Brit Vitalius, president of the Rental Housing Alliance of Southern Maine, is gathering signatures for a referendum question to change the rent control ordinance to allow landlords to raise rents to market values after a tenant voluntarily leaves the apartment. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Another ballot question may be headed to Portland voters in June if landlords seeking a change in the city’s rent control ordinance get their way.

The Rental Housing Alliance of Southern Maine has filed initial paperwork and is circulating petitions seeking to put a proposal on the ballot to allow landlords to raise rents as much as they want after an apartment voluntarily turns over.

But the clock is quickly counting down for the group to get the necessary 1,500 signatures by Feb. 17. As of Friday, the group said they had over 100 petitions in circulation and they were confident they could get the number needed.

The proposal would eliminate the 5% maximum increase that’s currently allowed when a new tenant comes in, though the rest of the rent control ordinance would remain the same.

It follows a busy November election cycle in which Portland voters faced 13 ballot questions, including Question C, which just updated the city’s rent control ordinance.

Brit Vitalius, president of the Rental Housing Alliance, said their proposal is “a narrow and commonsense fix so that Portland renters can realize the actual intent of rent control – to prevent unwieldy and unpredictable increases in rent year to year.”


He said the city’s current rent control policy, originally adopted in 2020, is flawed and is a “result of the inherent issues with Portland’s referendum process.”

But to change the ordinance now, the group has to go through that process. Any ordinance passed by a citizen-initiated referendum cannot be changed for five years – except through another referendum.

“It’s not the way we wanted to do this, but we realized this is a simple and obvious fix,” Vitalius said.

The change would allow rents to be dictated by the market when a unit voluntarily turns over, Vitalius said, and prevent landlords from having to gradually seek those increases once a new tenant is in place. The change is similar to what South Portland is considering in its own rent control ordinance.

Currently, Portland landlords must keep annual rent increases at or below 10%, and they can meet that mark in a limited set of scenarios – including increasing rents after turnover, through inflation adjustments or by appealing to the rent board to seek additional increases for major upgrades.

“Those are legitimate increases that are not simply based on profit and greed,” said Ethan Strimling, a former mayor and member of the Maine chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, which put rent control on the ballot in 2020 and 2022.


Proponents of the current rent control provisions worry the change would lead to price gouging.

“This is exactly the opposite direction we want to go in,” Strimling said. “Our city right now is becoming more and more economically stratified. We have people who are incredibly wealthy and people who are struggling to survive. What this means is every time an apartment comes open it will be handed to the wealthy and taken from a working class family.”

The next municipal election in Portland is June 13. To get on the ballot, the group needs to collect 1,500 signatures of registered city voters and return them to the city clerk’s office by Feb. 17, to give the city time to validate signatures, certify the petition and have the City Council hold a public hearing.

Ballots need to be ordered by April so they can arrive in time to offer 30 days of in-person absentee voting at City Hall, said City Clerk Ashley Rand. She said there are currently no other referendum petitions circulating and the only other item scheduled for the June election is a referendum on the school budget.

Following last November’s election, Mayor Kate Snyder said she hoped to look into changing the referendum process, though it appears unlikely the council will take it up anytime soon. Snyder brought up the issue in December at the council’s annual goal-setting workshop, and again in an email to councilors later in December.

“I only heard back from three people – and it’s clear from responses and no responses that this body of work was not rising to the level of priority for a majority of councilors,” she said.

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