maine to continue to grow its ever-evolving recovery community and provide places for people to have a chance to safely transition back into the community,” he said.


Courtney Gary-Allen, the organizing director for the Maine Recovery Advocacy Project, told lawmakers in January that repealing this exemption could leave Maine open to a lawsuit for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fair Housing Act.

Testifying neither for nor against the bill that created the exemption, Richard McCarthy, assistant fire marshal for prevention, wrote in 2019 that, “recovery houses and their residences have protection under the Americans with Disabilities Act as a protected class as to not prohibit or restrict where these recovery houses are located. It is less clear whether this protection extends to the fire and building codes.”

However, McCarthy said, a review by the Maine Office of the Attorney General found that “a failure on the part of the state of Maine to make reasonable accommodation, namely nonenforcement of the sprinkler rules, would likely be found to violate” the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fair Housing Act.

This possibility, and the intent behind requiring facilities to install sprinklers – improved safety – were the top concerns for lawmakers Wednesday.

“We have to understand that both sides are equally responsible and/or caring in the sense that the fire marshal and the fire service cares about the life safety for people to get out, not to get hurt or anything like that,” Rep. Michel LaJoie, a former fire chief, said.

“The rehab, their goal is to help their individuals conquer an illness … that has taken over their lives and trying to set them on the right plane (and) saving lives,” the Lewiston Democrat said.


Rep. Daniel Newman, R-Belgrade, introduced the idea of creating a “step process” where regulations for recovery houses could be governed according to their size and capacity or other considerations.

“I don’t want to make it more difficult for these recovery houses. They do a good job. It’s something that’s needed. We need to balance life safety and recovery safety,” he said.

The motion, from Rep. Tavis Hasenfus, D-Readfield, was for the Legislature’s Office of Policy and Legal Analysis to arrange a visit to a Maine Association of Recovery Residences-certified facility, to develop an analysis of other states’ fire safety codes for recovery residences, to ask the Office of the Maine Attorney General to give a preliminary opinion of how repealing the exemption would hold up against the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fair Housing Act, and to ask the Office of Maine State Fire Marshal to work with the Office of Policy and Legal Analysis to determine the feasibility of developing fire safety standards for recovery residences of various capacities.

This story has been updated to reflect the correct organization where Courtney Gary-Allen works. She is the organizing director of the Maine Recovery Advocacy Project.

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