Former Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling observes the jury selection as a civil case against him gets underway Monday. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Former Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling walked into an air-conditioned courtroom Monday morning to finally settle a yearslong debate with his landlord over an eviction order. He occasionally jotted notes and flipped through a large binder. His landlord, Geoffrey Rice, sat on the other side of the courtroom, mostly still.

It was the first day of the anticipated trial in which a jury will ultimately determine if Strimling can remain in his apartment in the Trelawny Building at 655 Congress St., or if Rice will finally be allowed to evict him.

Strimling, who served as mayor from 2015-19, has been in a dispute with his landlord since 2021, when Rice did not renew his lease after a series of disagreements over fines and rent increases. Strimling still lives on the sixth floor, more than three years after he received an eviction notice. Rice lives on the eighth floor.

The issue has moved slowly through the civil court system for years. First, a District Court judge ruled in April 2022 that Rice was within his rights to evict Strimling. Then, in July 2022, a Superior Court justice ruled that Strimling could not be evicted and was entitled to a jury trial.

The civil trial, which is scheduled to last three days, will focus on the reason for Strimling’s eviction – whether it was because Rice did not wish to rent to him anymore for personal reasons, or if it was retaliation for Strimling’s role in founding the Trelawny Tenants Union.

Legally, landlords are allowed to terminate leases at will, but if the termination was in retaliation for Strimling’s union organizing efforts, it would be illegal.


Strimling backed the rent control ordinance that was approved by referendum in 2020 and has been active in supporting efforts to strengthen the law.

Rice has faced other challenges from his tenants and was brought before the rent board for allegedly violating the ordinance. The board recommended he be fined $15,300, but the city chose not to impose the fine and instead worked with Rice and the tenants to find a solution.


During opening arguments Monday morning, Rice’s lawyer, David Chamberlain, said that “there were economic and personal reasons for ending the tenancy.” He said that Strimling argued against rent increases consistently and was generally confrontational with his landlord, behavior that is stressful for Rice, who is 86 years old.

Scott Dolan, Strimling’s attorney, however, argued that the eviction was an act of retaliation after Strimling founded a union to advocate for tenants’ rights.

“This is a case about retaliation. Mr. Rice is trying to evict Mr. Strimling for his role in the founding of the Trelawny Tenants Union. By targeting Mr. Strimling, Mr. Rice hopes to break the tenants union, which is forcing him to comply with the city’s rental control ordinance,” Dolan said.


After jury selection and opening arguments, there was only time for one witness to take the stand Monday.

Geoffrey Rice, who owns the Trelawny Building where former Mayor Ethan Strimling lives, greets Barbara Sherman, the property manager, after she testified on Monday. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Barbara Sherman, who lives in the Trelawny Building and has worked in Rice’s property management office for 12 years, testified on behalf of Rice.

She went through dozens of emails between the management company and Strimling from 2016 through 2021. The emails show that when Strimling signed the lease in 2016, his rent was $950. Over the years, Rice made repeated attempts to raise Strimling’s rent by $25, to which Strimling frequently pushed back. Between 2016 and 2021, Strimling’s rent only went up to $995 for the one-bedroom unit.

Sherman characterized the yearly $25 rent increases as “normal and reasonable.” She said most people who live in the building are students and hospitality workers. She also described how Strimling wrote to Rice after the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020 and asked him not to increase his rent because of the pandemic.

“What economic circumstances did he state that he was experiencing so that he needed to forgo the rent increase?” Chamberlain asked her.

“He didn’t mention any financial difficulties on his part,” Sherman replied.



During cross-examination, Dolan asked Sherman about Strimling’s behavior as a tenant.

“Any trash laying around, any clutter?” he asked.

“No,” she replied.

“Problems with him not paying rent? Any complaints about him violating the guest policy?” Dolan asked.

“No,” she said.


“Do you recognize the things I’m asking you as issues in other eviction cases?” he asked.

“Yes,” she said.

But in April 2021, Strimling was fined $50 for leaving a window open during the heating season, which according to the lease runs from September through May. Strimling asked to meet with Rice about the fine the next month, during which he was told that his lease would not be renewed, according to both parties.

Sherman said the open window was not the reason for the lease termination; rather, it was Strimling’s insistence on a meeting with Rice about the issue and reluctance to pay the $50 fine. She said that she has always seen a stark difference in personality between the two men.

Strimling “is very articulate, and when he wants something he just goes, all guns blazing. You’ve got two different personalities,” she said.

Strimling was ultimately asked to move out by July 1, 2021, but he continued to pay rent and remained in his apartment. His payments were accepted through August 2021, according to documents read in court. At the end of that month, he was asked to vacate the premises within three months. But he still did not leave the building, and that’s when Rice filed his complaint in civil court.

The trial will continue Tuesday at 8:30 a.m.

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