Dan Emery, who said he was a landlord and property manager, offers suggestions Tuesday on possible changes to the proposed ordinance during a meeting of the Augusta Rental Inspection Ordinance Ad Hoc Advisory Committee at Augusta City Center. There was a standing room-only crowd for the hearing. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

AUGUSTA — Landlords and others attacked a proposed rental housing inspection ordinance they said would increase rents for tenants, reduce the amount of housing available at a time when it is needed most and violate their property rights and their tenants’ privacy rights.

Some also said, at Tuesday’s first public hearing of the Augusta Rental Inspection Ordinance Ad Hoc Advisory Committee, that the inspection program the ordinance would create would be administered by Augusta code officers. Some said those officers hold landlords and contractors to higher standards than neighboring communities. Mayor Mark O’Brien reminded the 75 or so attendees at the start of the session that the life safety codes those code officers enforce already exist now and are supposed to be met by landlords regardless of any proposed new ordinance.

The controversial ordinance was proposed by city codes staff after concern they were increasingly finding tenants living in unsafe conditions in rental properties that hadn’t been inspected. The cost of adding more code officers to conduct those inspections and oversee the new program would be paid for by charging landlords an annual fee up to $100 for each rental unit.

The city has about 3,800 rental units, according to a memo sent to the councilors by city staff.

Landlords said that fee would increase their costs and prompt them to increase the rents they charge tenants. Some said the cost of the annual licenses, combined with the cost of bringing older buildings up to compliance with modern codes, would force some landlords to sell their buildings in Augusta. And that, they said, would reduce the number of apartments for rent in the city and increase rates for those that remained, at the same time the city is in the midst of a housing crisis that has seen rents and other housing costs skyrocket.

The ordinance would also allow city code officers to inspect rental units, with “reasonable notice.”


People who could not get a seat Tuesday stand in the hallway watching a meeting of the Augusta Rental Inspection Ordinance Ad Hoc Advisory Committee at Augusta City Center. There was a standing room-only crowd for the hearing. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

“This infringes on the property rights of the owner and privacy rights of tenants,” said Joel Alexander, president of the Kennebec Valley Board of Realtors, who said he owns a rental property in Augusta. “This ordinance adds to the cost of housing, at a time when costs are already astronomically high. It may cause people to get out of the rental business in Augusta. This ordinance will impact housing in the city at a time when it can least afford it.”

Dan Emery, a former city councilor who owns a rental property and manages rental units for other owners, said everyone would likely agree Augusta needs to improve both the quality and quantity of available housing, and that things can be better. But, he said, the proposed ordinance — what he called a punitive approach that could force buildings to be shut down if landlords refuse to license them — is not the right solution.

Instead, he offered a list of 22 potential ways to improve rental housing in Augusta, including offering financial incentives to property owners who make repairs, low interest loans, a certification program that would recognize and advertise properties that exceed standards, workshops on health and safety codes, and partnering with vocational and trade schools to utilize students, under the supervision of licensed professionals, to work on troubled properties.

John Lawrence, a landlord in Augusta for 20 years and a real estate broker, said the committee should seek consensus on an ordinance. He said he doesn’t know of a single landlord or real estate broker who supports the ordinance. He said an ongoing lack of contractors makes it hard for landlords to even find someone to do work required to meet codes.

“I challenge this committee, and the City Council, to come up with an ordinance that even 50% of landlords and real estate agents support,” he said. “We all have to work together on this, the housing crisis is the worst I’ve ever seen. Maine has the oldest housing stock in the country. So you’ve got to be realistic in what you’re asking people to do.”

Bridget Barrows, owner of Tenant Solutions LLC, testifies Tuesday during a meeting of the Augusta Rental Inspection Ordinance Ad Hoc Advisory Committee at Augusta City Center. There was a standing room-only crowd for the hearing. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Bridget Barrows, owner of Winthrop-based Tenant Solutions, said she manages buildings in Augusta, Waterville, Winslow and Hallowell and has found Augusta’s code officers require things that officials in other municipalities do not. She offered an example: The 24 new door entrances and new fire walls required in one Augusta building cost more than $300,000.

“If the Augusta code enforcement office is saying that’s the way it is, why aren’t others saying the same thing?” she said.

Committee member Kim Gleason, who has a real estate office in Hallowell and owns multi-family rental properties in Augusta, said the committee, which has had two meetings so far, really wanted to hear from the public. She said she doesn’t feel now is the time to enact “some kind of ordinance that is just crippling to landlords.”

Courtney Gary-Allen, an at-large city councilor and chairwoman of the committee, said the committee would meet again Thursday to discuss the input it received Tuesday, and would meet additional times to work on potential changes to the proposed ordinance. Any proposed ordinance would have to be approved by city councilors.

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