Trelawny Building tenants enter the Portland building in January 2022. A judge dismissed an appeal from the building’s landlord, Geoffrey Rice, over a fine assessed by the Portland Rent Board.  Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

A judge has dismissed a Portland landlord’s appeal after the Portland Rent Board found that he had improperly calculated rent increases and asked the city to consider $15,350 in fines for illegal increase notices and late registrations.

The case was a first-of-its-kind before the new board and the only case the board has heard to date of a dispute between a landlord and tenants. It was also unusual in its discussion of fines, which the city of Portland says it doesn’t plan to make landlord Geoffrey Rice pay.

“The Housing Safety Office considered whether imposition of fines was appropriate in this matter pursuant to the decision and, considering all of the circumstances, including ongoing cooperation by the landlord, has decided against imposing fines,” said city spokesperson Jessica Grondin on Wednesday.

Cumberland County Superior Court Justice Michaela Murphy dismissed Rice’s appeal last month noting procedural issues. She said Rice filed a brief a day late with no explanation or request for an extension, an affidavit referenced in a cover letter was not attached and Rice didn’t file any opposition to the city’s motion to dismiss.

Rice’s attorney, Paul Bulger, said in an email late Wednesday the case was dismissed on procedural grounds and “I am not finished yet.” Asked for more details on the issues noted by the judge, he said only that it’s a “long story.”

The rent board ruled last February that Rice improperly allocated rent increases to his tenants at 655 Congress St. by spreading out property-tax-rate rent adjustments uniformly, rather than based on the square footage of each unit.


The board also said increases based on square footage in the basement and commercial space should not be passed on to tenants. Rice later agreed about commercial space, according to court records.

The board recommended that the Housing Safety Office consider issuing $15,350 in fines for illegal rent increase notices, failing to provide tenants with “rights and responsibilities documents” and failing to register units with the city in a timely manner.

Rice argued that the board failed to follow proper procedure and was unclear on what formula or approach should be followed to calculate rent increases.

He also said the ordinance, passed by voters in a 2020 citizen-initiated referendum, is “unconstitutionally vague” and “does not include the most basic and fundamental information necessary to intelligently implement the law.”

Members of the Trelawny Tenants Union, which had brought the complaints about the rent increases to the board last year, said they were happy to see the dismissal and hope it will strengthen enforcement of the city’s rent control ordinance.

“I think it’s a great opportunity for the city to start enforcing rent control and making sure there’s an actual disincentive for landlords to not follow the law,” said Wes Pelletier, a former member of the union who helped bring the case to the rent board.


The board can recommend fines, but collecting them is up to the Housing Safety Office. Pelletier said he was disappointed to see the city decide not to impose the fines.

“It’s an opportunity to boost funding and set a clear precedent to say, ‘This is what is going to happen if you violate rent control,’ ” he said.

Ethan Strimling, a former mayor and member of the union, said the union told the Housing Safety Office last spring that it was concerned the rent board’s ruling wasn’t being enforced and tenants were continuing to receive improper increases, but the union was told the city was awaiting guidance from the court to inform their approach to enforcement.

Strimling has also accused Rice in a separate case of trying to evict him for his involvement in the tenants union.

“From the perspective of the tenants union (the dismissal) is great news and we hope the city now will fully enforce the ruling of the rent board,” Strimling said.

Grondin said she was not able to get an answer from city staff late Wednesday afternoon on whether they will be revisiting the union’s concerns about enforcement.

Related Headlines

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.