By Robert E. Macdonald
Mayor of Lewiston
Over the past five years, Lewiston’s third-floor staff has done yeoman’s work in cleaning up and slowly moving Lewiston forward. Our code department has done a great job in accelerating the removal of blighted and dangerous buildings from our landscape.
These buildings served as urban fire loads that in the past have contributed to major destructive fires, resulting in injuries and property destruction. Worse, it placed residents in constant fear of their safety. This was unacceptable, and our staff has worked hard to greatly reduce these fears.
Our economic development department has done an outstanding job in overcoming the undeserving negative reputation branded into the fabric of our city by elitist naysayers from Southern Maine. They have turned upper Lisbon and Main Streets into a destination. We continue to see growth and new businesses locating in our city.
During the last five years, both city staff and elected officials have adopted and bought into a philosophy that in order for Lewiston to rise like a phoenix, we must destroy that which hinders our progress and replace it with a bold, doable plan. We need a plan that will transform our city into a jewel, not a destination for the homeless and destitute from around Maine and beyond her borders.
This week the 128th Legislature was sworn in. For the next two years they will deliberate, fight, argue and compromise over various pieces of legislation that will hopefully help in improving the livability of our state, cities and towns. Lewiston has submitted several pieces of legislation with the intent of moving our city forward.
Last year, as a result of Portland’s Noyes Street fire in which six people were killed, a task force was formed. Its mission was to identify and correct any and all apartment building code violations that may potentially lead to a similar disaster. In order to address these problems, the following legislation has been introduced.
First up is a bill making tenants responsible for maintaining their apartment smoke detectors. By law, all apartments are required to be supplied with functional smoke detectors. In many apartments, these units are not in proper working order because the tenants remove the alarm’s batteries. This is usually for personal use. Apparently in the world of entitlements, self-gratification trumps family safety.
But as Bob Dylan once sang, “The Times They Are a-Changing.” It’s time for our entitlement neighbors to be introduced to the world of adult responsibility. Thus, we have introduced a bill that will make tenants liable for a civil violation if they tamper with any smoke detectors under their control. Should this tampering result in injury or death, the tenant will be criminally charged.
But removing batteries from a smoke detector is small potatoes and pales when comparing it to the removal of the smoke detector from the apartment walls and placing it into a drawer or cupboard. Why? You guessed it! Every time they attempt to cook, the alarm goes off. So rather than be aggravated–or God forbid, learn to cook–they remove the alarm altogether and store it in a place that will not set it off. This will also result in civil and criminal penalties.
Another problem in our downtown apartment buildings is that the halls and stairways are being used for the storage of personal belongings. Should a fire break out, these belongings serve as an obstruction and impede the free flow of evacuation. This will also lead to civil and criminal violations.
The aforementioned legislation removes any burden on the landlord and squarely places it where it belongs—on the tenants.
Lastly, one of the biggest problems facing landlords is that of cash flow. This is the result of many tenants not paying their rent. This shortage of cash becomes critical in the upkeep and repair of the building.
Far too many tenants are evicted for failure to pay rent and immediately seek a court order to delay the eviction. They run to Pine Tree Legal and continue to live rent-free while the court addresses their appeal.
Legislation has been submitted that will force deadbeat tenants to come up with the amount of back and future rents owed, which will be placed into an escrow account. If the tenant wins, they get their money back. If the landlord wins, they will be made whole.
The real benefit of these bills is that it will expose who dances with their constituents and who dances to the beat of the Maine Peoples’ Alliance, Equality Maine, Equal Justice Maine Partners, et al.