Geoffrey Rice, owner of Trelawny 657 LLC, is trying to evict his tenant and former Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling, from his building on Congress Street. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Geoffrey Rice said that he felt repeatedly threatened by Ethan Strimling when he tried to issue rent increases to the former mayor.

“He was very demanding, very dominating and he’s a very articulate person. I just felt subservient to him. I just felt he’s the boss. I was afraid he’d send the city inspectors up to my property to punish me,” Rice said on Tuesday morning while testifying in his eviction case.

“I always had a tough time dealing with Ian–” Rice said, before his attorney corrected him on Strimling’s name.

Rice has been trying to evict Strimling from his apartment in the Trelawny Building for three years. Strimling has refused to leave, saying the eviction was retaliation for his role in founding a tenants union. He was able to call his first witness Tuesday – another tenant who echoed some of Strimling’s complaints about the landlord.

The civil eviction trial in Portland is now expected to stretch into Thursday. Superior Court Justice John O’Neil agreed to extend arguments until 1 p.m. on Thursday and said he expects a verdict from the jury by the end of the day.

“We set this up for a two-day trial. It’s clearly not going to be done in two days,” O’Neil said.


Testimony is set to resume Wednesday at 8:30 a.m. with Rice returning to the stand.


Much of the day in court Tuesday was filled with interruptions. The attorneys repeatedly clashed and went into sidebars with the judge. When the men retreated to the courtroom corner, a white noise machine would switch on to muffle their animated conversations.

Rice took the stand for most of the morning. While he said he has liked living in the building with his tenants for more than 40 years, he was often frustrated with Strimling’s repeated pushbacks against rent increases. He said he has raised rent only to cover costs.

“I knew that my rent was a reasonable rent. I pride myself on not gouging anybody. I charge people less than the maximum rent in the area … and here this gentleman would come and nickel and dime me and I didn’t want anything to do with him,” said Rice.

Scott Dolan, left, an attorney for Ethan Strimling, speaks to his client during the first day of an eviction trial. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

But Strimling’s attorney, Scott Dolan, pushed back on Rice’s record as a landlord, drawing a connection between his decision to evict Strimling and multiple violations filed against him by the city’s rent board as a result of complaints made by the tenants’ union Strimling helped establish.


“You were … issued a notice of violation for violating the rent control ordinance, and that was based on complaints made to the city by the Trelawny Tenants union?” Dolan asked him on the stand.

“And I took care of that, it’s been fixed,” said Rice.

“You had to issue many rent reimbursements for unlawful rent hikes, tens of thousands of dollars?” asked Dolan.

“And the tenants have got their money back,” said Rice.

“It was after you got your notification from the city brought by the Trelawny Tenants union that you decided to go ahead with the eviction?” asked Dolan.

“That’s not the point,” said Rice.


Rice said that he made a mistake by accepting Strimling’s rent payment in July 2021 after he notified him in June that his lease would not be renewed. Strimling still paid rent on July 1 and made no effort to leave. When Rice’s office accepted the payment, he said it became more difficult to evict him.

“In all my years, if I served someone with a notice not to renew, they never came in and paid the rent after that,” Rice said. “By accepting rent, I changed him from being a fixed tenant to a tenant at-will … and that’s why we’re here.”


By Tuesday afternoon, the defense had taken over and Dolan strode across the red carpet of the wood-paneled courtroom with a speaker in each hand.

He hit play and Rice’s muffled voice dribbled into the courtroom. The recording was of a conversation that Tom Hamill, a former Trelawny tenant who served with Strimling on the steering committee of the Trelawny Tenants union, had with Rice in 2021.

Hamill said the union was founded to address tenants’ concerns about the building and provide information. He testified that tenants had increasing concerns as the COVID-19 pandemic ramped up.


He said he had been told his lease would not be renewed around the same time as Strimling. In the recorded conversation, Rice said Hamill could move into other units in the building, but he needed to raise the rent in his current unit to pay for a new sprinkler system – an update he said was required by city code.

“I feel like the approach that you’re taking is not the most appropriate approach,” Hamill said in the recording.

“What would you suggest?” Rice asked.

“I would suggest that you refrain from evictions. I haven’t caused any trouble. … If your goal is to raise rent, I don’t think this is the right approach,” Hamill responded.

Ultimately, Hamill said, he stayed in his original unit until fall 2023 when he bought a house and moved out of the city. In cross-examination, Rice’s lawyer, David Chamberlain,  emphasized that Hamill had been able to save enough money over his 12 years in the building for a down payment on a house.

“The American dream,” said Chamberlain.

Hamill testified that Rice tried to take advantage of loopholes in the rent control ordinance and that his building was not well maintained.

“Definitely kind of a punk rock feel,” he said of the building. “Kinda gritty, a little bit of deferred maintenance, not a luxury building by any means.”

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