The city announced Tuesday that Portland landlords have until Jan. 1 to register their rental units and pay a new fee.

Landlords have to pay the city as much as $35 for each rental unit they own in the city. The registry is intended to improve the city’s tracking of safety issues, and the fee will help pay for the city’s new housing safety office.

Although landlords are required to register by the new year, they won’t be threatened with a $100-a-day fine for every unregistered unit until Feb. 1, according to a city representative. Landlords who knowingly provide false information about their units could be fined up to $1,000 under the ordinance.

“The rental housing registration will allow us to gather much-needed data on our rental housing stock in Portland,” City Manager Jon Jennings said in a written statement. “This data will be used to help build a database for our inspectors, and be available as a resource for the public. We urge landlords to submit their registration forms as quickly as possible so we can begin building the database and performing inspections in the new year.”

Brit Vitalius, president of the 250-member Southern Maine Landlord Association, said the group is sending out individual postcards to roughly 3,000 owners of multi-unit properties. He is most concerned about getting the word to small-scale, amateur landlords, who often live in part of a two-family home and rent the other part. He said those landlords account for about half of the people on the mailing list, which was compiled using information from the city assessor.

“I’m concerned about all these small multi-unit owners and those who don’t necessarily get the paper or watch the 6 o’clock news. They’re going to have no idea this thing is in place,” he said. “Our organization is getting out there and trying to bridge the communication gap.”


The requirement is part of an ordinance enacted by the City Council in June in response to a 2014 fire on Noyes Street that killed six people. After the fire, the city formed a task force to find ways to improve the safety of its rental housing, which is used by about half of the city’s 66,000 residents.

Proceeds are being used to fund a new Housing Safety Office, which will oversee rental inspections and complaints, and eventually administer an online database so tenants can look up the safety record of a specific property.

The registry is also designed to lift the secrecy that shrouds property ownership under limited liability companies. Landlords are required to fill out a three-page form, listing the property ownership, authorized agent, property manager and an emergency contact.

Landlords are eligible for discounts of up to $20 per unit, if their buildings are fully sprinklered, contain a centrally monitored fire alarm, have no smoking policies or have been inspected by a qualified inspector.

Landlords can register and pay online.

The registration will be overseen by the new Housing Safety Office, which consists of one high-level administrator and up to three new inspectors who will be cross-trained in both building and fire codes. The office, which costs an estimated $335,000 a year, was proposed to help ease the workload and increase communication between firefighters and code officers, who will continue to respond to complaints and conduct regular housing inspections of apartment buildings with three or more units.

The Housing Safety Office would prioritize buildings that pose the highest risk. A risk score would be assigned to each property based on the number of previous violations, complaints and type of construction, among other factors. That information would be available to the public online.

The Noyes Street fire highlighted deficiencies in the city’s housing inspection program, including a lack of follow-up with properties with known violations. The city has since instituted several changes, including issuing summonses and fines to landlords who are reluctant to address safety issues.

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