Multi-family residences, like these on Hill Street in Biddeford on Thursday, will be required to register with the city and pay a $25 fee per unit each year. DINA MENDROS/Journal Tribune

BIDDEFORD — Starting Feb. 1, owners of multi-family residences in Biddeford will have to register their ownership of their properties and pay a fee. The Biddeford City Council approved this new requirement on Jan. 3.

The purpose of these new mandates, according to city documents, is that “the city intends to hold owners of multi-family dwellings accountable and responsible for the maintenance of safe living conditions by establishing a multi-family dwelling unit registration and inspections program.”

Multi-family building owners will be required to register their properties each calendar year and pay $25 per dwelling unit when registering. Code Enforcement Officer Roby Fecteau said property owners will be sent notices informing them of the registration requirement. The notices will be sent in thirds, with the first going to one-third of owners on Jan. 15, the next third on Feb. 15 and the final third to be sent on March 15. After receiving their notice, owners will have 30 days to register and pay the fee before penalties begin to accrue.

The fees are designed to make the program self-sufficient, City Manager James Bennett said. The fees should bring about $62,500 into the city coffers, he said, which should cover the staff member who was hired when the city stepped up its multi-family property inspection program several years ago. The fee is designed “to take (the cost) off the backs of the taxpayers,” he said.

The original program was started after a fatal fire on Sept. 18, 2014, at 35 Main St. that claimed the lives of two men, roommates Michael Moore, 23, and James Ford, 21. According to a Nov. 7, 2014 Portland Press Herald article, “the two victims slept in a third-floor room that did not have a fire escape or a second means of egress. The other residents who escaped reported hearing no smoke alarms, though the property manager said he equipped every apartment with hard-wired alarms.

Prior to that fire, inspections were “complaint driven,” Fecteau said. Afterward, the city started a program designed to get code enforcement inspectors into all of the city’s multi-family apartment buildings and sent notices to more than 700 property owners asking for entry to their properties. Inspections have been conducted at 697 multi-family buildings, but 40 building owners have not replied to the notices, Fecteau said.

Currently, the city “is in various stages of being able to get into the remaining properties,” Bennett said.

During inspections, code enforcement officers will ensure that units are on par with the International Property Maintenance Code, which sets the standard for a healthy living environment. Violations could include instances of defunct or outdated smoke alarms and sprinklers, whether there is lead paint, the presence of bed bugs or other pests, improper ventilation and more.

Prior to an inspection, owners will receive a two-week notice and will need to grant full access to the building, including basements and common areas. New construction properties will be given a 10-year allowance prior to needing an inspection through the city.

Inspections will take place every five years “unless there is just cause,” according to city documents.

However, Fecteau said, when the initial inspections were done “there was not one building (without) violations.” The goal for this year, he said, it to visit buildings that have not been inspected along with those buildings with the most violations.

When violations are found, the code enforcement officer will send a notice of the violation(s) and a time frame in which to fix them.

Fines are included in the ordinance to ensure compliance.

These include $1,000 fee per day for refusing entry to the code officer to inspect a property, $1,000 for every 10 days for providing false information, $250 for every 10 days for non-payment of the registration fee, $250 for every 10 days for failure to update management/owner contact information and $250 for every 10 days for renting an unregistered unit.

The new program, Fecteau said, “solidifies the work we’ve done over the last 2 1//2 to three years.”

— Associate Editor Dina Mendros can be contacted at 780-9014 or [email protected]. Staff Writer Abigail Worthing and the Portland Press Herald contributed to this report.

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