The Edwards Inn at 53 Water St. at the north end of downtown Augusta. The building was photographed last Thursday. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

AUGUSTA — City officials and the owners of a fully occupied, 45-unit downtown building known for providing housing to low-income tenants have reached an agreement to address safety code violations there.

The situation is one of many in which city officials said aging rental properties in Augusta have unsafe conditions, all while a shortage of housing has made housing more expensive and hard to come by, leaving an increasing number of people homeless.

City officials had recently ordered the owners of the Edwards Inn, a boarding house with 45 single-occupancy units at 53 Water St. at the northern end of downtown Augusta, to not rent out rooms that became vacant until the most pressing safety code violations had been addressed. Current tenants were allowed to stay, and the building was not shut down.

Under the new agreement, the owner will again be allowed to rent out rooms as they become vacant.

On May 26, Keegan Ballard, a city code enforcement officer, went to the Edwards Inn after Chief David Groder of the Augusta Fire Department told him that, while driving past the building, he had noticed work being done on an exterior porch structure there. That prompted concerns about the structural integrity of the entire porch and led to an inspection.

Keegan reported the porch at the three-story structure, which also serves as a means of egress, was in a state of disrepair and did not appear structurally sound. He also said repairs that were underway did not comply with codes, and the work did not have the required permit.


The city issued a notice of violation requiring the building owner to hire a structural engineer, provide inspection reports for the building’s fire suppression and alarm systems, and submit engineered plans to replace the deteriorated porch structures.

After a follow-up inspection of the property June 6, city officials also ordered that all emergency lights that were not working be repaired or replaced, emergency exits be marked with signs and a section of exterior stairs that were rotten and deemed unsafe be chained off.

The next day, Janusz Jania, an owner of CKW LLC, which owns the building and other buildings with a total of about 150 rental units to mostly low-income tenants in Augusta, reported the required work would be completed and ready for reinspection that day.

Robert Overton, the city’s director of code enforcement, confirmed the required work had been completed and the city had inspected and approved it. He said the ban on renting out any rooms that went vacant had been lifted and vacant rooms could again be rented to new tenants.

The Edwards Inn at 53 Water St. at the north end of downtown Augusta. The building was photographed last Thursday. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

A list of lesser code violations at the property remains, but Overton said as long as the owners followed a plan to fix those issues, rentals there may continue.

Jania had expressed concerns in an interview and in writing to the city that his company was being singled out for unfair enforcement of code violations. Jania said such scrutiny was happening at the same time his company was playing a crucial role in providing housing to low-income residents who could otherwise be homeless.


Jania expressed appreciation to city officials for working with him and his company and understanding that all of the code violations in the building could not be addressed immediately.

“I want to thank you for cooperation and understanding what we’re going through to make improvements on our properties,” Jania told city councilors Thursday, after they received an update on the situation from city staff members.

“We spent several years since we purchased (properties in Augusta) where we didn’t take any penny from the investment we made, and we’re still making improvements and putting in additional funding into those buildings. Our objective is to serve Augusta’s low-income community and provide housing. There is a crisis, we understand, and we want to make improvements.”

At-Large City Councilor Courtney Gary-Allen, who asked that an update on the Edwards Inn situation be placed on the June 8 council agenda for discussion, noted the importance of working with the building’s owners to ensure that safe low-income housing remains available.

“I want to thank you for your swift action and for taking this as a serious matter, and I appreciate city staff working between the gray lines here and making sure we keep people safe and also housed,” she said. “The Edwards Inn serves an important role in our housing stock right now, as I’m sure you all know.”

Overton said he had been at the 53 Water St. building five or six years ago, while the city was dealing with a bedbug infestation at other apartment buildings, inspecting it with federal officials, and he noted the conditions and cleanliness of the rooms there have improved greatly since then.


“This building seems to be headed in the right direction under its current ownership,” Overton said.

Overton also noted the situation is an all-too-familiar one in the city.

“Let me be perfectly clear: Nothing we found in this building was the first time we’ve seen it in a building,” he told councilors. “These are all things we’re seeing regularly in buildings in Augusta. Even the issues with the sprinkler system are not uncommon.

“Yesterday, I was made aware of five eight-unit buildings in Augusta that have a similar set of issues. That’s a total of 40 units. So these are not problems that are unique to this building.”

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