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

(Continued from page 1)

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

Pepin, a resident of Bunny Street in north Augusta, said he has eight full-time maintenance employees who work continually to make repairs and keep his buildings in good condition.

Through his lawyer, C.H. Spurling, Pepin has indicated to city officials that he did not want Overton to conduct the inspections and he wanted them limited to areas where the city had identified probable cause that violations existed. However, the court ruled last week that the city could have Overton inspect the buildings, and the scope would not be limited only to known issues.

Overton said the Fire Marshal’s Office inspector attended to provide additional code expertise.

Groder said officials had “the full cooperation of tenants” in building units where the tenants were home during the inspections.

Pepin owns 37 buildings, according to city assessing records. That’s more buildings than any other residential landlord in Augusta, according to Matt Nazar, city development director.

Suspected code violations listed in court documents filed by the city to get the search warrant included a lack of adequate exits from upper floors.

At a March 21 fire at a Pepin-owned building at 146 Northern Ave., firefighters were briefly trapped on the second floor because there was only one way out – the building’s exterior porches and the stairs connecting them – and it was on fire. Firefighters were able to get back down off the second floor after they put out the fire on the stairs, according to Fire Chief Roger Audette. The building has since been demolished.

The city has shut down 10 apartment buildings, and a floor of an 11th, for safety code violations this year. One of the buildings, 6 York St., is owned by Pepin.

Overton said the three buildings inspected Tuesday had 17 units, all but two or three of which were occupied.

Overton said if a unit in a building with code violations identified during an inspection becomes vacant, the city will require that unit to remain unoccupied until the code violations are fixed. He said the city does that with all buildings.

“We found what we expected to find,” Overton said. “Issues mainly due to the age of the buildings.”

The next round of inspections of more of Pepin’s apartments hasn’t yet been scheduled but likely will occur early next month, according to Overton.

The city requested 45 days to inspect the eight buildings, but the court gave it only 21 days.

Keith Edwards can be contacted at 621-5647 or at:

kedwards@centralmaine.com

 

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