The owner of an apartment building where six people died in a fire last month is being told to address fire safety issues in an apartment building he owns two blocks away.

City officials inspected 186-188 Dartmouth St. on Monday, after getting complaints from tenants about a lack of smoke detectors in the building, flammable materials next to an old furnace, and other problems.

It was the sixth inspection of the building since July 2013, and the first since the fatal fire Nov. 1 on Noyes Street. Because the building has just two apartments, it is only subject to safety inspections in response to complaints. The city did not immediately inspect other buildings owned by the Noyes Street landlord after the fatal fire.

“It is still primarily a complaint-driven system, but we were already planning to inspect his other properties. We were able to inspect 188 Dartmouth first because the tenants there reported complaints last week,” Jessica Grondin, the city’s communications director, said in an email to explain why the inspection was not conducted sooner.

Roxann White is one of the tenants who worry about the safety of the building on Dartmouth Street. She was a friend of most of the six young people who were killed by the pre-dawn fire that tore through the duplex on Noyes Street. It was the deadliest fire in Maine in 40 years.

White’s building is similar to the Noyes Street duplex and is owned by the same landlord, Gregory Nisbet. White said combustible materials are stored in the basement near an old furnace, where she says flames can be seen when it’s running.


“I’ve made hundreds of complaints to the landlord,” White said. “Even after Noyes Street, none of it was changing.”

Nisbet did not respond to messages seeking comment. His attorney, John Veilleux, described the issues at Dartmouth Street as separate from the Noyes Street fire investigation and litigation.

“There is a landlord-tenant matter at the 188 Dartmouth Street property that relates to damage caused by a now-former tenant of that building,” Veilleux said in an email. “Mr. Nisbet is attempting to deal with these issues, but will not comment on any details at this time.”

The investigation into the Noyes Street fire continues. Nisbet has been named in a lawsuit filed by the family of Steven Summers, who died in that blaze. The lawsuit claims that the house lacked smoke detectors and had a blocked exit, among other problems. A judge has put a lien on Nisbet’s real estate assets in Cumberland County, saying it is more likely than not that plaintiffs will win a judgment against him.

Nisbet’s Noyes Street house also had been the subject of complaints to the city before the fire.

Portland officials did not provide an official report from Monday’s inspection on Dartmouth Street, saying it was still being finalized. However, Fire Capt. David Petruccelli confirmed violations after the inspection, including improper storage of combustible materials, a lack of fire protection on the furnace and electrical issues from a previous water leak.


He told the residents there was little he could do to gain immediate compliance.

“It’s starting a clock,” Petruccelli told the tenants, who gathered outside after the inspection. “It’s not going to give you the satisfaction you want.”

Nisbet has 32 days to contact the city with a plan to address the violations, Petruccelli said. If the violations were severe enough, firefighters could post the building against occupancy, putting the tenants out on the street. Petruccelli said he would discuss what to do with the city’s legal team, fire chief and inspections director.

“Are we going to be dead before we get this taken care of?” asked Stephen Soldan, who has lived in the Dartmouth Street building for about seven months and says mold in the house has caused health problems. “We’re not going to let our landlord get away with this,” Soldan said.

Although the fire department typically inspects buildings with three units or more, Petruccelli accompanied a code enforcement officer Monday because tenants complained specifically about fire safety issues.

He said 186-188 Dartmouth St. appeared to be run like a boarding house, which requires city approval and additional fire protection measures, such as alarms with strobe lights, sprinklers and a pull-handle alert system.


Petruccelli said the apartment building had working smoke detectors that appeared to have been installed recently. White, the tenant, said they were likely installed last week after tenants complained. She and several of her roommates were not able to get into their apartment at the time because of protection-from-harassment orders that had been imposed on them after a dispute with a new tenant who claimed to be the new property manager.

Before the complaints lodged with the city last week and the inspection Monday, the Dartmouth Street property had been the subject of five complaints since July 8, 2013, according to city records. Three of those complaints were about an alleged illegal dwelling unit in the garage. The complaints said 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 that the trash and debris had been cleaned up.

Inside the duplex, there are numerous holes in the walls, stains and patches of Spackle. An extension cord ran down a staircase leading into a second-floor bedroom. One bedroom door had a sticker reading, “In case of fire, yell fire.”

Noorhussein Ibrahim has lived in a third-floor bedroom for about a month. He said he wasn’t concerned about having only one way out of his bedroom until he heard about the Noyes Street fire. He pointed to a boarded-up doorway leading to the next-door apartment and claimed the landlord told him it was the emergency exit.

“There is no exit,” Ibrahim said. “We (would) have to jump out the window. I never even thought about it until I heard people died on Noyes Street.”

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: