Backers of a referendum to change Portland’s rent control ordinance, fueled by donations from landlords and the real estate industry, have raised more than 12 times the amount of their opponents as the June 13 election approaches.

The Committee to Improve Rent Control wants to eliminate the 5% cap on rent increases currently allowed when an apartment voluntarily turns over. The change would allow landlords to reset rents with no limit in a practice known as vacancy decontrol.

The committee had raised more than $218,000 in cash as of Friday, including $141,400 since April 26, according to a newly filed campaign finance report.

That far exceeds the amount raised by the Maine chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America’s Livable Portland campaign, which has gathered $17,200 to oppose the question, including $8,300 since the end of April.

The largest donations to the committee in the most recent fundraising period were $100,000 from the National Association of Realtors and $10,000 from Port Property Management, one of Portland’s largest landlords.

Most donations were from landlords and Realtors, though Brit Vitalius, chair of the committee, said he believes the general public also supports Question A.


“I think people are tired of campaigning for housing policy,” Vitalius said. “This is our fourth rent control campaign in six years. It’s exhausting and a terrible way to make policy, but the current ordinance is so bad we’re imploring folks in the community to support the campaign because it’s the only way we can get the word out.”

Ordinances passed by referendum cannot be changed for five years, except through another referendum.

“The National Association of Realtors is not cutting a check for $100,000 out of the kindness of their heart,” Tzara Kane, treasurer for the Livable Portland campaign, said in a statement.

“They are betting they can make that money back by passing Question A. They would make it back by undercutting rent stabilization, jacking up property values and displacing residents. They will lose that bet because they are pursuing an unpopular, regressive policy in a city that understands and appreciates the benefit of rent control.”

The Livable Portland campaign’s largest donation was $2,500 from William Thieme, who lives in Cumberland and is self-employed in IT support.

The Committee to Improve Rent Control also has spent more and has more cash on hand. The bulk of its spending – about $74,000 – has been with Property Management Services of Poland on signature gathering and campaign services. It has spent about $82,400 in total, or nearly 12 times more than the amount spent by Livable Portland.


The committee has nearly $136,000 left in cash on hand, though its campaign finance report also lists $125,400 in unpaid debt to Access Marketing of Colorado.

The Livable Portland campaign has spent about $7,000, mostly for legal services, signs, door hangers, postcards, text messaging and stamps. It had $11,800 in cash on hand prior to a new expense report filed Monday for $1,200 on postcard stamps.

Question A was brought forward via the citizen-initiated referendum process by the Rental Housing Alliance of Southern Maine, a group that advocates on behalf of landlords and property managers and was formerly known as the Southern Maine Landlord Association.

The proposal would change one specific part of the city’s rent control ordinance, eliminating the 5% cap on increases that landlords can take on rent when an apartment turns over and allowing them to reset with no limit the “base rent” that permitted increases are calculated off.

The 5% on turnovers is one of the limited ways landlords can currently raise rents. They also are allowed an automatic increase of 70% of the annual change in the Consumer Price Index, and can seek additional increases from the rent board for improvements or repairs. Rents cannot increase by more than 10% annually in rent-controlled apartments.

Supporters of Question A say it will prevent widespread annual rent increases because landlords will be able to raise rents by a larger amount when a tenant moves out and will not feel obligated to take advantage of the limited annual increases.

Critics say the proposal will only lead to price gouging on vacant units and will make it harder for working-class people and families to afford apartments that open up.

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