The South Portland City Council on Tuesday voted to fully exempt future rental units built in the city from its proposed rent control ordinance and approved other amendments.

After hours of debate, a half-dozen amendments and objections from audience members, the council postponed taking a preliminary vote on the rent stabilization proposal.

With the exemption change, no rental units built after May 27 would be subject to rent control. The initial proposal exempted for 15 years any units built after the ordinance’s enactment date. The change was approved 4-3, and backed by Councilors Linda Cohen, Misha Pride and Richard Matthews, all three of whom have spoken out against rent control at recent workshops, and Councilor Natalie West, who proposed the change.

The councilors said they were concerned the ordinance would dissuade developers from building in South Portland at a time when the city is trying to encourage housing growth. Councilor Jocelyn Leighton was opposed to the new exemption.

“I think this amendment negates this whole thing,” said Councilor Jocelyn Leighton, before voting against it. “What’s the point of rent control if we’re gonna just be like, ‘Oh, anybody who comes in here and builds something, you don’t have to worry about this.’ I think that makes this really weak.”

Other amendments ranged from minor tweaks to clarify language to substantial changes, including prohibiting landlords from reducing services, such as landscaping and upkeep, and requiring landlords to inform tenants in writing if their unit is exempt from the ordinance.


A motion by Leighton to lower the cap on rent increases from 10% to 8% was voted down 6-1.

Work on the rent stabilization ordinance began after rent increases of $200 to nearly $600 per month were imposed at Redbank Village Apartments last year by California-based company JRK Holdings.

The ordinance, as originally proposed, would cap rent increases at 10% per year citywide, with exemptions for landlords who own 15 or fewer units and for units that are already regulated by a government agency. An apartment’s rent could be increased when the unit becomes vacant, but only once every 12 months.

Landlords would be prohibited from “banking” rent increases. For example, if a landlord decided only to raise the rent by 7% one year, they could not “bank” the unused 3% to increase the rent 13% the following year.

After the council voted on the amendments at 10:43 p.m., some members of the public said they were not pleased with how the council navigated the controversial issue.

“To have the public comment after you have voted on all the (amendments) basically says to the public, ‘What you have to say matters not,'” said Rosemarie De Angelis, a school board member and former city councilor. She said the slew of amendments was hard to follow because the changes weren’t presented in writing.


“It’s not your best work, it’s your worst work,” De Angelis said. “You just workshopped an item at 10:25 at night, completely changed the ordinance, and you want to vote on first reading? Unbelievable. Unacceptable.”

She criticized councilors for considering a preliminary vote, saying the public should get a chance to see the proposal in writing first and hear from City Manager Scott Morelli on the issue “so we can make comments that make some sense.”

Local landlord Phil Notis, who has spoken up at past workshops on the ordinance, said he mostly agreed with De Angelis that the ordinance was not ready for a preliminary vote.

“It’s just like, ‘Alright, let’s cook dinner tonight,'” Notis said. “Pot on the stove – each and every one of you just throws something in it. It was like a workshop. ‘Uh, this sounds good, that’s fine over there, let’s throw this in, let’s talk about this.'”

Though councilors later unanimously agreed to postpone the first vote of the two votes needed to pass the measure, they emphasized that making amendments right up until a first vote is part of the process.

“My intent was not to offend anyone or go into workshop mode but rather to conduct the business of the council through amendments in a public process,” said Mayor Katherine Lewis. “As excruciating as it may have been for some of you to listen (to) and witness this, we did it all transparently; we did not do it through a subcommittee, and that was the wish of the council at the time.”

The council will take up the ordinance again March 7.

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