Two years after voters in Portland approved the city’s first rent control measure, residents are being asked to consider further changes, including a new limit on annual rent increases and outlawing application fees.

Question C would also increase the amount of notice landlords must give tenants before raising rent or ending their lease, limit security deposits to one month’s rent and increase the fee to convert a rental unit to a condominium from $150 to $25,000.

Landlords would be allowed to increase rent by 5 percent in addition to other annual increases when a new tenant moves in, but only when there is voluntary turnover. The proposal also looks to clarify the reasons a landlord could seek permission for a rent increase from the city’s rent board. It would also recognize tenants’ right to voice complaints through a tenants union.

The referendum question is one of four citizen’s initiatives sponsored by the Maine chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America’s Livable Portland campaign, which says this proposal will reduce barriers for people struggling to find affordable housing.

“This shores up existing protections for tenants,” said Wes Pelletier, chair of the Livable Portland campaign. “It makes it much safer to live in Portland and ensures our city is doing more to protect tenants and to make sure the city is affordable.”

Opponents say the proposal presents complex changes that were developed without proper stakeholder engagement. It will hurt tenants by making it harder for landlords to operate, critics say.


“This is punitive stuff that is so detailed and based on nothing I’ve heard to justify any of this from the DSA other than them repeating profit for landlords, affordable housing and affordable rents (are a problem) in Portland,” said Brit Vitalius, president of the Rental Housing Alliance of Southern Maine, a nonprofit representing rental housing providers.


The proposal comes two years after 58 percent of Portland voters approved a new rent control ordinance also brought forward by DSA.

The 2020 measure capped rent increases at the rate of inflation plus annual property tax increase adjustments, up to 10 percent in any given year. It also created a seven-member rental board made up of tenants and landlords appointed by the Portland City Council to enforce the ordinance and award additional rent increases when appropriate.

The city has 18,811 long-term rental units, though some are exempt from rent control, including owner-occupied apartment buildings with up to four units as well as those provided by housing authorities, schools, religious institutions and hospitals.

That would remain the case under Question C, which would further restrict rent increases by lowering the cap from 100 percent to 70 percent of the rate of inflation and eliminating the additional property tax adjustment, which DSA says is already accounted for in the inflation rate.


The proposal would continue to allow for-cause evictions with just a seven-day notice, but it adds a required 90-day notice for landlords to end a lease in all other circumstances. A 90-day notice would also be required for any rent increase – up from 75 days in the current law.


Buddy Moore, a DSA member who helped write Question C and previously served as a tenant representative on the rent board, said the new cap at 70 percent of the rate of inflation is based on similar limits in other cities.

One example he gave was Berkeley, California, which allowed landlords to increase rent by 2.1 percent in 2022, according to the city’s website, which said that calculation was based on 65 percent of the rate of inflation in the Bay Area.

San Francisco, another city Moore cited, limited annual rent increases to 2.3 percent this year, based on 60 percent of the area’s consumer price index (CPI), according to the city.

Each year on Sept. 1, Portland publishes the allowable increase for the following year based on inflation. The city said last month that rents will be allowed to increase 7 percent next year, based on the CPI for the greater Boston metro area, in addition to any applicable tax rate adjustments.


Inflation is the worst it’s been in years, and lowering rent increases will help the people hardest hit, Moore said. “Wages have not kept up with the cost of living so we’re trying to give working-class tenants a raise and reduce the amount that landlords can jack up rent each year,” he said.


But Vitalius, of the Rental Housing Alliance, said Question C ignores that inflation has also hit landlords and said the proposal would eliminate too many sources of income that allow them to keep their buildings running. “They’re just hitting everything they can hit and we don’t know what it’s based on,” he said.

The 17-page proposal is complex, he said, and contains “the kind of edits staff would recommend after a detailed analysis of what’s not working.”

He said application fees are already limited in city ordinance (to the cost of the screening process or $30, whichever is lower) and the part of the proposal limiting security deposits to one month’s rent is stricter than state law, which allows for up to two month’s rent for security.

And lower rents won’t necessarily mean more apartments for lower-income people, he said. “It’s still a tight housing market and there are still tech workers and doctors that need housing,” Vitalius said.


The 2020 proposal also received pushback from landlords, including one group that has sued the city over a provision requiring landlords to file information about rents that they’ve argued should not be public. That case is scheduled to go to trial Nov. 8 – Election Day.

Laura Mitchell, executive director of the Maine Affordable Housing Coalition, which advocates for the creation and preservation of affordable housing around the state, said the organization hasn’t taken a position on the Portland referendum.


Question C also includes new language recognizing the right of tenant unions to represent renters in complaints. It says a landlord can’t retaliate or discriminate against a tenant for filing a complaint or for participating in a tenants union.

The provision comes after the Trelawny Tenants Union filed complaints with the rent board last year regarding rent increases at the Trelawny Building on Congress Street. Former Mayor Ethan Strimling, a member of both DSA and the union, said some union members were worried about retaliation.

“This provision protects tenants so they feel like they can go in front of the rent board,” said Strimling, who is also fighting an attempt from his landlord, Geoffrey Rice, to evict him from the Trelawny Building on grounds Rice retaliated against Strimling for his involvement in the tenants union.


The city of Portland has estimated that implementing Question C will cost about $175,000, based on hiring two staff members to handle enforcement and record-keeping, and a one-time expense of $25,000 to renovate office space for the additional staff.

Members of DSA have argued that some of those costs could be offset with stronger enforcement and increased fines and fees, including the proposed $25,000 condo conversion fee. The current fee is $150 and the city has said there are about four condo conversions per year.

Question C would also increase the penalty for late registration from $10 to $50 for those that are two weeks late and imposes a new $200 late fee for those more than 45 days late.

The full ordinance can be read on the city’s website.

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