CURTIS PASS, the 9 Dunning St. landlord, speaks with a reporter about his property that has been deemed unsafe for occupancy or use due to ongoing fire and life safety code deficiencies by the Brunswick Fire Department.

CURTIS PASS, the 9 Dunning St. landlord, speaks with a reporter about his property that has been deemed unsafe for occupancy or use due to ongoing fire and life safety code deficiencies by the Brunswick Fire Department.

BRUNSWICK

Eleven families, all of whom have members with disabilities, sat on their porches, stunned Wednesday, after receiving notification early in the day that they must vacate their homes by midnight.

Charleen Grindle, who has lived in apartment 1E at 9 Dunning St. for the past 15 years, said she and the others have no place to go.

“The fire department said these buildings are a fire hazard, but they’re not,” she said. “I’ve never had a problem the whole time I’ve lived here. But Jeff Emerson wouldn’t listen to anything anyone had to say.”

Grindle picked up her cat, Bella, and held her close for a moment.

“I guess we’re homeless now,” she said.

Deputy Fire Chief Jeff Emerson had brought signs to tape on the doors and a short note informing residents that they are not permitted to be in the building except to retrieve belongings after midnight on Wednesday. Calls to Deputy Emerson were not returned by press time.

The residents were offered two nights’ lodging at the Rodeway Inn on Bath Road beyond Cook’s Corner. The motel, however, is beyond the reach of public transportation. None of the residents has a car, and many, like Grindle, have pets. The town said it is providing the residents with taxi vouchers, and the reason Rodeway was chosen is that “not many motels accept our vouchers.”

There are also children living with or staying with grandparents in the building, and their schooling and bus schedules will be disrupted.

Most of the residents were placed at 9 Dunning St. by Brunswick Housing Authority, mental health agencies or DHHS caseworkers. None of the agencies were notified that their clients were about to lose their housing before the residents were told. One caseworker, Deb Batting of Sweetser, arrived to tell James Brown and his wife Angie in 1C how they would be able to get their benefit checks.

They’ll need their checks; Rodeway Inn rooms have a small refrigerator and a microwave, but no full kitchen facilities. Most of the tenants had just paid the rent for September.

Kelly Smyne said that he had just paid $832 in rent and deposit, and had only just moved into the building.

“Now we’re supposed to move to a motel room that’s not walking distance from anywhere, and with no place to put our food?” he asked. “And only for two days?”

If the residents can’t find a place to stay, they’ll have to come back to Town Hall and request another voucher for the weekend, then come back on Monday and get another two-day voucher. After that, no one at the building knows what is going to happen, although Acting Town Manager John Eldridge said that the goal is to move them into permanent alternative housing as soon as possible.

The stress on a fragile population is telling. Angie cried as she talked about having to move into the motel.

“It’s not fair,” she said. “We didn’t do anything wrong.”

And then there’s the issue of the pets. Almost everyone in the building has a cat; Smyne said that his cats are therapy animals for him. Rodeway said it accepts pets, but there’s a charge of $10 per pet per night.

Eldridge said that the town would pay for the cats to be housed with their owners at Rodeway.

Landlord Curtis Pass said that he had been making corrections to 23 fire code violations as soon as he was informed of them, but some weren’t complete by the deadline, mostly because of issues with contractors. As he made the corrections, he informed the town’s attorney. When he knew that he was not going to be able to finish the last two items on the original list because a contractor had an accident and was unable to complete the work until he recovered, he informed Emerson.

“He just told me, you’re going to have to have it done by then (Aug. 30),” Pass said. “They just wouldn’t work with me at all.”

They also added additional work to the list, also expected to be done in the same time frame, according to Pass.

“We shut down an entire apartment, sealed it right off,” he said. “Then I was told that some of the residents were using the outdoor balcony of the sealed apartment as a place to smoke. I was told to have the balcony sealed off, but wasn’t given any time to do it.”

He said that many of the problems were minor, and that some were beyond his control.

