Landlords in Portland have raised nearly $80,000 in support of a referendum to eliminate a rent control cap, about half of which has been spent on signature gathering and campaign services from a company owned by a state lawmaker’s wife.

The Committee to Improve Rent Control, the group formed to raise money to support the referendum proposed by the Rental Housing Alliance of Southern Maine, has received $48,500 in cash contributions. The Greater Portland Board of Realtors also conducted a survey worth $29,000 of in-kind donations, according to a newly filed campaign finance report.

About $37,000 was spent on signature-gathering and $7,400 on campaign services, all with Property Management Services of Poland. Rep. David Boyer, R-Poland, said in a statement Wednesday that the company is owned by his wife, Sara McKee, and was hired to help gather signatures in support of the referendum.

But Boyer said he is also a Portland landlord and supports the referendum.

“I am enthusiastically in support of this common-sense fix to make rent control workable for all of Portland while preserving existing tenant protections,” Boyer said. “It’s clear our current policies are not working and rents are being raised now more than ever.”

Boyer owns a two-unit building at 476 Saint John St. and said he rents one of the three-bedroom units for $1,375 to tenants who have lived there since before he bought the building in 2017; the other he rents for $2,600.


“Every year (the $1,375 unit) stays under market, it gets harder and harder to not raise the rent when I know I’m capped at 5% on the back end,” he said.

The Rental Housing Alliance, previously known as the Southern Maine Landlord Association, advocates on behalf of landlords, property managers and their partners. The group is seeking to eliminate a 5% cap on rent increases when a tenant voluntarily moves out of a unit and allow landlords to reset rents to whatever they want.

“A campaign requires money to be raised and spent – which is why the Democratic Socialists are also fundraising,” said Brit Vitalius, chair of the Committee to Improve Rent Control, in a statement. “At the end of the day, this remains a terrible way to make housing policy but the cost to Portland if we don’t fix rent control is higher than the cost of any campaign.”

The referendum, which will go to voters in June, is opposed by the Maine chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, the group that created Portland’s rent control ordinance and successfully passed updates in November.

The DSA has its own ballot question committee, Maine DSA Campaign for a Livable Portland, which was active last fall and has filed paperwork to campaign against the referendum. It has raised $5,900 since January, according to its latest finance report, and spent $40 on text messages.

“This is basically just an attempt by the Southern Maine Landlord Association to claw back the gains the people of Portland have made at the ballots in both 2020 and 2022,” said Tzara Kane, treasurer for the Campaign for a Livable Portland.


“They’re using a low-turnout election to do it and their messaging is misleading. They’ve said this would lower rents and protect tenants … but what they’re trying to do would disenfranchise and impoverish the renters of Portland.”

Some Portland voters at a City Council hearing last month raised concerns about signature gatherers being misleading in their efforts. City Clerk Ashley Rand said her office received complaints from some people who signed petition papers, but that even if those signatures could be removed, the Rental Housing Alliance still had enough to get on the ballot.

The city verified 3,087 signatures – more than twice the 1,500 required to get a citizen-initiated referendum on the ballot.

Boyer has been involved in other signature-gathering efforts in Maine in the past, including state and local campaigns to legalize marijuana. He defended the landlords’ signature-gathering efforts Wednesday and said he is proud that so many voters signed the petition.

“Voters were asked to sign the petition to fix and improve rent control and we stand by our efforts … this amendment will reduce the incentive for housing providers to increase rents on existing tenants,” Boyer said.

Vitalius also stressed that the changes being proposed are minimal compared to the 17 pages of proposed changes that were on the ballot in November. “It’s one paragraph and one substantive sentence of change,” he said. “It’s very easy to read.”


The latest finance reports were due Tuesday and also include groups with money left over from the November elections.

Enough is Enough, which formed last year to oppose the 13 referendums voters considered, issued a $10,000 refund in February to the Rental Housing Alliance, just a few days after the landlord group donated $10,000 to the Committee to Improve Rent Control.

It’s not clear why the refund was issued and Nick Mavodones, treasurer of Enough is Enough, did not respond to phone messages Wednesday asking about it and whether the group supports the new referendum.

Vitalius said the Rental Housing Alliance asked Enough is Enough for a contribution to their June referendum campaign prior to the refund, though he said he could not speak on their behalf as to whether they support it.

Enough is Enough had raised more than $630,000 heading into the November election. The group still has about $74,000 left in cash, according to their latest report.

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