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December 12, 2018

Portland wins record judgment against non-responsive landlord

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court upheld on Tuesday a record judgment for the City of Portland against a non-responsive landlord.

Maine's highest court upheld the lower court ruling in "City of Portland v. Sulan Chau" that imposed penalties on Chau of more than $500,000 plus costs and attorney fees upon finding conditions in her Woodford Street five-unit building violated fire, electrical, and life safety provisions of Maine statutes and the Portland City Code.

Over the course of 28-months, the city inspected the building repeatedly and notified Chau of violations in writing on eight occasions, the city stated in a news release. Although Chau made a few improvements, she did not remedy significant life safety, electrical and fire code violations, according to the release.

The city initiated an enforcement action in the District Court in November 2017, and the court entered its judgment in January 2018, imposing civil penalties of $510,300 based on the minimum per-day penalties established in state statute and City Code.

"We're thankful that the Supreme Court upheld the lower court's ruling as we want people to know that the City takes the safety of its renters seriously," said Michael Russell, director of the city's permitting and inspections department. "While we're very grateful the majority of landlords work collaboratively with us, we feel this ruling sends a strong message to the few who are resistant to prioritizing the safety of tenants."

The city's permitting and inspections department oversees housing safety and administers rental housing registration and works with the fire department to ensure the safety of buildings that contain short term and long term rental units within Portland.

All property owners are required to annually register residential rental units with the city's licensing and registration office by Jan. 1 or within 30 days of renting a property. This includes rooms, apartments, condominiums, and houses. Short-term rental registrations are due by Feb. 1 due to recent changes to the ordinance.

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