Portland city councilors voted Monday night to send a citizen-initiated referendum seeking to eliminate a 5% cap on rent increases when an apartment turns over to voters at the June election.

The council also approved modifying the title and summary of the proposal from the Rental Housing Alliance of Southern Maine that will appear on the ballot.

It rejected a competing proposal sought by two councilors that would have offered alternative changes to the city’s rent control ordinance.

The council voted unanimously to send “An Act to Amend Rent Control and Tenant Protections” to voters after voting 6-3 to reject the competing proposal sponsored by Councilor Regina Phillips and co-sponsored by Councilor Anna Trevorrow.

Councilor Victoria Pelletier joined Phillips and Trevorrow in support of their competing proposal, which would have been added to the ballot as an alternative to the alliance proposal.

“I think the (citizen’s initiative) right now allows landlords to raise rents on tenants who already can’t afford rent and it was something that needed to be looked at,” Phillips said.


But fellow councilors and members of the public raised concerns Monday night about how the proposal came forward. Several councilors said they just learned of it Friday and there wasn’t enough time to properly vet it.

“How am I going to understand something this impactful without having time to dig into it, without having a workshop?” said Councilor Andrew Zarro.

Phillips and Trevorrow pushed back on the concerns about the process.

“I find it really unfortunate the entire debate is around process rather than substance,” Trevorrow said. “My hope was the competing measure would be an opportunity for us as a community to get to the substance of the issue.”

The proposal from Phillips and Trevorrow sought a handful of changes to rent control, including requiring landlords to make a relocation payment of two months rent or $2,000 – whichever is greater – to a tenant before terminating a tenancy without cause, and increasing the maximum rent increase to 20% when a tenant leaves voluntarily.

The initiative also would have required landlords to submit a signed declaration before claiming any voluntary termination allowance and defined what it means for a tenancy to terminate voluntarily.


It was proposed as a competing measure to the question proposed by the alliance, which seeks to eliminate the 5% maximum rent increase that’s currently allowed when a new tenant comes in, allowing landlords to raise rents as much as they want after an apartment voluntarily turns over.

The alliance, formerly known as the Southern Maine Landlord Association, gathered more than 3,000 verified signatures from city voters to qualify for the June 13 ballot. Their proposal was originally titled, “An Act to Improve Tenant Protections.”

The council had the option of adopting the alliance’s proposal outright, adding a competing measure to the ballot or sending only the question from the alliance to voters.

Councilors heard feedback from about 40 people Monday night on the proposal and the alternative offered by Phillips and Trevorrow.

Several renters said they felt the language and signature-gathering efforts from the organizers of the citizen’s initiative were misleading and that their proposal would hurt tenants.

Landlords, meanwhile, said the current ordinance isn’t working and the alternate presented Monday night is confusing.


“In the past the council has decided voters should decide on the merits of a proposal and they shouldn’t muddy the waters,” said Jonathan Culley, owner of Redfern Properties, a real estate development firm.

“That’s exactly what this competing measure would do. My reading of the competing measure is it’s vague and difficult to interpret and will increase the administrative burden on the city.”

Culley urged the council to send the citizen’s initiative to voters. “It doesn’t change or remove any existing protections for tenants,” he said. “But it does address what happens when a tenant voluntarily moves out.”

Leo Hilton, co-chair of the Maine DSA, said rent control has been working for the city the way it is. The DSA was behind getting rent control passed via a citizen’s initiative in 2020 and put further changes, which were also approved by voters, on the ballot last November.

“If this act is an act to improve tenant protections, my question is, improve them for who?” Hilton said. “It’s clear to me this initiative, sponsored by landlords and developers, is an attempt to improve their own ability to enrich themselves.”

Phillips said she was approached by former mayor Ethan Strimling, a member of DSA and rent control advocate, about offering a competing measure, though ultimately the proposal came from her and Trevorrow. She said they also worked with the city’s corporation counsel on their proposal.

Strimling confirmed in a text message Monday that he spoke with Phillips about a draft of the proposal.

“I think the measure (Phillips) and Anna are putting forward is excellent,” Strimling said. “(It’s) vital protection for tenants that will give voters a clear choice.”

Portland has about 18,600 long-term rental units, though some are exempt from rent control, including owner-occupied apartment buildings with up to four units as well as those provided by housing authorities, schools, religious institutions and hospitals.

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