“Some of the tenants take the smoke detectors down,” he said. “I’ve spoken to John Hodge (of Brunswick Housing Authority) and he said that I can’t control what tenants do after an inspection, but the fire department claims that I have to keep them from removing the smoke detector.”

Hodge clarified that while it is frustrating when a tenant tampers with a smoke detector, it is within the power of the fire department to cite the landlord.

“All inspections are a snapshot in time,” he said. “We might make a tenant move furniture in front of an egress window. If he does, the building can pass inspection, but the tenant could move the furniture back the next day.”

Hodge said that he has three tenants who are living at 9 Dunning, and he has always found Pass to be a reliable and responsive landlord.

“If we find an issue in our inspections, we tell Curtis, and he fixes it,” he said. “We can’t pay for space that doesn’t pass inspection, and Curtis knows that.”

The Brunswick Housing Authority does annual inspections, and Hodge said that the building passed its most recent inspection.

Pass said that he got a call from his attorney and was told that he needed to appear for a fire department inspection late last week.

“I was working in Readfield,” he said, “and I couldn’t be there. I couldn’t even give the tenants the 24-hour notice I am required to give them when someone is coming into their apartment. The fire department didn’t care.”

Pass said he had until Aug. 30 to make 23 corrections. By then, only two original ones, and one additional one, were still outstanding. Seventeen days later, the town moved to displace the tenants.

A press release sent by the town of Brunswick stated the “deficiencies were first noted during an inspection in November of 2013 which was conducted as the result of a complaint.”

The press release continued: “Since November of 2013 the town of Brunswick has attempted to work with the building owner, Curtis Pass, to resolve the issues. During this time the town’s public safety officials have conducted numerous site visits and granted a number of extensions. The last extension granted to Mr. Pass specifically stated that all work was to be completed no later than July 31 to avoid legal action.”

The press release stated that by Sept. 12, it was confirmed that a “number of deficiencies remained unresolved with no attempt on the part of Mr. Pass to communicate to the town.”

The deficiencies, according to Pass, include a few instances of tenants tampering with smoke detectors and putting furniture in front of egress windows, but also a fire door that needs to be added to a laundry room, a unit that needs a wall removed, changing it from a one bedroom apartment to an efficiency apartment, a sprinkler system that the fire department wants added to the furnace area, and selfclosing hinges on a couple of apartment doors.

What is perplexing to Pass and to his tenants is that by all accounts, he is a model landlord.

“When something is broke, he fixes it, or I fix it,” said Bud Moody, who lives in the building and takes care of small maintenance issues himself or calls plumbers or electricians for things beyond his ability.

Sgt. Paul Hansen of Brunswick Police Department, who was on the scene dealing with a trespasser, said that under Pass’ tenure, the building has become much safer. “When I first started, we’d be down here almost every night,” he said. “Since Curtis has owned it, I’ve hardly been here at all, except for isolated instances.”

Pass said that he thinks the reason for the crackdown stems from the fire department’s plan a number of years ago to do inspections at property owners’ expenses. Pass and other landlords objected, and that plan was killed. Shortly after, the town established new rules that applied to buildings with 12 or more units. Pass’s building has 12 units. One was vacant, so Pass sealed that unit up and removed all the appliances, making his building an 11-unit structure, falling under the old guidelines.

Eldridge said flatly that he did not believe there was any sort of retaliation by the fire department for the ordinance that was floated a few years ago. The ordinance that would have charged landlords for fire and safety inspections was briefly considered by Town Council, and in the face of opposition by landlords, was tabled.

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The residents?

THE RESIDENTS were offered two nights’ lodging at the Rodeway Inn on Bath Road beyond Cook’s Corner. The motel, however, is beyond the reach of public transportation. None of the residents has a car, and many have pets. The town said it is providing the residents with taxi vouchers.

Most of the residents were placed at 9 Dunning St. by Brunswick Housing Authority, mental health agencies or DHHS caseworkers.


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