The Star-Herald

Rental registration process takes shape in Presque Isle

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — As planned earlier this year, the Presque Isle Rental Housing Working Group presented a rental report to the Presque Isle City Council last week, which included a clearly defined rental housing application process for landlords.

And after considerable discussion on the matter, the city council voted to accept the report and scheduled a public hearing on the rental application process for July 15.

The working group — two landlords, two tenant rights groups, the Presque Isle Housing Authority, Aroostook County Action Program, two city councilors, the city code enforcement officer and economic and community development — was tasked with exploring the current and future of city rental units from various perspectives.

“There’s about 900 hours of work boiled down into that document,” City Council Chairman Kevin Freeman said about the rental report during last week’s meeting. “Until we do this registration, the one thing we don’t know is how many apartments we have. We do know we have a housing deficiency.”

It’s been a nine-month journey of exploring options and listening to various interest groups, Director of Economic and Community Development Galen Weibley explained as he presented the report to the city council. 

Defining the number of rental units in the city is part of a larger community revitalization effort aimed at bringing new businesses and jobs to Presque Isle. And Weibley, who has been leading the rental registration initiative, said the recently released rental report serves as a blueprint for the city’s future. 

“It has opened doors for other potential collaborations with state agencies and departments,” Weibley said during the city council meeting. “We are now on their radar screen for potential funding moving forward because they see we now have a plan of action.”

If the city is focused on bringing new people into the community, there has to be available housing for new residents. And currently it’s rough finding a rental unit in the city. 

“If we plan on growing by 10 percent, and we find we already have 700 units, we would need 70 more,” Freeman said. “If we have 1,200 we would need 120 more.”

As Freeman explained, the rental registration application process is key to understanding city housing needs.

Several city councilors said landlords had contacted them about the potential rental registration application and most were supportive. Other councilors expressed concerns about the city inspections of rental units that are planned to be part of the rental registration process, citing the additional work for the city’s code enforcement officer.

Weibley outlined the proposed application process:

Landlords would have one year to register rental units. Each individual unit will be registered with the city and the registration would include the landlord’s contact information. If landlords live more than 50 miles from the city, they need rental managers. There would be no cost to register. 

Once registered, there would be a random, city-wide inspection by code enforcement. Meaning a certain percentage of the rental units would be inspected each year after a random selection of properties. Potentially, if a landlord had 100 rental units, only 10 might be slated for inspection the first year. 

The inspections would be scheduled at the landlord’s convenience with a goal of getting all the landlord’s properties scheduled for inspection on the same day. 

The inspector will complete a checklist aimed at health and safety issues and give the property a classification code. The better the classification code, the less frequent inspections would be scheduled. 

Nursing homes, motels and rooming houses would be exempt from rental registration, Weibley said. 

“I heard feedback from some larger landlords who are concerned they’re going to get punished for those landlords who aren’t doing their jobs right,” Councilor Mike Chasse said.

City Councilor Doug Cyr, who currently has 150 rental units in the city, said the city already has codes and he wondered if there were other ways of doing this.

“I think the city has greatly underestimated the amount of time the code office will need for this,” he said. 

A public hearing on the rental registration application is slated for 6 p.m. Thursday, July 15.

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