A group of housing activists looking to limit rent increases in Maine’s largest city announced Friday that they have collected enough signatures to put the measure before voters in November.

Fair Rent Portland said in a statement that it will submit its petitions to the city clerk’s office on Monday morning.

The group needs at least 1,500 signatures from registered voters in Portland for the measure to be included on the November ballot.

“The group has gathered far more than the number of required signatures needed to place its proposed rent stabilization ordinance on the Portland city ballot this fall,” the group said in short written statement. “The proposed ordinance would cap the amount that certain landlords can increase rent each year and add other renter protections at a time of soaring rents.”

The efforts come as the city experiences a development boom of mostly market-rate apartments, condominiums and hotels. The strong demand for housing had been pushing up rents, making city living more unaffordable not only for low-income residents, but for middle-income residents as well.

Brit Vitalius, president of the Southern Maine Landlord Association, says rent stabilization efforts have failed to control housing prices in other areas.


“This proposal won’t work and would make the problem of affordable housing worse,” Vitalius said in an email Friday. “The evidence in places where this type of government control has been tried shows the policy doesn’t make housing more affordable.”

The city has adopted some policies to help ease the rental pressure. A new ordinance requires that all new residential developments of 10 units or more set aside and price at least 10 percent of those units for middle-income earners.

The so-called inclusionary zoning ordinance defines middle income as 100 percent of area median income for renters and 120 percent of area median income for home-buyers.

For example, as of June 15, a single person would have to make less than $57,500 a year to qualify for a rental unit costing $1,438 a month, according to city data. A two-person household could earn up to $65,750 to qualify for rental unit capped at $1,644 and a three-person household could make up to $73,938 to qualify for a unit capped at $1,848.

Developers can avoid the inclusionary zoning requirement by paying the city $100,000 for each affordably priced unit that is not built. That money goes into the city’s housing trust fund, which is used for affordable housing.

After being elected in 2015, Mayor Ethan Strimling appointed a special Housing Committee to study the issue. But after a year of work, the panel of five councilors adopted only modest tenant protections. The panel turned down the idea of rent control and requiring landlords to accept tenants using housing vouchers.


Fair Rent Portland is pursuing a rent stabilization ordinance, the details of which have evolved since it was first announced in May. It would limit rent increases to the rate of inflation, as measured by the Consumer Price Index, on apartment buildings with five or more units.

The ordinance would increase the city’s current registration fee for rental units by $25 a unit, from the current rate of $35 a unit to $60 a unit.

The group says that over the past five years, the CPI has increased between 0.5 percent and 2.5 percent a year.

Units built after Jan. 1 would be exempt, according to an information sheet distributed by the group. And landlords would be able to increase rents up to 5 percent when a new tenant moves in – a provision that can only be used once a year.

The Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram documented Portland’s housing shortage in 2015 in its “No Vacancy” series. At the time, average listed rents in Portland had shot up 40 percent in the past five years, with most of that growth occurring between 2012 and 2015, according to historical data from the Maine State Housing Authority and the newspaper’s analysis.

Since the “No Vacancy” series was published, landlords say that rents have risen at a more moderate rate, or in some cases even plateaued. Vitalius recently said that he is seeing more blue-collar workers with families seeking his apartments, as opposed to single professionals.


The measure being put forward by Fair Rent Portland, which officially registered as a political action committee on July 21 and reportedly raised more than $7,000, also would institute a slate of new tenant protections.

It would establish a seven-member landlord-tenant board appointed by the City Council to oversee the rent stabilization ordinance, collect and publish statistics on neighborhood rents and mediate disputes between tenants and landlords. The board must include four tenants and at least one small-scale landlord.

The board would have the ability to grant waivers for landlords who need to raise rents in order to improve their properties, as well as assess fines on landlords who improperly evict tenants, according to Fair Rent Portland member Jack O’Brien. O’Brien said the board will look to the city’s current ordinances to determine which fines would be appropriate.

The group’s effort was featured on National Public Radio’s “On Point with Tom Ashbrook” on Friday morning.

Randy Billings can be reached at 791-6346 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: randybillings

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