Members of the Portland Rent Board ruled Wednesday night that a property tax rate rent adjustment imposed on tenants by the owner of the Trelawny Building should be allocated based on the square footage of each unit rather than be applied uniformly.

The board also recommended that the building’s owner, Geoffrey Rice, face fines totaling $15,300 for improperly distributing rent increase notices to tenants in November and December.

Associate Corporation Counsel Anne Torregrossa told the rent board that it has no enforcement or fee collection authority, but said that if Rice refuses to pay the fines the city could go to court to collect them.

Wednesday’s virtual meeting was a followup to a meeting held in January, when the board voted to put off a decision on tenants’ objections to rent increases.

Representatives of the Trelawny Tenants Union said that tax rate rental adjustments issued in November and December amounting to 10 percent in some cases were unfairly allocated and that some tenants were threatened with eviction if they failed to pay their new monthly rates.

The board’s votes appear to mostly agree with what members of the Trelawny Tenants Union, representing 22 Trelawny Building tenants, had requested. In a Dec. 21, 2021, letter addressed to rent board chairman Austin Sims, the tenants union contested the method that Rice used to allocate rent increases.


“The square footage methodology will be used to allocate rent increases so that those tenants living in smaller units don’t end up subsidizing those living in large units,” Sims said during the board’s deliberations.

The tenants union also asked the rent board to levy “substantial fines against Mr. Rice” for certified violations of the rent control ordinance,” according to language contained in the group’s Dec. 21 filing. It alleged that Rice did not register the base rent of apartments in a timely manner, did not provide tenants with a tenant rights and responsibility document, and distributed rent increase notices without adequate notice.

“If we leave here tonight without doing anything, landlords who violate the law will know they can get off with a free pass,” rent board member Buddy Moore said.

Board members voted 5-2 in support of fines.

Paul Bulger, the attorney who represents Rice, filed a letter with the rent board, dated Jan. 31, refuting claims that rent increases exceeded what is allowed under city ordinances. Bulger said his client should not be fined.

“There is clearly no intention to mislead tenants or increase rents above the amount allowed under the law,” Bulger wrote. “Not a single tenant in the Trelawny has paid a rent increase over base rent since June 2020. Rent increases for 2022 begin March 1 and all rent increases commence at least 75 days following notice to the tenant in December.”

The Trelawny Building, at 657 Congress St., has eight floors and 103 apartment units.

After the 2½-hour meeting, Sims congratulated the rent board on concluding its first rent increase appeal case. Public comment was not allowed during the meeting.

Portland’s Rent Control Ordinance was approved by voters as a referendum question at the Nov. 6, 2020, election, which led to creation of the rent board. The board is comprised of seven members: three tenants, two landlords and two homeowners. The ordinance provides various protections to tenants, including notice of rent increases.

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