I am writing in regard to the article “State licensing proposed for rental homes” by Alison Aloisio, which appeared in the March 7 Bethel Citizen concerning a bill titled LD330. The main focus of the article appeared to be the financial implications of the bill for the parties involved, and I believe Alison did a good job of gathering opposing views. As a retired firefighter, professional home inspector in this area for more than 12 years, and a Maine State Certified Third Party Inspector (TPI Cert #147) for the Maine Uniform Building and Energy Code (MUBEC), I believe LD330, with enforcement of life safety standards and water testing, etc., will also address the safety inefficiencies found in many of the unlicensed rentals and the life- threatening conditions found in some of the properties currently being rented.
As a home inspector I’ve been hired to perform a significant number of property inspections during real estate transactions on properties with a history of being used as rentals with the buyer’s intentions to continue to use it as a rental. Many of the properties only need handrails and/or guardrails, GFCI protected outlets, smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, etc., to make the home safe. These are relatively inexpensive upgrades and should be done regardless if the home is rented or not. Some owners, in an attempt to maximize the number of people the property can accommodate and amount of income it will generate, have converted the basement into bedrooms WITHOUT escape windows or a secondary egress. In addition, many have installed a wood-burning stove in the family room just outside these bedrooms thus creating a potential fire hazard between the bedroom and the only means of exiting the structure. I have come across this scenario many more times than one would hope to see. During an inspection of one of the rental “mansions capable of sleeping dozens of people” as Chad McGrew described in the article, I took a water sample for the prospective buyer and the lab report indicated significant levels of Arsenic present. A filtration system was installed to mitigate the issue, but I could not help but think of all the people who rented that property and unknowingly drank that water during the years prior to me testing it.
Because I believe Jarrod Crockett’s general intention is to do the right thing, I was disappointed in his choice of words and stance on the subject. When he said “This bill is dangerous to hundreds of people who own hunting camps, fishing camps, condos and vacation homes in our area,” I could not help but think WITHOUT this bill it will become increasingly more “dangerous” to anyone who RENTS unsafe hunting camps, fishing camps, condos and vacation homes in our area.
We need some well-thought-out guidelines that make ALL our rental properties safe. Instead of killing jobs, as Jarrod states, I believe it will create jobs for many trades people who do repairs and upgrades that maintain or improves property values as well as safeguard renters. The biggest “death traps” will be too expensive to fix so they will disappear from the rental pool. A win-win situation. If the unregulated rentals take all the business some of the Inns and Hotels will not make it – ripping the heart out of the towns they are in and the jobs they created will be gone. What we could be left with is unregulated cut-rate rentals spread out all over the place, some of which may be unsafe to varying degrees. The article mentioned concerns some owners who are now renting out their properties will have to sell. It is unfortunate that the current economy has forced many of us to make tough choices. Is it better that the Inns or Hotels close and have to sell because they can’t make it? What if an Inn or Hotel becomes a foreclosed property in the heart of town? How will it affect the area? What will it become if it can’t survive as a lodging establishment?
In the article, Greg Dugal was concerned the workload for state inspectors would be more then they could handle. There is currently a rather extensive list of Maine State certified Third Party Inspectors (TPI) established for the MUBEC codes. These TPI inspectors could be additionally trained to help handle the rental work load as well.
I do not like the thought of more regulations any more than the next guy; however, experience has taught me that not everyone wants to or is willing to do the right thing, especially if they are making money by doing otherwise. Safe rentals are an asset to our community just as much as the local scenic beauty, lakes and rivers, unique stores, good restaurants, ski areas and other recreational opportunities. We need to protect our visitors by intelligently implementing rules governing the properties they are staying in.
Gary “Bo” Boden
(Update: On March 14 the Health and Human Services Committee voted the bill "Ought Not to Pass.")