There was a standing room-only crowd for a hearing last October on a proposed rental inspection ordinance in Augusta. The proposal, aimed at improving unsafe conditions in some of the city’s rental properties, is likely dead after city councilors on March 14 did not give it their support, following objections from landlords and some tenants. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file

AUGUSTA — A proposal to require landlords to register their rental units so they could be inspected to ensure they meet safety codes appears to be dead.

City councilors held a straw poll at their March 14 informational meeting on whether to continue forward with the ordinance. With councilors deadlocked at 4-4, Mayor Mark O’Brien broke the tie, voting no.

The vote comes after the council heard from numerous landlords, and a few tenants, who complained the rental inspection ordinance, more than a year in the making, was an infringement upon their rights. It likely dooms the proposal, which was a watered-down version of a rental inspection ordinance city staff offered in 2023 as a way for them to gain access to apartments and other rental units and ensure they met safety codes.

“I’m wondering out loud, having seen this and hearing the input tonight and throughout the process, whether or not the council is still interested in doing a registration process at all,” O’Brien said before the informal straw poll. “And if a majority of councilors aren’t interested in doing a registration process, which provides the foundation for an inspection program, then some of these details … we don’t have to spend time on, if we’re not going to pursue the ordinance to begin with.”

Some councilors said the city still needs to address concerns about unsafe housing in Augusta. City public safety, code enforcement and development staff proposed the ordinance after seeing what they said was an increasing number of unsafe housing units. Making matters worse, they said, tenants have become less likely to report problems for fear of being evicted and left homeless during the ongoing housing shortage crisis.

The latest draft of the proposal, which was up for discussion by councilors last week, would have required building owners to register with the city any unit they were renting out. City officials under the plan would then have had the authority to inspect those units, with 10% of the city’s rental properties, chosen on a random basis, to be looked at by the city every year. Landlords balked at that requirement, and other aspects of the proposal.


“I’ve looked at this registration ordinance for the third time now and I remain offended and think it’s a terrible idea,” said Lester Wilkinson, an attorney with one rental property in Augusta. “It’s offensive, it’s abrasive, it’s not necessary. It’s complete government overreach. It takes time, it costs money and it’s not necessary in most circumstances.”

Under the proposal, the city could inspect a property after providing advance notification. The property owner would then have 30 days to schedule a date for inspection by the city; if the property owner does not respond, the city could inspect the property anyway after another 14 days.

As it stands now, code officers only inspect a rental unit if the city receives a complaint from an individual such as a tenant or neighbor, if fire and rescue officials enter a building and see something that raises concerns about the property, or when a property owner requests a courtesy inspection of their property, Matt Nazar, development director for the city, said Tuesday.

William Stover, a renter in Augusta, said he’s had no problems with his landlords or apartments. But, he said, he would have a problem with a city worker coming to his apartment to inspect it.

“I believe it’s against my rights as a person to have a stranger come into my house,” Stover said. “I understand if I make a complaint, that somebody is allowed to come in. But me, if I’m obeying the law, and my landlord is too, that’s infringing on my rights as a person.”

Resident Megan Bastey said she went along with Robert Overton, the city’s director of code enforcement, while he visited some buildings in the Sand Hill area of the city, which has numerous older apartment buildings. She said he was not being difficult with building owners and simply wants to help ensure tenants are safe while renting in Augusta


“He was worried about some of the most egregious things going on, like we just don’t have enough fire alarms in buildings,” she said of Overton. “This stuff really does happen, and it doesn’t seem like a big deal until your building burns down.”

There are roughly 3,800 rental properties in Augusta.

Ward 4 Councilor Eric Lind, who voted in the straw poll against pursuing the ordinance any further, noted the proposal was projected to cost $208,000 in its first year, as additional workers would be needed to oversee the registry and conduct inspections.

Initially, the proposal called for adding code enforcement officers to perform the inspections. The most recent version of the plan, however, would have had the city’s fire department handle most of the inspection requirements. The cost was initially to be borne by landlords through a fee of $100 per unit per year. A later proposal pushed that cost to taxpayers, which Lind said was too big a burden for them to take on while the city is also facing other looming funding challenges and priorities.

Nazar said city staff would take their direction from city councilors and continue to inspect rental units when complaints are received regarding unsafe conditions.

Editor’s note: In an earlier version of this story, Megan Bastey’s name was misspelled.

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