A new Maine law restricting rental application fees was among a recent batch of state level affordable housing reforms that won praise from the Biden administration Wednesday.

A White House news release detailing efforts in Washington to crack down on junk fees for renters cited a bill Gov. Janet Mills signed last month barring landlords from charging rental application fees that exceed the actual cost of the tenant screening process. The law also prevents landlords from charging tenants more than one screening fee per year.

The fees can add up for people seeking apartments and effectively add to the financial barrier to finding decent affordable housing. Under the law, the fees cannot exceed the actual cost of a background check, a credit check or other screening process.

Rep. Chris Kessler, D-South Portland, sponsored the bill. He hopes that the new policy will reduce financial burdens on both renters and those searching for housing.

“We have yet to see how this new law will play out, but if landlords follow the law, there should be an improvement in the lives of tenants,” Kessler said.

The effort is in line with moves by corporations, federal agencies and other states to increase transparency between landlords and renters.


Rental platforms Zillow, Apartments.com and AffordableHousing.com have started introducing tools so renters can figure out what costs will be associated with each property, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development on Wednesday released a research brief on rental fees and market transparency.

Voters in the city of Portland banned application fees in a 2022 referendum. The city had previously limited the fees to the cost of screening or $30, whichever was less.

Other New England states mentioned in the Biden administration’s release include Rhode Island and Connecticut, both of which have passed similar laws placing restrictions on application fees. Vermont and Massachusetts have done the same.

Though Kessler is happy to see progress, he feels the changes are long overdue.

“These kinds of abuses have been happening for years now, and the pace of change is not fast enough,” Kessler said. “But it’s encouraging to see that states are taking the steps on their own and private companies are looking at transparency as a positive thing that actually builds relationships and helps increase their business. … So it’s a step in the right direction, but we’ve got a long way to go.”

Two other bills seeking to protect Maine tenants recently became law.

The first protects tenants from retaliatory eviction, which is when a landlord evicts a tenant for claiming that their tenants’ rights have been violated. The second seeks to ensure evicted tenants have access to legal counsel.

Another bill is pending that would bar landlords from charging new tenants beyond the cost of the first full month’s rent, a security deposit and an installed lock and key.

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