The Portland City Council may put more changes to the city’s rent control ordinance before voters this November.

A proposal generated by city staff would allow the Rent Board to approve increases beyond the current 10% annual cap, put in place a new 60-day deadline for tenants to file complaints and eliminate a two-tiered fee on landlords who register their apartments late.

Several other changes are included in the 14-page proposal that will go to the City Council on Monday. And rent control supporters are already saying the changes would significantly hurt tenants.

“We’ve now had three votes where people have said the rent is too high and yet the city is coming forward with this ordinance saying we need to allow landlords to raise the rent further,” said Ethan Strimling, a former mayor and member of the Maine chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, which wrote the current ordinance.

A city spokesperson said the changes “are housekeeping amendments in nature,” but it appears the proposal could give landlords more leeway to raise rents.

Mayor Kate Snyder said in an email that since the proposal was generated by city staff she would “defer to staff for any comment beyond the back up in the council agenda.” The city staff who wrote the amendments weren’t available Thursday to answer questions.


“These proposed changes to the ordinance were developed by staff within the Housing Safety Office, which is tasked with enforcing the ordinance, to clarify existing ambiguities and ensure consistent application of rent control,” Jessica Grondin, a city spokesperson, said in an email.


The other proposed changes include a 60-day deadline for tenants to file complaints with the Housing Safety Office. The current ordinance does not specify a time frame.

“It essentially means landlords will be able to get away with increases all the time” because it often takes tenants longer than 60 days to realize a rent increase is illegal, Strimling said.

The proposal also would simplify late registration fees to $50 per unregistered unit after Feb. 1 or within 30 days of entering the market.

The current rules require landlords to register their units by Jan. 15, or within 14 days of entering the market, or pay a $50 fee per unit. That fee increases to $200 after Feb. 15, or within 45 days.


The proposal also makes some changes to the Rent Board, allowing it to make decisions by a majority of its members rather than requiring at least four votes in support, and eliminating the board’s role as a mediator between tenants and landlords. (The board has seven members but in recent months has struggled to fill seats.)

“Mediation can be very expensive for a tenant,” Strimling said. “We put that in there so that if a landlord and tenant want to do mediation, they can go to the Rent Board to do that and it won’t cost a fortune.”

But the biggest change appears to be the new language that says the board may approve rent increases of more than 10%, though it’s unclear what if any, restrictions there would be on such approvals.

Rent Board Chair Elliott Simpson did not respond to a phone message or email Thursday asking for an interview about the proposal.

Strimling said the DSA was not consulted and he called on the city to explain each change.

“Why do they want to do this and who is suggesting it?” he said. “These are not changes I can imagine tenants asking for, but they are changes I can imagine landlords asking for.”


Buddy Moore, a former Rent Board member and member of the DSA who worked on the group’s previous rent control campaigns, said he was surprised and disappointed by the proposal, which he called “landlord-friendly.”

“For me, it’s very concerning that this is just being brought forward by an unelected official within our city’s government, sort of very suddenly on the heels of a referendum that would weaken rent control but that was soundly defeated by voters,” Moore said.


Some city councilors contacted Thursday said they weren’t expecting staff to bring this forward Monday.

“My initial reaction is I’m surprised to see it come up,” said Councilor Anna Trevorrow, who plans to find out more about the proposal before declaring a position.

“This is the first I am seeing these recommendations for council consideration,” Councilor Andrew Zarro said in a written statement. “At first glance, this appears to contain both administrative and policy recommendations, and I’d like to have a robust discussion with the council, staff and the community.”


Zarro hopes to refer it to the Housing and Economic Development Committee for more discussion.

The proposal comes less than two weeks after city voters rejected a landlord-initiated proposal to eliminate a 5% cap on the rent increase allowed when a tenant voluntarily vacates an apartment. Question A failed 67% to 33%.

Brit Vitalius, president of the Rental Housing Alliance of Southern Maine, the group behind Question A, did not respond to a phone message or email seeking an interview about the housing office proposal.

City code says that any ordinances passed by referendum cannot be changed by the City Council for five years, except through another referendum. The council will be asked whether to send the proposal to voters, who would likely see it in the November election.

Monday’s agenda item is just a first read, with council action on the proposal not expected until July 17, at the earliest.

Voters also could see a separate citizen-initiated rent control referendum this fall. Thursday was the deadline to submit signatures for a question that would exempt landlords with nine or fewer units from the rent control ordinance.

The city clerk’s office reported Thursday afternoon that roughly 1,700 signatures had been turned in, about 200 more than required. But those still need to be certified before the question can officially be put on the ballot.

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