News Feature

Originally published in Castine Patriot, April 5, 2018
Public comments urge more work on rental ordinance

by Sharon Bray

Castine’s municipal officials said they hope to bring a rental housing ordinance to voters at town meeting in June. But a dozen or so citizens at a public hearing April 2 urged the board of selectmen to make changes or to abandon entirely the proposed ordinance.

Two main points of the ordinance are creation of a list of “residential rental properties” including names of tenants and names of owners with contact information, and response to “disorderly houses” when law enforcers are called because of activity that “would have a tendency to unreasonably disturb the community” or neighbors.

“How can a list solve these problems?” asked resident Par Kettis, who believed that such a list already exists in the town office.

“No, it does not,” responded board member Peter Vogell, adding the town should know “who lives there, and who is responsible?”

Discussion of such an ordinance has gone on for years of meetings with Maine Maritime Academy officers. Town Manager Jimmy Goodson said “almost every community with an institution of higher education has an ordinance like this.”

Board member Gus Basile, referring to the “disorderly house” provision, said in the nine years he has held elected office, “we really have not had any problems at all except a couple of bumps in the road.”

Residents Tony Politano and Gordon MacArthur disagreed with Basile. “We can’t turn our back and say nothing is wrong here,” stated Politano who said he is still involved in complaints about damage to his property by rental neighbors across the street.

MacArthur said tenants across the street from his house are disruptive every weekend night while the property owner who lives in California “does nothing.” Those neighbors happen to be Maine Maritime Academy students, “but they could be anyone.”

Kettis compared noise and disturbance as “nothing more than a regular wedding.”

Although the town would not inspect rental units, Goodson said the ordinance will help make landlords and renters “aware of life safety issues.” Relying on state and federal regulations, the town ordinance avoids “any determination that the property is fit for human habitation.”

Castine Fire and Rescue officer Lance Burton read parts of a letter he said he had sent to the selectmen about the need for inspections to ensure not only rentals but all residential housing include detailed inspection and safety rules. Burton said he manages a number of rental properties.

Goodson said parents moving their student-children into rental units are often upset when they discover a lack of smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, fire extinguishers and adequate exits.

Resident Zander Parker called on municipal officials to add enforcement details. “We need evidence-based, not emotion-based” regulations he concluded.

Resident Arnold Berleant raised what he called “a larger issue.” The town, he said, is being taken over and used by people “who do not live here,” especially in the winter. Besides MMA, Berleant listed non-resident owners and corporations.

With so many questions about potential problems with the proposed ordinance, several people volunteered to help refine it.

Gunilla Kettis noted complexities to be considered, including three general categories of renters: summer visitors, year round families and Maine Maritime Academy students in addition to different kinds of owners. Referring to the ordinance as presented at the hearing, she commented, “We have a baby here not quite ready for delivery…. If we do it too fast, we’ve got a bigger mess.”

Board member Colin Powell said after the hearing that he hopes the ordinance will be ready for a vote at town meeting.