Neighbors of 20 Noyes St. in Portland say the foundation at the site, seen above, has a rat problem and they want it eliminated before construction on a new house begins. Michael Kelley / The Forecaster

The owners of 20 Noyes St. in Portland have plans to build a two-family home on the site of a deadly 2014 apartment fire, but neighbors want to make sure a rat infestation on the property gets addressed first.

Steve Hoffman, a local architect, who, with his wife Mindy Fox, purchased the property from Gregory Nesbit in May of 2018, got a building permit from the city in October 2020. That permit has since expired and Hoffman said the plan is being revised with the hope of starting construction later this summer.

Two dead rats near the site. Contributed / Carol Schiller

Neighbors in the area between Forest and Brighton avenues near the University of Southern Maine campus are urging the city to take additional steps to ensure that rats recently found in the foundation on the site are fully eradicated. The foundation remained after the burnt out apartment building was demolished in 2015.

“The city should hold all permits until the rat infestation is mitigated completely,” said Carol Schiller of the University Neighborhood Organization.

Hoffman said he was unaware of the rat situation until it was brought to his attention by a neighbor earlier this month.

“Had I been contacted earlier, we could have taken action immediately,” he said.

Hoffman said a pest technician told him he had seen “an uptick in the evident rodent population in Portland over the last year, and that the heavy construction such as the roadwork in the neighborhood and the excavation at (USM) would be the kind of thing that would cause the populations to start moving around.”

Joel Richardson, who lives at 26 Noyes St., said the infestation is relatively new.

“I have been coming to Noyes Street since my grand-grandparents lived on this street, and I have never seen a rat until last year. This year they are running in and out of that property and made their way into my kitchen,” said Richardson, who chased the rats away and said he has trapped nearly a dozen.

The city issued Hoffman and Fox a notice of violation on May 25 for non-compliance with the city’s standards for rodent and vermin control, which state a structure must be devoid of things that could lead to a rodent infestation, and the city’s standards for unoccupied residential structures, which states foundations should be “weathertight, watertight and vermin-proof; shall be structurally sound and in good repair” and be rodent-free. The notice, issued by Code Enforcement Officer Matt Sarapas, advised the couple to properly board up any holes in the foundation and address debris and overgrown vegetation by June 8.

Openings in the foundation at 20 Noyes St. have attracted rats for the first time in recent memory. Contributed / Carol Schiller

Hoffman said the vegetation was cleared, trash was removed and holes in the foundation were boarded up.

“We were notified by the city that we complied with everything they were askingĀ  us to do,” he said.

City Communications Director Jessica Grondin said “the property owner has taken the initial steps that the city requested and is continuing to work with the city on addressing the problem.”

“We are pleased with the city’s response to have the problem addressed, but we are also upset the property got to this point of a huge rat infestation,” Schiller said. “The foundation should have been removed when the city had (the building) demolished and we can’t understand why that never happened and the foundation was allowed to remain.”

She wonders why the city didn’t mandate the entire structure be removed in 2015 per the state’s dangerous building law.

The site’s three-story apartment building burned to the ground on Nov. 1, 2014, killing six people. The cause was ruled accidental: A cigarette smoldered on the front porch of the home, and lit other materials before the fire spread into the house through an open door, according to the state Fire Marshal Joseph Thomas.

Smoke detectors in the building were not working at the time of the fire and third floor bedrooms lacked a secondary exit. Nesbit was acquitted of manslaughter charges, but was found guilty of several code violations. As a result of the fire, the city created a new housing safety office.

Hoffman said Green Pest Defense was at the site Monday “to do a thorough investigation and take appropriate first measures” to eradicate the rats.

“The site is all set up to address any rodents that may be present there or that may come there from the nearby vicinity.” Hoffman said. “There was no evidence of droppings, nesting or food-stores.”

Richardson said bait boxes left on the site is “not eradication.”

“It is pest control. The ordinances say eradication or fumigation,” he said citing Chapter 22 of the city code, which deals with rodent and vermin control.

Comments are not available on this story.