Bradley Davis and Madi, who asked to be identified by her first name only, talk in the kitchen of their one-bedroom apartment in Portland. The couple said they confronted their landlord about the city’s rent control ordinance and then were given a notice of non-renewal of their lease. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Bradley Davis loves the sunny first-floor apartment he shares with his girlfriend in Portland’s Woodfords Corner.

“We’re in a quiet neighborhood but only 10 minutes from the city, 10 minutes from the beach and an hour from hiking,” said Davis, 27. “It’s the epicenter of everything we want.”

But when the couple questioned whether a 7% increase to their rent violated the city’s rent control ordinance, Davis’ landlords withdrew an offer to renew the lease. Now they might have to pack up and leave as soon as June.

The pair has taken the issue to the city’s rent board, calling it a clear case of retaliation. They’re hoping the appeal will keep them in their apartment. But Davis’ girlfriend, Madi, asked to be identified by her first name only for fear that speaking out would leave them unable to find other housing in the city if they have to move out.

Since the rent control law went into effect in 2021, the city has received around 200 complaints and 40 violations, but has not issued any substantial fines.

Davis and Madi say they hope their case will change how the city has been handling rent control violations.


Elizabeth Kane bought the house the couple rents on Sawyer Street with her husband and her parents in 2023. During a rent board hearing on the matter Thursday night, she said that they aren’t trying to flout the rules or make an extra buck, they just didn’t understand the ordinance and received incorrect information from the city.

She also said she and her husband might have to move back to Maine because of recent significant damage to their main residence in California.

“We want to move into that unit sometime in the near future,” she said. “We want to reside in our home.”


The apartment is the first place Davis and Madi have lived together without roommates.

They have been together for three years and worked to make the one-bedroom feel like home for themselves and their 15-year-old cat, George. They’ve planted vegetables in the back garden, trimmed the raspberry bush, hung art on the walls and filled the spaces around their windows with plants. Some have little name tags like “Hi, my name is Donna.”


In March, a few months before their lease was scheduled to be up in June, the couple got an email from their landlords offering to renew for another year but stating that their rent would go up by $135 – from $1,950 to $2,085 a month – an increase of about 7%.

“Thank you for being stellar tenants at 36 Sawyer St. We have enjoyed having you!” wrote Kane and her husband, Cephas Hoffman.

Davis and Madi said they were thrilled about the renewal. But the 7% increase gave them pause. They didn’t know a lot about Portland’s rent control ordinance, but they thought the increase might be out of compliance.

Bradley Davis and Madi walk through the backyard at their apartment in Portland. Madi said she will be devastated to leave the garden, which she already began planting for the summer. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Portland voters approved the rent control ordinance in 2020 and it has been amended a few times in the years since. Under the current rules, landlords can increase rent only once a year – by 70% of the rate of inflation for the Boston area. This year, that worked out to 2%.

There are a few exceptions. If a tenant leaves voluntarily, the landlord may raise rent for incoming tenants by an additional 5%. Landlords also can bank rental increases from year to year, meaning that if they don’t raise rent one year, they can tack on that increase in a future year. But increases can never go above 10% without approval from the rent board.

When Davis and Madi started digging into the rules, they also realized their apartment was not registered as a long-term rental and that they were paying 22% more than the previous tenants – both of which are violations.


Davis and Madi said they brought up their concerns with their landlords, who said they would work to get into compliance. Shortly after, the landlords told Davis and Madi that they were rescinding their renewal offer.

“We have decided to go a different direction with the downstairs unit,” they said, according to a copy of an email shared with a reporter.

Kane said during Thursday’s hearing that her home in California had suffered serious storm and water damage. She and her husband don’t have definite plans to move back to Maine, she said, but they are hoping to rent the apartment here by the month to friends or family who could take them in should they have to move at the drop of a hat – information she said they didn’t feel they needed to share with Davis and Madi and which the city advised them not to share.

“The circumstances of our life changed drastically and dramatically over the course of the month of March,” Kane said.

Asked about Kane’s claims that the city gave her incorrect information about the rent control ordinance, city spokesperson Jessica Grondin said that staff don’t provide legal advice.

“We always recommend tenants and landlords seek their own legal assistance,” Grondin said in an email.


Grondin also said that there appears to have been “some miscommunications” between Kane and the Licensing and Housing Safety Division and that the city housing inspector recalls their phone conversations differently than Kane does. She said the ordinance is ambiguous and doesn’t address many of the rent-control-related situations the city is called on to tackle.


The complaint is the latest test of the city’s rent board, which has struggled to appoint members and meet regularly and to date has only recommended one fine against a landlord for overcharging tenants – a fine the city chose not to apply.

The city said it does not fine landlords if they agree to pay their tenants back the money they were overcharged.

The only rent control fines the city has levied have been for late registrations – 1,850 landlords had paid a total of $377,950 as of May 1.

The seven-member rent board took up the complaint from Davis and Madi in a meeting Thursday night that went on for over five hours, providing little resolution but significant public outcry.


Around 20 speaking on the renters’ behalf said the case reflects the experiences of tenants across Portland – and that by failing to punish landlords who break the law, the rent board and the city are failing to protect tenants and encouraging noncompliance.

“In this instance, regardless of intention, it is clear that the actions of the landlord have not been in accordance with the established laws governing rent control,” said Cooper Bennett, a former roommate of Davis and Madi. “These laws are not mere suggestions but fundamental principles that must be upheld and defended.”

“You are the last line of defense for a lot of tenants,” said Wes Pelletier, a member of the Maine Democratic Socialists of America, which worked to pass rent control in 2020.

Bradley Davis and Madi say they hope that by appealing to the city’s rent board they can stay in their apartment for another year. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Many speakers said Kane and her family exemplified the greedy, out-of-state landlords who only want to make money off Portland real estate.

But Kane, who spent more than half her life in the state, said that is not at all the case.

“We are mom-and-pop landlords,” she said. “This is our only rental property in Portland, and we purchased it with the intention of moving closer to my aging parents.”


The rent board spent hours deliberating the case and discussing the nuances of the law and how to interpret it. Advocates say those interpretations may set precedent for how rent control law is interpreted and enforced in years to come.

“Once we’ve found a way to interpret the ordinance, we would need a strong legal argument to change that interpretation,” Rent Board Chair Philip Mathieu said in an interview on Friday. “Our goal is to be fair and function in an impartial and judicial manner and to be consistent in our interpretation of the ordinance.”

By 11:30 Thursday night, the board had agreed that Kane, her husband and her parents were substantially out of compliance with the rent control law and that they had overcharged Davis and Madi –  but they had yet to reach a final conclusion.

As the hours wore on, the group decided to break and pick up the question about whether to recommend penalties at its next meeting on May 13.

Davis and Madi say they want to stay in their apartment. But they also hope that the rent board’s decision will set a standard of more stringent enforcement of the rent control law and better protection of tenants across the city.

“This is an opportunity to apply the rent control ordinance, as it is written and originally intended, to finally create an incentive for landlords to follow the law,” Davis said at the hearing. “The rent control ordinance, passed through a citizen-initiated process, could not be more in line with the will of the people of Portland. If we as a city are not going to enforce the will of its people, then who is the city for?”

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