Madeleine Adelson lives in a two-bedroom apartment with a roommate in Portland’s Parkside neighborhood. Her landlord recently went to the rent board to seek an increase for capital repairs that she said are routine. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Two years after Portland voters approved the city’s first rent control ordinance, the divide over whether it has helped prevent large increases or simply created confusion and burdensome requirements for landlords is more clear than its effects.

City voters first approved rent control in 2020 via a citizen referendum and in November further limited annual rent increases, banned application fees, and upped the rent-increase notice to 90 days.

Supporters say the rules give Portland tenants “the best protections on the East Coast,” and they’re already starting to see them pay off.

Some renters said rent control has stabilized prices and made a volatile housing market more predictable.

“I just imagine, given what I’ve seen in the Portland market as a whole, that I’d be paying a lot more if rent control hadn’t occurred,” said Madeleine Adelson, who rents a two-bedroom apartment with a roommate for $1,500 per month in Parkside.

But her landlord finds the new rules frustrating.


“It will be hard for owners to justify making improvements in this environment, and I think we will see a decline in Portland’s housing,” said Roger Buck.

Roger Buck outside his Grant Street buildings. Buck is concerned the 2022 updates to the city’s rent control ordinance will no longer allow landlords to recover the costs of improvements or have rents keep pace with inflation and rising costs. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

It’s probably too early to know the long-term impacts.

“Rents around the country have been rising at historic rates,” said Elliott Simpson, who chairs the city’s rent board. “Housing prices are up. There have been shifts in population, people moving from one place to another. It makes it tough to see (the impact). There are a lot of factors that affect where rents go.”


In its first annual report, released in November, the rent board reported that prices of rent-controlled units increased an average of 1.6% from January 2021 to November 2021, compared to 2.5% in exempt units. The average rent in November 2021 for a rent-controlled one-bedroom was $1,281, compared to $1,111 in an exempt unit. The ordinance does not apply to owner-occupied buildings with up to four units, or those provided by housing authorities, schools, religious groups, and hospitals.

The data has some limitations: 31% of the units surveyed didn’t provide rents – exempt units aren’t required to and the city said some others just did not comply.


The city also doesn’t have long-term data, so it’s hard to say what typical increases were prior to rent control, and the board excluded more than 1,000 units (about 11%) from its analysis due to extreme rent increases or decreases that may have been errors.

“What I can say with confidence is that as of now there is no evidence, to me, that the rent control ordinance has triggered any mass behavior changes,” said Amir Familmohammadi, who worked on the city’s first rent control report. He said the city needs more data to determine that for certain.

But Familmohammadi, who also served on the rent board, said the available data is enough to show that most landlords have opted to keep rents and rent increases manageable.

Members of the Maine Democratic Socialists of America, which put rent control before voters, said the data is proof it’s working.

“(Before) it was common for landlords to be jacking up rent and for people to be like, ‘I can’t afford that so it’s time to move,’ or just tenants being evicted for no cause, which is an ongoing issue at the state level,” said Wes Pelletier, who chaired the group’s 2022 referendum campaign.

“It’s untenable for people in Portland to be living in uncertainty, which was kind of the norm and is still somewhat the norm. The rent control ordinance was a big step towards creating more security for workers in Portland.”


In contrast, Pelletier pointed to the large rent spikes in neighboring South Portland last year, where a new owner of Redbank Village raised rents by as much as $600.

But he said Portland could do better at citing landlords’ rent-control violations.

Jessica Grondin, a city spokesperson, said it’s about resources. and staff are already stretched thin. She said that interim City Manager Danielle West plans to ask for more money in the upcoming budget to increase Housing Safety Office staff and pay.

Enacting the ordinance has been difficult with “a lot of confusion from landlords,” Grondin said in an email. “It made the rental registration process considerably more complex for landlords and staff.”


Portland is the first community in Maine to pass rent control, but the housing crisis is statewide.


In South Portland, councilors are considering a rent stabilization ordinance that could cap annual rent increases at 10% for owners with more than 15 units.

