Landlords and tenants both support more consistent enforcement of fire safety standards in Portland, a city task force was told Monday.

Landlords want the city to enforce a long-standing ordinance that requires landlords to register with the city and to hold tenants accountable for removing smoke alarms.

“Landlords rarely disconnect alarm systems,” said Carleton Winslow, a member of the 200-member Southern Maine Landlord Association. “Tenants do it constantly.”

Tenants, meanwhile, want the city to pursue unresponsive landlords more vigorously and not discount complaints lodged by tenants who are being evicted. Inspectors can only inspect a property with permission of the landlord or a tenant.

“The fact that a landlord is unreachable should be red flag, rather than a reason not to pursue an inspection,” said Katie McGovern, an attorney at Pine Tree Legal, a nonprofit firm that helps low-income people.

Housing safety has emerged as a high-profile issue in the aftermath of the fast-moving blaze Nov. 1 at an apartment house on Noyes Street that killed six young adults. The city formed the task force to examine its codes and inspection practices to see if another tragedy could be prevented.

Monday’s meeting was the first that included people representing landlords and tenants.

The first phase of the task force’s work included city staff, which recommended better education, particularly among college-age tenants. The staff is also looking to create a centralized database to track a rental property’s inspections history, and make the database available to the public.

The group also suggested creating a new housing division to handle complaints, but the new members of the group were cautious about the costs and staffing associated with creating a new entity.

City staff agreed there needsto be better coordination and communication between the fire and code enforcement departments.

An example cited was 193 Congress St., where the landlord had begun making renovations without a permit. Firefighters inspected the property and found electrical wires exposed and the alarm system not working. Tenants who lived in the 12-unit building had to be evicted until the landlord made the repairs.

However, the fire department called on code enforcement officers to evict the tenants, even though fire officials had the authority to do so.

“We need to clarify that process,” said Tammy Munson, director of the city’s inspections division.

The building had fire violations dating back to 2007. The fire department sent the landlord a formal violation notice in April 2012, according to fire department records.

The tenants were evicted in August 2014. A city spokesman said the tenants have been allowed to return.


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