SOUTH PORTLAND — The City Council is on track to approve a “moderate” rent control proposal when it comes up for a first vote in February.

In a workshop Tuesday night, a majority of councilors indicated their support for an ordinance that would cap annual rent increases at 10% for landlords or companies that own more than 15 rental units in the city. An exact date for the first reading hasn’t been set.

South Portland Mayor Kate Lewis

The measure also would allow landlords to reset rents to market rates whenever units are vacated and it would exempt landlords who lease a certain portion of their units as subsidized or affordable housing. A detailed final draft of the proposal will be available in a few weeks.

Mayor Kate Lewis called the pending ordinance “moderate,” saying that while it’s intended to prevent price gouging seen recently in the city’s piping-hot rental market, she believes it won’t stifle apartment construction but will deter condominium conversions and keep landlords from raising rents regardless of their costs.

“The council is very concerned overall with the unintended consequences of rent control,” Lewis said Wednesday. “We don’t want to disincentivize landlords who are already trying to provide housing to those who need it most.”

Lewis indicated support for the proposal at Tuesday’s meeting, along with councilors Jocelyn Leighton, Deqa Dhalac and Natalie West. Councilors Linda Cohen, Richard Matthews and Misha Pride said they oppose the measure because unintended consequences still threaten.


“I’ve never supported government getting involved in private business,” Cohen said Wednesday. “That’s what this is. It will encourage landlords to go up on their rent every year.”

Cohen said an outside housing needs assessment done last year didn’t recommend rent control.

“That concerns me because this ordinance would affect a ton of people,” she said.

Pride pointed out that rents have tumbled nationally over the last four months and the overall economic climate has shifted since the Federal Reserve began raising interest rates to tame inflation.

“Rents may continue to decline,” Pride said Wednesday. “My concern is (adopting) rent control in South Portland may foreclose that.”

If there is any cooling in the city’s rental market, Lewis said, it should be credited to the council’s action last spring to enact a six-month eviction moratorium and a 10% annual cap on rent increases, which have been extended through May.

Some councilors supported a 7% cap, but municipal staff suggested that a 10% cap would be more easily understood by landlords and renters and would better protect against large rent increases during periods of higher inflation.

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