In Biddeford, an affordable housing task force did not include rent control in its recent recommendations. The city manager said that although rent control can make housing more affordable and create stability, it also can keep landlords from investing in their properties, limit housing supply because returns are not as high, and encourage landlords to preemptively raise rents when they can.

Portland’s rent control allows landlords to raise rents each year based on inflation. For the first two years, they could raise it by the full inflation rate determined by the Consumer Price Index. Voters reduced that allowed increase to 70% of the CPI last year and also eliminated an automatic adjustment for tax increases.

Roger Buck’s buildings at 25 and 27 Grant St. in Portland. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Landlords can go to the rent board to seek additional increases for major upgrades but must keep annual rent increases to 10% or less.

“I think from the perspective of housing providers, it is super confusing in terms of tracking the rental increases they’re allowed and there have been a lot of misunderstandings,” said Brit Vitalius, president of the Rental Housing Alliance of Southern Maine, which advocates on behalf of rental property owners. “The amount of increases and what’s allowed and at what point, it’s just caused chaos.”

Asking for an increase outside of the inflation adjustment or in a limited set of other scenarios – such as when a unit voluntarily turns over and rent can be raised by 5% – means appearing before the rent board. Those appearances, with landlords and tenants present, can be tense.


Buck, the Parkside landlord, went to the board in December asking to raise rents on his apartments between $58 and $211 per month, to pay for capital improvements, though he said he planned to spread the increases out over several years.

Adelson and other tenants went to the meeting, after being notified by the city, to say that what he called capital improvements really were overdue repairs that didn’t justify rent increases. During a three-hour meeting, the board tabled Buck’s request.

“It was nice to just be able to have a chance to comment,” said Adelson, 31. “Everywhere I’ve lived before, the landlord would just increase the rent and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

But Buck said the process strained his relationship with his tenants and created more work for him.

To make his case, Buck submitted nearly 50 pages of explanation and documentation.

Before rent control, he said, it was easier to work with tenants. Now, arguing their cases in the public meetings, “we’re in an adversarial relationship,” he said.


Hans Breaux, 39, who lived at 27 Grant St. for nine years before moving out last summer to buy a condo, said he had a good relationship with Buck, but he did worry that one day his lease might not be renewed and he might not be able to afford to stay in the neighborhood.

Rent control, he said, “did create a much stronger sense of security in being able to stay in a place where my adopted family, my community, was.”

Sam Colson shares this small one-bedroom apartment in The Wadsworth in Portland with his son. He has set up his sleeping area in the living room while his son sleeps in the bedroom. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer


Vitalius, the president of the rental housing alliance, said a lot of landlords, especially smaller ones, have found the ordinance burdensome, and some are selling their buildings as a result.

Some landlords are now stuck with rents they kept low for good tenants but would have liked to increase. Others have raised rents when they might not have done so before because they know they can only raise them so much each year or when a new tenant comes in.

“It’s going in the wrong direction,” Vitalius said. “It’s not creating more housing. … It is getting some of the best landlords out of the business and it’s created all these weird, perverse incentives. It will take years to see what the impacts are, but it’s not going to be good.”


Sam Colson rents a one-bedroom apartment downtown with his son for $1,494 a month. He set up a makeshift bed in the living room while his son takes the bedroom. Colson said his rent increased by about 7% last year. He thought that was reasonable.

“I love that we have rent control,” said Colson, 52, though he added that everyone’s still adjusting. “I don’t want to say it’s working. I think it’s more appropriate to say it’s going to work as long as people pay attention.”

Vitalius said the ordinance is deterring some developers and investors, though there doesn’t appear to be evidence of that in the number of housing units being proposed or being approved.

Christine Grimando, Portland’s director of planning and urban development, said numbers go up and down, but 2021 was the biggest year in recent memory for new housing approvals.

According to city data, 903 residential units were approved in 2021, up from 323 in 2020 and 444 in 2019. Just over 500 units were proposed in 2022, but some are still being reviewed. Those totals don’t include a small number of single-family and two-family homes.

Grimando said the spike in 2021 was because several big projects converged at one time, and some applicants were trying to get through the process before the city’s Green New Deal building code took effect.

“Rent control was not brought up as a factor to planning as much as inclusionary zoning requirements were,” Grimando said.

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