The city of Bangor has received complaints about 194-196 Union St. for more than two decades, with problems that have ranged from trash building up that posed a fire hazard to damage that wasn’t repaired after a previous fire.
City inspectors returned to the property over and over again to post warning letters to the front door or deliver them in hand to whomever was around in the hopes that the property owner would correct them. The current owner is a Texas mortgage company that took over the property after a previous owner didn’t make mortgage payments.
The Bangor house that caught fire early Sunday morning — claiming three people’s lives — has a blighted history spanning decades, showing how the property has presented a recurring problem for the city, according to a review of the city’s code enforcement office file on the property.
The house, which was once a neat white two-story dwelling built in 1900, was the subject of several complaints dating back to at least 1997. The city condemned the building in 2001, 2003 and 2017.
The building also caught fire once before in December 2001, displacing a tenant, before it burned again on Sunday, taking the lives of Dylan Smith, Tim Tuttle and Andrew Allen.
Code records listed a litany of problems including electrical violations, a broken stair railing, a rodent infestation following the December 2001 fire and repeated instances of trash building up outside the building entrances and in the driveway.
Three different property owners were cited in 1998, 2001, 2007 and 2016 for allowing garbage bags, old carpeting, a couch and other debris to accumulate, which city inspectors said presented a fire hazard and had the potential to attract rodents.
A city code inspector cited one owner in November 2002 for a laundry list of problems such as loose ceiling tiles, damaged plaster walls, damaged doors, broken paneling and faulty electrical equipment, all stemming from damage caused by the December 2001 fire.
The current owner, Texas mortgage lender Mr. Cooper Inc., foreclosed on the distressed property and gained ownership in October 2017.
Neither Mr. Cooper nor its legal representative returned messages seeking comment.
The Union Street property had been vacant since December 2019, according to code records, and its windows had been boarded up. Two shoddily-built balconies that were affixed to the sides of the two-story building were visible Sunday morning as firefighters investigated the building after putting out the fatal inferno.
A neighbor said he had observed eight people living in the building in the past week before it caught on fire on Sunday shortly before 5 a.m. Three men — Tuttle, 28; Smith, 31; and Allen, 56 — died, while two other people escaped.
The house did not have hot water or heat, and Mr. Cooper had two liens totalling $243.72 levied on its stormwater account as of Monday morning, according to the Bangor city treasurer’s office. The owner is current on property taxes.
The city had last inspected the building in 2012 for assessment purposes, when it recorded the house as being in “below average” condition, said Phil Drew, Bangor’s assessor. The property is currently assessed at a value of $147,800.
Since Sunday’s fire, Drew has directed his staff to mark 196 Union St. with a red “X” to indicate that the building has structural problems and is unsafe.
Mortgage companies often don’t contact the city for inspections when buildings change ownership, Drew said.
“Sometimes there are major code issues and then we wait for the property owner to contact us and say, ‘Here, you have permission to go in and inspect the property,’” he said. “Usually up until then, we keep [the assessing information] the same, and wait to be invited. That hasn’t happened in this case.”