Richard Morgan, who has lived in his Austin Street apartment for more than 40 years, has sought help about a recent 76% rent increase from local, state and federal officials. “I don’t want to lose this fight,” he says. Drew Johnson / American Journal

Tenants of an apartment complex in Westbrook know they had it good for a long time – $850 per month in rent for a two-bedroom is a bargain in today’s skyrocketing rental market.

But a rent increase of $650 a month from a new landlord has longtime tenants at the 12-unit complex at 50 Austin St. upset and scrambling. Some are already in the process of moving out; others hope the city can help them.

The rent increases are being conducted in two phases: an initial increase from $850 to $1,200 based on when a tenant’s current lease is up, and another jump to $1,500 a few months down the line. That’s a total increase of roughly 76%.

For Richard Morgan, who has lived at 50 Austin St. for over 40 years, the first rent hike kicks in Oct. 1 and then he’ll have to pay $1,500 monthly as of Feb. 1.

“I don’t want to lose this fight,” Morgan said, sitting in his living room Tuesday afternoon. “I’m determined.”

Owner Peter Mitschele spoke with The American Journal when contacted, but asked not to be directly quoted in this article. He said he took out a mortgage to buy the new property with a general understanding with the bank that rents would eventually rise to the market rate.


The going rate for a two-bedroom apartment in Westbrook as currently listed on rental marketplace websites, such as Zillow and, is between $1,500 and $1,900 a month.

Nicole Gauthier, who works in the real estate industry, has been a tenant for four years and is the newest tenant at the complex.

“It’s a numbers game,” Gauthier said. “It’s money, but people have to live as well. That’s a big change, to go from $850 to $1,500, in that short timeframe.”

The tenants received notice of the rent increases in July. Those who spoke with the American Journal this week concede that their $850 rents under the former owner were low, but said the pace at which their rent is now going up is unmanageable.

Part of the reason tenants believe rent stayed so low under the previous owner was that they paid their own hot water and electric utilities, which Morgan said range from $300 to $500 per month, depending on the time of year. The notification of the rent increase Morgan received does not include information about whether utilities will be included.

The tenants also made property repairs and improvements on the three buildings themselves. Michael Mowatt, for example, built a patio and garden and made other minor repairs and enhancements throughout his nearly 10-year-long tenancy. Gauthier footed the bill for a back deck on her unit.


Mowatt, who is in his first month of paying $1,200 for rent, is in the process of moving in with his daughter.

Michael Mowatt has spent years improving his Austin Street apartment in Westbrook, including building a backyard patio. Drew Johnson / American Journal

“There’re 12 families here,” he said, leaning against a car in his driveway Tuesday. “To me, it’s not right. I can understand 10% increments per year until they get to whatever they want, but jump that high? Most people here are on limited budgets, old people.”

Morgan said he believes a 10% to 12% cap on rent increases would be fair and should be pursued by the city. He wrote a letter asking for help and sent it to officials ranging from Westbrook city councilors to the White House.

Mayor Michael Foley told the American Journal that, with no local rent cap, the city has no jurisdiction over the matter and that it is not a widespread issue in the city.

Rep. Suzanne Salisbury, D-Westbrook, said she was “very alarmed” to hear about the tenants’ “predicament.”

“Westbrook does not have rent control as other communities do. This means that a landlord can purchase a property and increase the existing rent any amount with appropriate notices. Lending institutions, realtors, and property owners are not always considering the impact to current tenants when they broker these sales,” Salisbury said in a written statement to the American Journal. “While elected officials at the state and local levels are trying to figure out how to navigate the housing crisis, people like Richard (Morgan) and his neighbors suffer. We need to do better.”


The letter Morgan wrote and sent to officials, including Salisbury, was also signed by neighbors Steve and Mary Rowe, who have lived there for 17 years.

“It’s just like over at Redbank,” Steve Rowe told the American Journal, referring to the rent increases of as much as $598 tenants at the Redbank Village Apartments in South Portland faced earlier this year. “The City Council stood up for Redbank but no one’s standing up for us.”

Mitschele emphasized he is not an out-of-state real estate giant like the new owners of Redbank, California-based JRK Holdings. The rent increases are needed in order to pay taxes on the property, he said, and not doing so could lead to foreclosure.

“I understand that they need to pay a mortgage,” Gauthier said. “I just think they should have worked with tenants a little more.”

Comments are not available on this story.