A group opposing a ballot initiative to limit annual rent increases and strengthen protections for renters in Maine’s largest city has over $100,000 in its war chest in the month leading up to Election Day – making this one of the most expensive local referendum campaigns in Portland.

Say No to Rent Control raised over $146,000 from July 1 to Sept. 30, according to quarterly campaign finance reports filed Thursday at Portland City Hall by political action and ballot question committees. After spending nearly $40,000, the group has nearly $107,000 to spend in the coming weeks.

That puts the group at a significant advantage over Fair Rent Portland, the group that collected over 1,500 signatures to put the measure on Portland’s ballot.

During that same period, Fair Rent Portland raised a little more than $3,200 and has nearly $2,500 left heading into the Nov. 7 election.

The money raised by Say No to Rent Control means that Portland voters will likely be inundated with campaign ads opposing the initiative.

“We intend on spending the next month educating Portland voters about how Question 1 on Portland’s November ballot will do more harm than good,” said spokesman Brit Vitalius. “We’re confident once voters get all of the facts this proposal will be soundly defeated.”

Jack O’Brien, of Fair Rent Portland, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Among other things, the group’s initiative would limit rent increases to the rate of inflation and create a seven-member rent board that could fine landlords who violate the ordinance.

Vitalius noted that the Say No to Rent Control group has 200 volunteers signed up and over 70 different donors contributed to the campaign.

However, many landlords dug deeper than others.

SPAR and Spring Street West, which share a Portland post office box, each contributed $15,000 on Aug. 29, while Princeton on Back Cove, Princeton Pines and Princeton Ridge, all of which share the address of 1375 Forest Ave., donated nearly $24,000 combined.

Portland-based Redfern Properties gave a total of $10,550 through three limited liability companies, while Portland’s C&T Management donated $10,000 and Portland’s 291-314 Spring Street LLC also gave $10,000. Connecticut-based Tamerlane Apartments also gave $10,000, and San Francisco-based Seaforth Housing, LLC gave $15,000. And the group received in-kind donation of polling services, valued at $24,500, from the Chicago-based NAR Fund.

Opponents have been spending that money at firms such as Portland’s Red Hill Strategies, founded by Lance Dutson, a Republican operative, and Pennsylvania-based Red Maverick Media. In addition, Derek Lavalle and Don Fibich, both of Cape Elizabeth, have been paid $9,000 and 5,000, respectively, for consulting services.

The ordinance will be printed in its entirety on Portland’s ballot.

It would limit rent increases for landlords who own six units or more to the rate of inflation, as measured by the Consumer Price Index for the Portland-South Portland-Biddeford metro area, plus property tax increases. However, landlords who need to increase their rent beyond the limit may seek permission from the seven-member rent board, which would have the final say.

Apartments that were built after Jan. 1, 2017 would be exempt from the rent increase caps. And a landlord could never raise the rent by more than 10 percent in one year unless that landlord has banked rent increases from previous years.

Although the rent increase limits would apply only to landlords with six units or more, only owner-occupied duplexes and triplexes would be exempt from other provisions of the ordinance.

One would ensure that landlords follow certain procedures when evicting tenants for a specific cause, such as not paying rent, breaching the rental agreement or being a nuisance.

Tenants would be able to appeal their eviction to the rent board, which would have authority to assess fines against landlords who wrongly evict tenants or improperly raise rents.

The ordinance would increase the city’s current registration fee for rental units by $25 a unit, from the $35 a unit to $60.

If approved, the ordinance could not be changed by the City Council for years. And the ordinance contains a sunset provision that would take effect in 2025.

PACs will file their final pre-election campaign reports on Oct. 27, according to the City Clerk’s office. That’s also when Portland candidates, who were not required to file reports this week, will file their next reports.

Correction: This story was updated at 10:32 a.m. on Oct. 6, 2017 to correct the year when the apartments were built.

Randy Billings can be reached at 791-6346 or at:

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