The South Portland City Council is poised to enact an immediate emergency eviction moratorium next week in the wake of substantial rent increases at Redbank Village Apartments.

The citywide moratorium, with specific exemptions, would effectively bar Redbank’s owner from evicting tenants who do not pay the increase in their rent from May 31 to Nov. 27. The council will vote on the measure Tuesday, June 7.

“We think it’s important to have any moratorium be narrowly tailored, or well-tailored, to address the situation you’re trying to address and not others,” said Mark Bower, the city’s attorney.

Landlords with fewer than 10 units would be among those exempted because “they may be more economically disadvantaged from an eviction moratorium,” City Manager Scott Morelli said at a council workshop Tuesday.

JRK Properties, the Los Angeles-based owner of the 500-unit Redbank development, has issued rent increases ranging from $200 to $598 a month.  Tenants have said they can’t afford the new rent, fear they will be unable to find a new place to live in the tight and high-priced housing market, and are at risk of becoming homeless.

To check the legality of the rent increases, the city requested documentation from JRK that it provided tenants with at least 75 days notice in compliance with city ordinances JRK responded with documentation showing that at least 82 of the lease-holders were given 75 days or more notice, according to Code Enforcement Director Barb Skelton.


The city is unaware of exactly how many of the 500 units at Redbank are impacted by rent increases.

Redbank is advertising one- to three-bedroom apartments available starting in July for between $2,020 and $2,724 a month.

The city ordinance requires landlords to receive confirmation from tenants that they received rent increase notification. Some confirmations were missing from the documentation JRK sent to the city and the city has requested that information as well, Skelton said.

Without that information “we can’t determine if a violation exists,” Skelton said.

In addition to the initial rent hikes, some tenants said they were told those increases would nearly double if they didn’t renew their leases within weeks or even days, according to the Portland Press Herald.

“It really was coercion, plain and simple,” Rep. Chris Kessler, D-South Portland said at the workshop. “We need strong rent stabilization in this city, one that increases protections for renters, limits the increases to something reasonable … they need help getting out of these rental agreements they were coerced into.”


The City Council will consider some form of rent stabilization later this month.

South Portland resident Russ Lunt told the council rent increases at Rebank are “absolutely atrocious.”

“To me, that is corporate, corporate greed … that’s what it looked like,” Lunt said. “They’re just looking to make big, big bucks in quick, quick time.”

He pointed to Redbank’s history of being low-to-moderate income housing.

“Those used to be starting places for people, young families getting married and trying to save money to get a house,” he said. “That was just a stepping stone for them.”

Resident Donald Ladd, however, warned the council of the potential impact of the moratorium on the city.


“I think all of you are aware we have a shortage of units in South Portland,” Ladd said. “If you’re a developer listening to this conversation, would you want to build in South Portland, where the city might dictate as to when you can evict people? As to when you can increase your rents, or even freeze your rents?”

Councilor Linda Cohen said developers looking to “gouge” South Portland residents shouldn’t be welcomed anyway.

“I think everybody knows I’m one of the first people to support development and developers and the real estate industry,” said Cohen, who also works in real estate, “but I don’t want developers coming into South Portland who are only coming in here with the intent of gouging good-working people.”

The city attorney briefed the council on the potential risks of an eviction moratorium, including lawsuits that could strike down the moratorium and thwart future rent stabilization efforts.

“I think that’s a risk we need to take,” said Councilor Jocelyn Leighton.

Councilor Katherine Lewis agreed.


“We have to enable people to stay in their homes,” she said. “This is the system that we have accepted and it’s breaking on us and it’s causing a lot of hardship and harm, and I think we have to draw the line at some point.”

In addition to smaller landlords, nonprofit hospitals, religious and extended care facilities would be exempt from the moratorium. Also exempt would be rentals where tenants share kitchens and bathrooms with the owner. College-operated dormitories, housing units with rent already controlled by federal, state or local governments, and rentals that are not covered by a rental agreement, would also be exempt.

If passed unanimously June 7, the moratorium would be enacted immediately. If the vote is not unanimous, it will require a second vote on June 21.

Though not a Redbank tenant, Andrea Levinsky said she was forced to resign from the South Portland School Board just months after being elected due to a rent increase of her own. She used to live on Cumberland Road but has since moved to Portland.

“I was elected to the school board in this past December, and unfortunately the building I was living in was sold,” she said. “My rent was going up 23%, forcing me to move outside of South Portland … while my story is a little bit different, it shows this is impacting people outside of Redbank as well.”

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