WATERVILLE — An apartment rental company with more than 50 buildings in the city is telling residents to reject the recall of Mayor Nick Isgro if they want to prevent a rent increase.

In a notice distributed Monday to tenants residing in the city, Brown House Properties warned of potential property tax increases that would force Waterville landlords to considerably increase monthly rental rates city wide.

“Tax increase = rent increase!” the notice says in bold across the top.

It goes on to say, “Brown House Properties is avidly against these property tax increases and (we) need your help as Waterville residents to express your concern to the City Council.”

The notice lists three ways residents can get involved — either by contacting city councilors by phone or email; attending Tuesday night’s City Council meeting; or voting “NO” on the June 12 mayoral recall.

“We do not instruct anybody how to vote,” said Lindsey Burrill, whose family owns Brown House Properties. “We tell them the information and if they feel so obliged they can act on it.”


The notice follows arguments by the mayor framing the recall as being about a tax increase, although organizers of the recall have said the two are unrelated.

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The recall was initiated by residents who said they felt a tweet attacking a Florida school shooting survivor and other social media comments by the mayor have hurt the community and created a negative atmosphere.

Isgro, however, has said the recall is not about his social media but rather has been pushed forward by city councilors and others who want to divide the city and get him out of the way so they can pass a 13 percent tax increase. He’s also argued the best way to prevent the tax increase is to reject the recall.

The current budget, scheduled for a first vote by councilors Tuesday night, calls for a 9.5 percent tax increase if councilors move forward with a list of reductions. A second vote is scheduled for June 19.

Burrill, who is also president of the Central Maine Apartment Owners Association, a nonprofit trade association representing landlords and property managers, said she did not have an exact estimate for how much rent would be affected by the tax increase.

However, she did say the tax increase being proposed is substantial enough that the company felt it warranted communication to tenants.


“Mayor Isgro has committed that the budget as it is will be vetoed, so if you’re concerned about a budget increase (voting no on the recall) is what you have to do,” she said.

She said she has not heard specifics from the mayor about how the budget could further be reduced.

“I’m not willing to get into niche economics with you,” Burrill said. “This was simply something informing our tenants about what is going on if they were not already informed.”

Paul Lavin, assistant director of the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics & Election Practices, said there’s nothing in campaign finance law that prohibits landlords from distributing political literature to their tenants.

“It’s free speech,” he said. “For there to be a restriction on a landlord for statements like that, there would have to be a compelling governmental interest in stopping that speech, and it would have to meet the highest constitutional standard for that to be in place.”

However, Rachel Healy, spokeswoman for the ACLU of Maine, said in an email the notice could be an attempt at coercion, which is illegal under the Voting Rights Act.


“They didn’t come right out and say the rent is going up if you don’t vote this way, but they are putting the two ideas out there in a way that they seem to hope will be linked in order to get a particular result,” Healy said.

Brown House, which was started by Sherwood and Laurie Booker and their children, including Burrill, owns 54 multi-unit properties in the city. Burrill said she didn’t have a count on how many people live in their properties.

In a statement, the company said after posting the notices it had heard back from several tenants who it said were grateful for the information.

“One tenant said that she has never been involved in local politics and appreciated being told about these issues which have motivated her to become more versed and start engaging in the community,” the statement said.

The city has a complicated relationship with Brown House. In December 2016, councilors expressed concerns about selling an apartment building that was in disrepair to the company, while the mayor defended Brown House and said he took “offense to labeling Brown House as a slumlord.”

More recently, the company opposed the formation of a city housing committee, which some sought to form as a means of addressing longstanding housing problems in the city. Isgro vetoed the formation of the committee, saying it was not the city’s place to interfere in landlord and tenant disputes and he did not want to see the creation of a landlord registry as part of the committee.

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected]

Twitter: @rachel_ohm

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