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Portland Landlord Sentenced to Jail For Apartment Fire That Resulted In The Death of Six Tenants

Posted by Tristan R. Pettit, Esq. in Landlord Liability / Comments

There has been a lot of news reports lately about fires in rental buildings. Recently there was the Oakland, California "Ghost Ship" fire that killed 36 people. Just a few days before that fire, a landlord was sentenced to serve time in jail as a result of one of the deadliest fires in 4 decades in Portland Maine. This was the first jail sentence for a landlord in Maine as a result of a safety code violation.

The landlord of the Portland, Maine residential rental property was charged with manslaughter as a result of the 6 deaths that resulted from the fire that occurred back on November 1, 2014. The landlord was later acquitted of the manslaughter charges but found guilty of a misdemeanor safety code violation.

The prosecutor was asking that the landlord be sentenced to the maximum sentence - 6 months in jail and $1,000 fine - in part to put all landlords in Maine on notice allegedly. While the judge did not impose the maximum jail sentence, he did sentence the landlord to a 90-day jail term and the maximum fine.

The landlord, who was also a real estate agent, was never cited for a code violation prior to the fire but apparently ignored a warning from a building contractor back in 2005 that the third floor windows were not large enough to meet the local building codes.

The judge indicated that the code violation --- the third floor windows were too small to serve as an emergency escape route -- deprived the three individuals on the third floor of an emergency exit thus preventing them from getting out of the house alive. Those three individuals died along with three others who were not on the third floor.

As a result of this fire and the resulting deaths, Portland officials have created a new housing safety office, expanded its safety inspections of rental units, and have started to more aggressively prosecute landlords that ignore code violation notices.

Unless the sentence is appealed, the landlord must report on December 23rd to start serving his 90 day jail sentence.

If you would like to learn more about the case there is a thorough article from Press Herald.

This sad situation is a reminder to all landlords and building managers to inspect their rental properties frequently and insure that your properties meet local codes.

Tristan is a shareholder with the law firm of Petrie+Pettit and focuses his practice in the area of landlord-tenant law representing landlords and property management companies throughout Wisconsin.

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