Tenants of an apartment building in Portland’s Libbytown have begun receiving notices that they must leave within 30 days so the new owner can begin renovations.

Residents in at least two of the building’s five units – all of whom are low-income and receiving public assistance – have received the notices. The remaining tenants also will get them, according to the landlord, who bought the building at 31-33 Frederic St. last month.

The Libbytown evictions come as more than a dozen low-income or mentally ill tenants are being evicted from a 24-unit apartment complex on Grant Street in Parkside, amplifying calls for additional protections for tenants in Portland. The landlord at the Grant Street complex later agreed to allow the remaining tenants to stay past the March 1 deadline, giving them more time to find new apartments.

Both Libbyton and Parkside are among the rental neighborhoods on the Portland peninsula that have experienced rapidly rising rents and the influx of more affluent renters.

Although tenant advocates say no-cause evictions are happening more frequently, no agency tracks that data. When such evictions do occur, the tenants – who often receive housing vouchers or earn relatively low incomes – are finding it harder to stay in the city. Without other options, advocates fear some displaced tenants could be faced with staying in Portland’s homeless shelters, which continue to rely on overflow space to accommodate the demand.

Those who have received notices at 31-33 Frederic St. are among three immigrant families in the building who are receiving General Assistance rent vouchers because they cannot find work or are prohibited under federal law from working while applying for asylum, the city said. Voucher recipients alerted the city to the notices Friday and city officials responded this week.

TENANT DISRUPTION, BUILDING CONDITIONS

Mayor Ethan Strimling said he met with a representative of the building owner, Lotus Management, and talked with Frederic Street residents Monday evening, including a middle-aged woman from Rwanda who was seeking asylum. He said she seemed anxious and in need of help finding a new home, which the city was seeking to provide through its social services division.

“I’m hoping the landlords in this city will recognize the housing market is tough and you can’t just kick people out,” Strimling said. “If the building is unsafe, I get it. If the building is unlivable or uninhabitable, I get it. But even then, landlords have to realize that they’re dealing with real human beings.”

A tenant contacted at his home Monday said he and his roommate, both recent immigrants and recipients of General Assistance, had been notified that they had to leave and were looking for a new apartment. He declined to give his name or comment further for this story.

A Portland housing market that is fueling investments in high-end housing and upgrades in aging buildings also is causing anxiety for city officials and tenants.

Strimling has assigned five of the nine city councilors to a special Housing Committee that is charged with recommending policy changes to promote more housing – in the market-rate, middle-income and low-income categories – and to find ways to increase protections for existing tenants. Some suggestions include hiring a tenant advocate at City Hall to mediate minor landlord-tenant disputes, either prohibiting or extending the noticing requirements for no-cause evictions, and prohibiting discrimination against low-income tenants who receive housing vouchers.

The back-to-back evictions are unusual, even amid the city’s hot rental market. City Hall Communications Director Jessica Grondin said the city’s General Assistance office could only recall a few other instances in which voucher recipients faced mass evictions.

Lotus Management, of Portland, bought 31-33 Frederic St. from Hemland, LLC on Feb. 19 and began issuing notices to tenants Feb. 21.

Mark McCain, of Lotus Management, declined to discuss specifics of the purchase, including price and future plans for the property. In a written statement issued in response to several written questions, McCain said the property needs a major renovation after suffering from years of neglect.

“Without substantial improvements, many Portland residents will continue living in old, unsafe and neglected apartment buildings,” McCain said. “Many apartments in Portland are barely livable, with extensive fire code violations, pest infestations and absentee landlords, such as 31 Frederic. The level of disrepair in this building requires that each unit will need to be empty in order to complete the extensive repairs required to bring each up to safe, habitable and more environmentally efficient standards.”

CITY OFFICIALS DISPUTE DISREPAIR CLAIMS

The Grant Street landlord also had said the need for repairs led to his decision to evict tenants.

City officials disputed the Grant Street property owner’s description of that property last week, and they also disputed McCain’s claim Tuesday.

City Manager Jon Jennings sent building inspectors to the Frederic Street property Tuesday to check the condition of the units, said City Hall spokeswoman Jessica Grondin. Two units passed their inspections, although one had a smoke detector that needed repair, she said. The inspectors also found that one of the units was being renovated without a permit.

“Other than that, there are no violations at this property,” Grondin said. “It meets the minimum standards and the tenants we talked to were happy there.”

Inspectors had been called to 31-33 Frederic St. on several occasions since 2010 to investigate complaints of trash accumulating outside and tall grass, according to records provided by the city. On June 14, 2013, inspectors failed one apartment because of “bedbugs everywhere,” black mold on the window sill and the lack of a combined smoke and carbon monoxide detector in a common area. The unit passed a follow-up inspection six days later.

No inspections were conducted in 2014, but last year the city confirmed complaints about trash – “junk, debris and appliances” – scattered throughout the yard.

McCain would not discuss future plans for the property, but the company’s website describes each unit at 31 Frederic St. as having “granite countertops, hardwood, dishwasher and a private washer/dryer in unit.”

The website also indicates that the company is “not able to accept housing subsidies.” Like many landlords in the current market, Lotus Management also charges an application fee, conducts a credit check and requires first and last month’s rent, plus a security deposit.

Pine Tree Legal, a nonprofit that provides free legal aid to low-income people, says tenants who have received notices to leave their apartments within 30 days are not legally required to do so until the landlord obtains an eviction order from a court.

Tenants with leases can be evicted if they violate the terms of the contract, or if there is a provision within the lease allowing the landlord to remove the tenant without cause. State law requires at least 30 days’ notice for either an eviction or for an at-will tenant without a lease to leave an apartment.

Staff Writer Leslie Bridgers contributed to this report.