November 26, 2013

Officials inspect buildings of Augusta landlord who sought to deny them

After being denied access and winning a court order, they execute a search warrant to check for code violations.

By KEITH EDWARDS Kennebec Journal

AUGUSTA — City officials armed with a search warrant inspected three buildings owned by landlord Jim Pepin on Tuesday.

click image to enlarge

Property maintenance manager Jim Dutil speaks with city and state officials Tuesday after an inspection of the apartment building at 37 Washington St. in Augusta, owned by Jim Pepin. The city of Augusta got an administrative search warrant last week to enter and inspect several of Pepin’s multi-unit properties.

Staff photo by Andy Molloy

Officials said they did not find any code violations so severe that any of the Washington Street buildings would be closed down or that tenants would be forced to vacate.

The court order was sought by the city after Pepin refused to allow Code Enforcement Officer Rob Overton into some of his buildings to inspect them.

Pepin, who is the city’s largest landlord, was cooperative with the inspectors. He said he never objected to his buildings being inspected, but did object to the city’s approach and proposed scope of inspections.

Code Enforcement Officer Rob Overton said officials discovered some code violations, as anticipated, such as undersized windows and a dearth of secondary upper-floor exits in some of the buildings, but nothing that makes the buildings so unsafe that tenants had to be displaced.

The city officials went through buildings at 9, 31 and 37 Washington St., where they found code violations, including some windows smaller than codes allow and only one exit, not the required two, on an upper floor, and missing smoke detectors. The inspections were attended by Overton; Deputy Fire Chief David Groder and Tim Fuller, an inspector from the state Fire Marshal’s Office; Pepin, for a time; and later, Pepin’s property manager and maintenance workers.

“Overall the building is in good condition and there is nothing to lead me to shut it down,” Overton said about 37 Washington St. “The property owner and manager have been very cooperative today.”

Pepin said later Tuesday he agreed the inspections went well. “We seem to be off to a good start and everyone is friendly and on the same page,” he said.

“I absolutely intend on repairing and fixing any code issues,” Pepin added. “We all want safe buildings, and that part has never been in dispute. I did expect them to pass, but also realize that these buildings need updating in regards to life safety issues. Most apartment buildings in Augusta are well up in age and fall into that category.”

Last week a District Court judge approved the city’s request for an administrative search warrant to inspect units at 9, 31, 37, 41, 69 and 80 Washington St., as well as 2 and 4 Stewart Lane. Together, those buildings have 41 units. All of the buildings the city plans to inspect are in the Sand Hill section of the city.

The city had its attorney, Stephen Langsdorf, seek the warrant to get access to Pepin’s buildings after he refused to allow city fire and code officials inside to inspect them.

Overton said all of the apartments had at least one smoke detector, but in many cases, because of a rule adopted a few years ago, more than one detector is required in some apartments. He said a number of rooms were missing required smoke detectors.

Overton said the property manager indicated the smoke detector issues would be corrected within 24 hours.

He said Pepin also agreed to address other code issues in the buildings, but Overton noted some of them, such as installing more exits from upper floors, will take time.

“The next step is to send the owner a list of deficiencies,” Overton said. “With larger repairs, such as adding second exits from second and third floors, I’ll ask them how they’re going to fix it and how much time it will take. As long as it’s even remotely reasonable, we work with them as best we can.”

Overton said the problem of two few upper-floor exits is common in the city’s housing stock.

(Continued on page 2)

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