The city of Portland received complaints in 2012 about a possibly illegal dwelling unit in the Noyes Street duplex where a fast-moving fire last weekend killed six people, including two women in an attic that was converted into a bedroom.

The possibility that the third-floor unit may have been built illegally was disclosed in documents released by the city Friday afternoon about the inspections history of 20 Noyes St, site of Maine’s deadliest fire in 40 years. The documents were requested by the Portland Press Herald under Maine’s Freedom of Access Act.

The city said in a statement that it is working with investigators to determine whether the landlord, Gregory Nisbet, violated any city codes and whether legal action is warranted. Nisbet did not return calls for comment Friday.

The city released a report detailing 16 complaint-based inspections of 20 Noyes St. since 2003, with Nisbet listed as the owner on all of them.

In addition to concerns about the third-floor unit, the report shows there were complaints ranging from combustible materials on the porch to excessive trash that was attracting rodents. However, any findings about the third-floor unit from the ensuing inspections were not indicated in the reports. When asked whether any actions resulted from the inspections, city spokeswoman Jessica Grondin required all questions to be submitted in writing.

“I’m not putting someone on the phone with you right now,” she said.


Later, after receiving the questions, Grondin said she could not elaborate because the investigation was ongoing.

Mayor Michael Brennan said in a written statement that people should withhold judgment until the investigation is complete.

“This is a very emotional and raw time for everyone in Portland, and it’s important to note that no one should be placing blame,” Brennan said. “When something like this happens, everyone – including landlords, tenants and the City – should use this incident to educate themselves about best practices and learn from it as we move forward.”

The city also announced it was creating a task force to review the city’s fire and code inspection policies in the wake of the blaze. The group will include representatives of fire, police, inspections, social services, legal and a local landlord association.

Also, City Manager Sheila Hill-Christian has directed staff to conduct an administrative review of the city’s codes and ordinances.

The city paid $39,000 for an independent consultant to review the city’s fire department. The study issued in March 2013 noted that the department’s understaffed inspections division was unable to inspect the city’s nearly 5,000 multi-unit apartment buildings and businesses on an annual basis.


The city said its inspections division – which checks plumbing, electrical, land use and complaints but doesn’t do fire inspections – is staffed by four inspectors, who for the last 10 years have responded to complaints. The division conducted more than 850 inspections within the last year.

According to documents released Friday, the city was first notified on Aug. 30, 2012, that Nisbet added a new dwelling unit on the third floor of 20 Noyes St., although the property is zoned for two living units. The city conducted an inspection and found violations, including “debris and combustibles scattered about (the) front porch approx. 3′ deep.” There is no finding about the third-floor unit.

A similar complaint about the additional unit was filed on Sept. 6, 2012. The findings of that inspection are not clear.

Additional complaints were lodged on June 3 and June 6 this year regarding the overall condition of the property, two “derelict vans” that may have someone living in one, and that the owner was possibly renting more than two units.

The records show that residents made efforts to clean up the property in June, but there is no ruling about whether the third-floor bedroom complied with city codes. The city did not release information about the ruling, citing the ongoing investigation.

Since the fire, concerns have surfaced about whether someone would have been able to get out of the third-floor bedroom if the primary exit was blocked.


Barbara Lilly of Long Island, whose son lived in the house at one time, said last weekend that she was relieved when her son moved out because the hallways were filled with debris and one of the bedrooms had only one window, which was too small to climb through in the event of a fire. She also doubted the building had adequate smoke and fire detectors.

The city also released the inspection history of Nisbet’s other properties in Portland.

A property at 188 Dartmouth St. has been the subject of five complaints since July 8, 2013. Three of those complaints are about an allegedly illegal unit in the garage. The report says that the unit lacked plumbing, and that people were urinating in buckets and dumping the waste outdoors.

The city inspected the garage on Sept. 3, 2014, and reported that no one was living in the garage and the trash and debris had been cleaned up.

Fire Chief Jerome LaMoria said in a written statement that everyone has a role to play in fire prevention. He encouraged people to check their smoke detectors, replace batteries on a semiannual basis, and establish and practice a fire escape plan.

“For anyone who has any fire safety questions or concerns that they’d like to talk about, please call us at (207) 482-LIFE or email at,” he said.


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