Lawyers for the city of Portland and landlord Gregory Nisbet reached agreement Monday on a temporary restraining order that will prevent anyone from staying in the apartment at 188 Dartmouth St. until code violations are addressed or at least until another court hearing.

A city inspection Friday found that many of the code deficiencies noted in earlier inspections had not been addressed, and the city moved to have the apartment deemed uninhabitable until it meets city building codes.

Nisbet did not attend Monday’s hearing in Portland District Court, although his attorney, David Chamberlain, said his client was in the courthouse. Nisbet did not want to speak to the news media, Chamberlain said.

The building has been boarded up and posted to prevent anyone from going in.

Nisbet’s apartment buildings have come under scrutiny since his building at 20-24 Noyes St. burned on Nov. 1, killing six people. The fire started when a cigarette that was improperly disposed of ignited a plastic container on the front porch.

The fire quickly burned the front porch area, making escape impossible. Another entrance was blocked by a tenant’s furniture and there were no working smoke detectors in the building, investigators said.

Prosecutors are assessing whether Nisbet has any criminal liability in the fire.

After that fire, tenants in Nisbet’s building at 186-188 Dartmouth St. complained that it, too, had many code violations. A city inspection in December identified several code violations, including improper storage of combustible materials, illegal locks on an exit door, a lack of fire protection on an old boiler and electrical issues. Nisbet was given a month to fix the deficiencies, but when the city went to reinspect the property, neither Nisbet nor the tenants would let city inspectors in.

The city obtained a warrant and on Jan. 22 found code violations and ordered them fixed by Feb. 2. The apartment still had water and heat then but a few days later, the city learned the heat was off.

Nisbet agreed to fill the oil tank but hadn’t by Friday, when an inspection showed the apartment had deteriorated, city spokeswoman Jessica Grondin said. That led to Monday’s hearing, at which the city sought to temporarily restrain Nisbet from allowing tenants in the apartment. District Court Judge Peter Goranites approved the order.

“We’re pleased that the judge granted our request as the property is not suitable for tenants in its current condition,” Grondin said. “This order ensures that Mr. Nisbet cannot make any rental income off this property until the violations are corrected.”

Nisbet blamed many of the problems at 188 Dartmouth St. on the tenants. He has a pending eviction order against the six tenants who had remained in the apartment. After Monday’s hearing before Goranites, Chamberlain explained that the temporary restraining order has the effect of speeding up Nisbet’s eviction proceedings. Instead of allowing the residents until mid-February to find a place to live, Chamberlain said, the court order will now prohibit anyone from using the building. The city staff has offered to help the displaced tenants find new housing, Grondin said.

An adjoining apartment at 186 Dartmouth St. has not been found to have serious violations and that side of the converted three-story building remains occupied and rented.

Inspectors found numerous fire code violations at 188 Dartmouth St., including no fire alarm system, locked doors, a blocked escape route, bedrooms without a second exit and missing smoke detectors. Occupants – some with no legal right to be there – were using space heaters and the electric oven for heat.

Chamberlain said the conditions at the apartment went downhill fast because of squatters and tenants neglecting their responsibilities. Tenants are responsible for keeping the fuel tank full. Instead, it was allowed to run dry. Without heat, the water pipes froze, Chamberlain said.

Nisbet will make the necessary improvements later in the year, Chamberlain said.

Two former tenants of the building, Roxanne White and Chris Kidder, appeared at the court hearing and told the judge they already have moved out of the building and wanted to retrieve some of their belongings, but the locks had been changed. White said her car is in the garage, though all four tires are flat. Goranites instructed Chamberlain and the city’s attorney, Adam Lee, to make arrangements for the tenants to get their things.

The city has asked for a March 9 court hearing to discuss its complaint against Nisbet for alleged code violations but hopes to work with him to reach an agreed-upon timetable for the improvements.

David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

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