AUGUSTA, Maine — A bill meant to help municipal governments in Maine more quickly deal with abandoned and blighted properties is picking up solid support in the Legislature.

The measure, LD 1203, sponsored by Sen. Nate Libby, D-Lewiston, is scheduled for a work session and possible vote before the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee on Monday, April 27.

“Because of abandoned properties in my hometown, we are faced with blight, public safety hazards, theft, vandalism, and demolition costs at the taxpayers’ expense,” Libby said in a prepared statement. “Of course, these problems are not unique to my community. The inability to transition abandoned properties back into the hands of redevelopers hamstrings a municipality’s ability to deal with the detrimental effects of abandoned property.”

Libby said that over the last four years, taxpayers in Lewiston have spent close to $1.5 million demolishing 58 derelict buildings left vacant by their former owners and the financial institutions holding the mortgages.

Under Libby’s bill, banks would be required to notify a municipality when they enter foreclosure proceedings on a property. The measure also requires banks to name an in-state representative who is responsible for the care, maintenance and security of the property in question.

The bill also allows municipalities to adopt standards for the care and maintenance of abandoned property and to hold those with control of the property responsible for that care or face a local fine.

According to Libby, once a property has been abandoned, the condemnation process can last 18 to 24 months.

Libby said the dilapidation of abandoned properties almost always follows the same sequence of events, including seeing the building’s pipes freeze, vandals then stripping the boiler and the electrical systems of copper, while water leaks then lead to roof, foundation and mold damage.

“There are several local developers with a track record of returning older, dilapidated buildings into service, but they are unwilling to navigate a maze of uncertainty when the mortgage holder is unresponsive and based out of state,” said Libby, who also serves as a Lewiston city councilor. “This inaction leads to properties sitting vacant, unsecured, and uncared for unless the city voluntarily assumes some responsibility for their care at no small cost.”

A number of local officials, including Lewiston’s city manager, Bangor’s city solicitor, representatives from the Maine Municipal Association and the Mayor’s Coalition, spoke in favor of the measure.

Meanwhile, the city managers from Waterville, Augusta and Biddeford all provided written support for the bill.

Scott Thistle

Scott Thistle is the State Politics Editor for the Lewiston Sun Journal. He has covered federal, state and local politics in Maine for nearly two decades.