Former mayor Ethan Strimling testifies during an eviction case brought by 657 Trelawny LLC. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

A judge has ruled against former Portland mayor Ethan Strimling, deciding that his landlord can evict him and rejecting Strimling’s claim that he was being retaliated against for his role in organizing a tenants union.

The decision by Cumberland County District Court Judge Susan Oram grants possession of Strimling’s apartment in the Trelawny Building at 655 Congress St. to landlord Geoffrey Rice.

“We are disappointed by the decision and respectfully disagree with the conclusion that the court reached,” Scott Dolan, Strimling’s attorney, said in a statement. “We are especially disappointed considering the considerable evidence that this eviction was brought in retaliation against Mr. Strimling for his involvement and leadership in the Trelawny Tenants Union, and in retaliation for the verified complaints filed by the Union to the city of Portland regarding the landlord’s violations of the city rent control ordinance.”

David Chamberlain, an attorney for Trelawny 657, the company that owns the building and of which Rice is the sole shareholder, declined to comment on the case Thursday. It was unclear whether Rice intends to proceed with the eviction.

The eviction case dates to last year, when Rice issued a written notice of non-renewal to Strimling in May followed by a notice to quit in August. Strimling made the case that the action was retaliatory because the union he helped organize had sent an email to building management expressing concern about lease renewals and long-term plans for the property shortly before Strimling got his notice of non-renewal.

The August notice to quit also came after another action by the tenants union, which had filed a complaint with the city in June alleging that Rice had violated Portland’s new rent control ordinance. The rent board took up that charge this year and found in February that rent rate adjustments made in response to property tax increases should be based on square footage of each unit and not applied uniformly to tenants, as the union said Rice was doing.


The board also recommended Rice pay $15,300 in fines for improperly distributing rent increase notices to tenants. Rice has filed an appeal of the board’s decision, arguing in part that the city’s new ordinance is vague and has led to confusion.

At a court hearing for the eviction case last week, Strimling said Rice and his attorney, Paul Bulger, confronted him about the tenants union’s concerns during a meeting at Bulger’s office last May – the same meeting where he was handed the notice of non-renewal.


Although 46 other tenants also had signed the email to building management, Strimling said he was singled out because he was a vocal advocate for tenants’ rights and was involved in founding the initial version of the union in 2020.

“It felt like it was clear when I walked out of that meeting that I was being targeted,” Strimling told the court.

Rice said in court that Strimling had “nickel and dimed” him on small rent increases for years and that he was intimidated by Strimling, who served as mayor from 2015 to 2019 and has lived in the building since 2016.


Rice said the final straw came in April 2021, when Strimling left a window open in violation of his lease, which states that tenants may not leave windows open during heating season since the landlord pays the heat. Rice attempted to collect a $50 fine from Strimling for the violation, but Strimling insisted on having a meeting to discuss the fine before he would pay it. During the court hearing, Strimling said that he had opened his window on a warm day, when he had turned his heat off, and he wanted a chance to explain that to his landlord.

Both sides agreed that Trelawny followed the proper procedure to terminate the tenancy according to state statute and Portland ordinance, but they disagreed on whether the eviction was retaliation for participation in the tenants union and the union’s complaint to the city, which would make it illegal.

Former Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling, center, and other members of the Trelawny Tenants Union stand outside the Trelawny Building on Congress Street in Portland in January. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Dolan, Strimling’s attorney, argued that an email from Rice summoning Strimling to the meeting at his attorney’s office was a “smoking gun” because of a reference to the time stamp on the email from the tenants union that suggested the union’s complaints were the reason Rice had called the meeting in which he gave Strimling the non-renewal notice.


But Oram, the judge, said she found overall that the meeting appeared to have been called for the reasons Rice stated — to discuss the window fine and issue the notice of non-renewal, which Rice said he did because Strimling’s apartment was being rented below market rate and he was tired of Strimling trying to “nickel and dime” him.

Oram also found no retaliation for the complaint the union made to the city. Strimling and Rice had entered into a “tenancy at will” agreement when he continued to pay his rent – and the company accepted it – in July and August after the non-renewal notice, but Oram said Rice’s decision to seek termination of the agreement hadn’t changed.

“Trelawny had determined to end the business relationship with Strimling before any complaints were made to the city,” Oram wrote. “Rice had been irritated by Strimling’s ‘nickel and diming’ Trelawny over modest rent increases since May 2016. For Trelawny, the last straw was Strimling’s refusal to simply pay the window fine when it was assessed.”

Oram heard Strimling’s case during a one-day hearing known as a summary proceeding. Dolan said that he and Strimling likely will file an appeal for a new trial by jury.

“The unfortunate ramification of this decision is that it sends a chilling message to any tenant who participates in a tenants union, attempts to negotiate with their landlord for better living conditions or files a complaint to the government for code violations,” Dolan said. “If this ruling is allowed to stand, landlords will now be free to retaliate against the tenant with impunity so long as the landlord has even the flimsiest excuse for doing so – such as the tenant sought to negotiate a lesser rent or contest a fine.”

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