The front door of the apartment appeared to have been kicked in, an electric oven was being used for heat, and a resident said a water pipe burst and flooded the basement at the Dartmouth Street building the city has targeted for code and safety violations.

Residents who are under a court-ordered deadline to leave the six-bedroom unit at 188 Dartmouth St. by Feb. 15 say squatters have taken over their apartment, stolen personal belongings and caused additional damage to the property.

“I don’t sleep here. I slept outside last night,” said Jibril Koshin, who was picking up the last of his belongings and sweeping up dirt, pizza crusts and other trash when the Press Herald toured the apartment Thursday afternoon with a resident’s consent.

“I am afraid of this house,” Koshin said.

The Dartmouth Street house has received scrutiny from the city because its owner, Gregory Nisbet, is the same landlord who faces at least four lawsuits because of a deadly fire in November at another apartment building he owns on nearby Noyes Street.

That fire killed six young adults and prompted new recommendations to beef up the city’s fire safety program, in part by creating a new inspection division. A task force review that led to those recommendations also revealed that in early 2014, city officials suspended an apartment safety inspection program without notifying the public and shifted resources to other priorities. Neither of Nisbet’s two-unit apartment buildings would have been subject to inspections even if the program continued because it focused only on buildings with three or more units.

CITY REQUESTS LEASES, PROPER HEAT

City officials have been pressuring Nisbet to address code violations at his Dartmouth Street building since December, when tenant complaints about unsafe conditions triggered a city inspection. Those tenants are now in the process of being evicted, and say they have been unable to get help from Portland police despite complaining in recent weeks about people moving into and damaging the house.

One of Portland’s city attorneys, Adam Lee, said he plans to meet with Nisbet on Friday in hopes of coming to an agreement about addressing the violations at Dartmouth Street. One of the city’s requests will be to require Nisbet to have leases with his tenants so city officials know who has the legal right to be in the apartments, he said.

On Thursday, city officials responded to safety concerns about the lack of heat in an apartment.

“Based on concerns about the use of space heaters as a primary heating source at 188 Dartmouth, we just confirmed in a telephone conversation with Gregory Nisbet that he is calling the oil company to have the tank at 188 Dartmouth filled in order to remedy this issue,” city spokeswoman Jessica Grondin said in an email.

‘UNSAFE’ AS CONDITIONS WORSEN

Living conditions appear to have deteriorated at 188 Dartmouth St., a two-unit Victorian building located near the University of Southern Maine, in the two months since tenants complained about the property.

Patrick O’Reilly, who lives with five other people in the adjacent apartment at 186 Dartmouth St., is concerned about what’s happening in the other unit.

“I feel unsafe here every day,” O’Reilly said. “I don’t know who is coming or going. I am worried there is no accountability about what’s going on over there.”

City inspectors were called to the property Dec. 15 and found several fire and building code violations. They determined the property was being used as an unlicensed rooming house and therefore needed more sophisticated fire safety measures, such as an alarm system, and an additional exit from the upper floors. A rooming house means tenants are renting individual rooms from a landlord, instead of roommates sharing an apartment lease.

The city gave Nisbet until Feb. 2 to address the violations, but the property failed a follow-up inspection Monday, prompting the city to take legal action.

QUESTIONABLE BUILDING OCCUPANTS

The front door of the apartment was ajar Thursday afternoon when a resident consented to the Press Herald’s visit. Rap music blared from an upstairs bedroom as people shouted. A large pile of garbage was on the back porch and a blue tarp hung in the entryway to the kitchen, where a mattress leaned against the wall. Two socks were draped over the open door of an oven that had been left on so its glowing heating element warmed the room.

Koshin explained that the apartment did not have heat, leading to a burst pipe in the basement.

In a second-floor bedroom, two men were relaxing, smoking and drinking beer. They refused to give their names or be interviewed, other than to say they were visiting a tenant named Ahmed.

There is no Ahmed listed on the court eviction documents. Nisbet’s attorney, David Chamberlain, did not return a call for comment about whether his client had made agreements with any new tenants.

Chris Kidder, one of the tenants listed on an eviction order, said many occupants staying at the apartment do not have the legal right to be there. Some nights there can be as many as 16 to 20 people partying and crashing there, he said.

Kidder said he called police on Jan. 30 to complain that squatters had taken over the house. When officers arrived, Kidder said, they ordered him to leave the building because the squatters claimed to be the owners. Kidder said he was forced to walk the streets because he had no place else to go.

Kidder’s account was backed up by Koshin and Noor Hussein Ibrahim, who also is subject to the court’s eviction order.

Police Chief Michael Sauschuck was not available to be interviewed, Grondin said.

MORE POLICE CALLS SINCE DECEMBER

Police records show officers were called to the apartment on Jan. 30 because of partying and fights, Grondin said. The log does not indicate that officers asked anyone to leave. “It shows they were able to bring peace again to the situation,” she said.

Grondin provided a written statement from police saying that calls to the property have increased since December. Officers have responded to reports of drug sales, general disturbances, threats of physical harm, terrorizing and a burglary.

“There has never been a call for service in which an officer said they could not handle the situation,” the statement said. “However, it has often been difficult for the police officers to make a determination as to which individuals are the legal tenants at the subject property when neither the tenants nor the landlord possess a written lease.”

Tom MacMillan, an organizer with the Portland Tenant Coalition, said he has been trying to help the Dartmouth Street tenants so they are not held liable for the damage being inflicted by the squatters, but he is frustrated by the city’s lack of response.

“This is a bad situation,” MacMillan said. “These tenants are in deep trouble because of the city’s neglect.”

City officials pushed back against that notion. Lee, the city attorney, said the city is doing everything it can, short of condemning the property, to address the issues. Grondin said the city has staff “working around the clock” on the issue.

“I don’t think anyone can say we’re not taking this property seriously,” she said.

SOME SUPPORT FOR THE LANDLORD

Although O’Reilly is concerned about the situation next door, he doesn’t blame Nisbet, the landlord from whom he has rented an apartment for the past two years,

O’Reilly described Nisbet as gracious and accommodating. If Nisbet can be faulted for anything, it is for being too accommodating by allowing the tenants to stay at 188 Dartmouth St. for as long as he did, O’Reilly said.

“There is a lack of accountability on both ends of that relationship, but that doesn’t excuse the way those tenants have damaged the building,” O’Reilly said.