In one corner of Hampden, an abandoned home on Kennebec Road has a hole in its roof and weeds overrunning its front yard.
In another, a large pile of wood and debris lies on the ground after a fire partially tore through a home on Main Road North last winter.
They’re eyesores. And increasingly, Hampden residents are asking their town to do something about them.
Now, the town is considering how it can force local property owners to fix dilapidated parts of their buildings, whether the deck is collapsing or a roof has holes in it.
State law does allow towns to declare a property dangerous so they can demolish it — an option that Hampden has never pursued.
But the town doesn’t have local rules that would allow it to force more incremental improvements, according to Interim Town Manager Paula Scott.
In response to complaints from residents about various dilapidated properties, the town’s code enforcement staff are researching property maintenance rules in other towns and cities and will soon present their findings to a Town Council committee.
“Residents have had concerns about properties in their areas,” said Jared LeBarnes, an official in the code enforcement division. “They’re wondering if there is any sort of ordinance to address this, and there isn’t.”
Scott said that a number of properties are in disrepair because they have been foreclosed on by a bank that doesn’t hire a property maintenance company.
“I must reiterate that the town of Hampden is not looking to monitor what property owners can do on their property,” Scott said. “At the same time, we understand that other property owners do not wish to have their properties devalued because of buildings that one might consider dilapidated, or unsightly, or something similar.”
While Maine does have rules allowing municipalities to intervene when properties are found to be dangerous, local maintenance provisions for less extreme circumstances seem to be rare, according to Tom Lister, the code enforcement officer in Topsham and board president of the Maine Building Officials and Inspectors Association.
When Topsham considered its own local maintenance rules last year, Lister sent out an informal survey to members of his association and heard back from just six communities with such rules: Bangor, Augusta, Fayette, Rockland, Rumford and Saco.
Just one of the communities, Augusta, required its staff to proactively inspect whether properties were following local maintenance provisions — an approach that takes more manpower, Lister said. The other communities were less aggressive, relying on complaints instead of proactive enforcement.
Those maintenance codes can help towns address unsafe conditions, but they can also target more aesthetic problems such as overgrown grass and peeling paint, Lister said.
In Hampden, several dilapidated properties have come up at recent public meetings.
During a July 1 meeting of the Town Council, resident Philip Stack urged the town to adopt such an ordinance and referred to an abandoned home at 1150 Kennebec Road.
The single-story building is missing a section of its roof and has a number of other problems that, according to Stack, are dangerous and causing the value of his nearby home to drop.
“It’s dilapidated. It’s unsound structurally. It has water damage. It’s overgrown with weeds. There is trash literally everywhere,” Stack told the council. “I’ve had to actually chase kids out of that building. They were playing in it.”
Joseph and Sara Bowden, who are listed as owners of 1150 Kennebec Road in local tax records, couldn’t be reached for comment.
In another case, a home at 676 Main Road North was partially destroyed by fire on Feb. 23 and has yet to be rebuilt. The charred, collapsed remains of a portion of the house remain on the property. The property’s owner, James Butler Jr., couldn’t be reached for comment.
Without a local property maintenance ordinance, the town has limited options to force repairs to the property or other measures to clean it up, Code Enforcement Officer Myles Block and another member of Hampden’s public safety department wrote to town councilors in a May 30 memo.
LeBarnes, from Hampden’s code enforcement division, said the town is still in the early stages of developing a proposal for property maintenance rules. Aside from researching what rules other communities have developed, the Town Council will also seek public input on any proposed changes.